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August 10, 2011

A peek inside Forrester's enterprise social rollout

by Josh Bernoff

Small flying hero I know researchers should never use themselves as examples.

That said, I am now deeply involved in Forrester's rollout of an enterprisewide sharing system and I thought maybe you could learn something from our experience. And I'm going to tell you about it as it happens rather than after the fact. Just keep in mind that your mileage may vary -- Forrester is probably not like your company. And it's too soon to know the end of this case study.

Background: Forrester has now grown to over 1200 employees in offices in North America, Europe, Asia, and around the world. The largest groups are research (including analysts) and sales, but we also have staff in marketing, finance, human resources, and all the other functions of a normal company.

When it comes to sharing, my impression over the last 16 years (there were 65 people when I got here) is that we remain a collaborative bunch. We share; if you ask somebody for help, she will probably help you. Our reports (and my books) are a highly collaborative effort. Clients touch many kinds of staff (account people, consulting staff, leadership boards folks, analysts, finance) and we collaborate around their needs.

But we knew we could improve how effectively we collaborate. Even at this size, most of the collaboration is by email, with some by instant message, phone, video conference, and in person. Our Intranet has been for the most part a document repository. The top management, recognizing this, demanded an improvement, and we built it.

We started with a POST method analysis (People, Objectives, Strategy, Technology), just as we advise our clients to do. Our workforce is highly professional and mobile -- our collaboration solution had to be mobile as well. Our objectives focused on improving work within and especially across groups and geographies and improving the pace of innovation, two of the key objectives common to many companies pursuing collaboration systems. A team with folks from both IT and marketing (internal communication) spearheaded the effort. The social element of the new system was designed not only to foster collaboration but to connect people with others who can help them -- another key objective.

Hero platformWe call the new sharing system "The HERO Platform," named after the highly empowered and resourceful operatives (HEROes) that we talk about in Empowered. The main new element is a highly interactive and flexible community layer that now rests on top of the document repository. I won't describe the technology in any detail; suffice it to say it includes feeds, community features, and the ability for people to follow those communities and each other. Building communities in this system can be a little challenging, but participating as a user is pretty straightforward. It feels a lot like Facebook. (Quick note: if you sell these type of systems, don't solicit me, I don't buy or evaluate them. Brief our Content & Collaboration team, who advise clients on them.)

Many of these systems fail because there is no one to evangelize and manage them. This is where I became involved. My role is to help manage the change from within, working closely with the technical, communications, and marketing staff who designed and built the thing.

Our first goal is to get people using the HERO Platform as a matter of course to collaborate. This is hard, because our earlier small-scale collaboration efforts hadn't been broad enough, and our previous Intranet system had not caught fire.

Here are some strategies we helped put in place to get people using the system:

  • Hero sales poster Honeypot strategy. Identify early adopters, have them build communities ahead of today's launch. They will then reach out and invite people into a dialogue. For example, the sales collaboration community is starting a dialogue around effective selling techniques. The research community will start a discussion on big ideas. And in our Forrsale community (which is intended to replace all those "I have a car for sale" emails in our Massachusetts office) we'll be giving away Red Sox tickets to one person in the Boston area who follows the community. I call these early communities "honeypots" and the key is . . . it's the community owners working to attract people to them, not corporate.
  • Awareness. We did a single company-wide email (since repeated emails tend to annoy). But we've created some posters which are going up all over our locations. I used movie graphics and minimalist tag lines to attract attention. This is a marketing effort, even if the target is employees. I also leapt at a couple of chances to address the employee base at our recent all-company meetings. We will be doing additional promotions, not through email, but visible only to people on the platform, so if you're not there, you miss out.
  • Executive leadership. I did a separate training session for Forrester's top executive team. Employees will pay attention to what the leaders do -- if the leaders use it, they'll follow. And if the leaders don't, what message does that send?
  • A big push, but continuing effort. The launch was a big day -- we concentrated all our messages on the launch yesterday and got nearly half of Forrester to participate. But it continues. We're doing voluntary companywide training on Friday and again later on at times that work for other parts of the world; we have some events planned for the following week, too. Some of the communities weren't ready to go for the kickoff, which is fine -- they'll help generate interest next month, as will the community managers conceiving new ideas. It's important to keep the interest up, or this will fizzle out.
  • Measurement. We're looking at activity, but we will also look for indicators like ideas generated, improved efficiency, and reductions in volumes of internal email. 

Looking back at Empowered, we said there were five things you needed to get a collaboration system to succeed:

  1. Build collaboration systems that extend existing tools (We did this -- our system links up to email, mobile devices, our VPN, and the prior Intranet system)
  2. Make sure anyone participating gets value instantly. (The honeypots will help with this. People seeing the activity will want to join it.)
  3. Dedicate people to the rollout. (My involvement is a start, and we considering what other resources to apply.)
  4. Solve 80% of the problem, then stop and listen. (That's the plan. We know it's not finished.)
  5. Build adoption socially and virally. (The system, as built, includes features that will help with this.)

Will we succeed? Ask me in September and I'll have a pretty good idea. But I do know I'm having a blast with this project!


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