With just over a month of the launch of Social Sector Knowledge, we’ve covered a lot of territory. Sometimes it helps to step back and put it all in context, especially for those of you who may be new to the site. In this segment, I’ll review the major themes, lessons learned, and best sources for ongoing learning.

The case for a social intranet

The social sector must be lean, agile, and scalable to succeed. This is the very heart of the business value that enterprise 2.0 tools and practitioners deliver.

  • we enable non profits to stay lean by consolidating and streamlining IT assets, sometimes moving them to the cloud, which can deliver real cost savings. We help organizations cut waste by improving data systems and reducing time to deliverables. All helping to create a lean organizations.
  • we empower agile organizations that do not rely on fixed tools with long licenses and steep learning curves, but instead can easily shift human and IT assets to meet different needs and priorities.
  • we help organizations scale by organizing and improving access to people and resources to share knowledge efficiently. As organizations grow, their knowledge grows with them – not the systems.

This is a major shift from traditional models of IT and human assets (e.g. learning and development) and we should embrace this as the core of the value add of enterprise 2.0 tools.

Building strategy

Getting started is hard, but the keys for success are increasingly known, doable, and measurable. Despite disagreements over the value of starting small, using pilots, or full scale implementations, it comes back to a fundamental assessment of the business need. I’ll demonstrate this with three examples of different scales – two that worked and one that didn’t. Furthermore, we’ll look at some great frameworks that others have developed that have universal appeal and applicability to help you get started or refine your strategy.

The full scale deployment

Karthrik rightly identified that the American Hospital Association (AHA) needed a social intranet to make its enterprise tools more easily available and connect different people from different hospitals through a single network. He prioritized this need by interviewing senior leaders to identify challenges they were having. One of the other major challenges Karthrik was tackling was the need for IT to better communicate with the rest of staff.

So he and his small team focused on infrastructure. They mapped out a clear path for what information would be stored internally, what would be in the cloud, and where its chosen vendor, SocialText, would fit in. He made adoption easy by doing three things:
1) he put the tools that people already use in one place,
2) made it easy to access them all with single sign on, and
3) built everything within a framework that allowed for easy social connections, updates, and expansion.

What’s important is that he met the goals that he and the leadership identified as major needs. There are two important lessons that this story provides: there is tremendous value in organizing enterprise assets in one location but it is equally important to know very clearly what challenge you are trying to solve. The needs of AHA might be different than yours, but by surveying staff and selecting SocialText (or really any adaptable platform or suite built with social at the core), Karthik had the ability to easily scale and implement other social and collaborative tools.

A tool with no direction

At one organization I worked at, they had a similar goal – organize assets and connect people – but they approached it differently and failed (but are learning). While at the AHA, Karthrik built out the entire system and had everything running from the start in just 3 months, the IT team at my organization launched a limited-feature intranet to the organization without a clear vision, without a marketing plan, suffering from a lack of content and no real problems solved. The result: people largely ignored it and kept using the other tools and systems they were happy with (mainly Google Apps).

There were several problems that may others have faced as well:

  • the intranet did not replace any other system in a way that was better
  • it was extremely difficult to create and organize content once you were in
  • it wasn’t connected to other tools that people need to use

If the team had spent more time asking “what are you using and how else can we help you?” instead of “what gadgets might you need?” they would have found that more than 2/3 of staff were already using several parts of a cloud-based suite that was largely meeting their needs but could have used some support in adding helpful features like single-sign on and synched email and profiles.

The lesson from this was clear: either start big with everything available in one place at once, or start small, solving real challenges – like data sharing, document collaboration, or knowledge/best-practice sharing – that most teams share while providing the tools to let others explore and innovate.

The only way to know which approach to take, then, is to ask and assess the business needs. Once you know what the challenges are and what resources you have, map out a realistic plan to launch soon. Time is against you once you have the ball rolling as people have little patience for false or delayed (e.g. expensive) promises.

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