Part 4 of The Enterprise Intranet “Goes Social” at eXo
When we started to develop our social intranet, we wanted a better way to communicate comprehensive and detailed information on all things eXo, from project status to team activities and beyond. We wanted our users to want to return to the social intranet, eagerly and frequently. As hoped, we experienced dramatic success with some unexpected, yet invaluable benefits.
How has the social intranet improved our day-to-day work experience and productivity? We’ve seen social and communications improvements that we didn’t anticipate but that are having a positive impact on operations, management and motivation.
Unifying the company. Our social intranet lets everybody participate in the development and evolution of the eXo Platform. Employees are better aligned with the company’s strategic direction through visibility into management’s activity streams, while company leadership also has improved visibility into all aspects of company operations. All of which makes for a sticky site that everybody returns to, over and over. For a company that has offices in the U.S., France, Ukraine, Tunisia and Vietnam, our intranet unites us in a way that email and file sharing never could. The social intranet has penetrated regional and departmental silos, making it easier for us to communicate and share ideas and operate as a cohesive, unified organization.
Improving usability feedback. Let’s take a look at how we develop software, specifically how we deal with bugs. Previously, we used a bug tracking application that centered on tasks, and used email to notify team members of updates and progress. Our updates created an information flood that actively discouraged us from sharing information and discussing.
Now, we still use our bug tracking app. But we’ve supplemented it with forums in our social intranet to report bugs, suggest improvements and collect related ideas and feedback. Anything written in these forums shows up in the associated activity streams, making it easy for users to follow and contribute to the resolution. We’ve also added gadgets to follow the tasks within the space they are related to. Compared to the bug tracking software alone, this approach encourages discussions by establishing consolidated, centralized views of bug-related conversations, each in its own window.
Expanding access. The gadgets and dashboards found on our intranet are accessible on several devices, including mobile devices. We actually consider our mobile applications to be mobile portals, which let us distribute our intranet’s customized dashboards to multiple devices, with a user experience designed specifically for the iPhone, iPad or Android devices. Now, our remote employees and those who travel frequently can stay connected to the heart of the company – our social intranet – via their mobile devices.
We consider the web to be a completely distributed environment where apps can be created and hosted in one location, while being viewed as embedded objects in many other websites. To support a broad range of use cases, our gadgets are based on the Open Social standard and our intranet—and the eXo Platform itself—can be viewed as an open gadget directory, which third-party applications like iGoogle can reach to consume gadgets. We also support Netvibes widgets, and allow developers to deploy UWA widgets to cool Netvibes dashboards.
Developing new features. The most powerful yet unexpected benefit of our social intranet is the degree to which it empowers developers and harnesses the creativity of all employees, translating suggestions into real dashboard and product improvements. As noted earlier, our web-based IDE lets our developers skip the operations-oriented processes to deploy new gadgets and applets. It also gives developers access to all the functionality, libraries and APIs provided by eXo Platform. And while our platform is built on Java, the IDE uses a lightweight development model so almost anyone can build a gadget, often in a few hours, even if he or she has virtually no gadget development experience.
The combination of 1) immediate, one-click deployment, 2) easily reusable code, and 3) a broad developer base fosters a new type of innovation, driven from the bottom up. Most gadgets create different views of existing eXo Platform features, and our developers are extending our intranet with new gadgets and use cases that we didn’t anticipate or include in our roadmap.
For example, we didn’t roll out our social intranet with gadgets for user profiles, a social inbox, contacts, what’s new, who’s online, polls, or top-voted topics (to name a few). eXo developers built those gadgets, after spending time within the social intranet, in response to what they believed would be useful functionality. Who decides if a gadget is useful? eXo employees. Useful gadgets get added to users’ personal dashboards and to their team and project spaces. Gadgets deemed sub-par are simply ignored. It’s simple, objective and democratic—the wisdom of crowds applied to product development.
Social Intranet, Serious Advantage
Is a social intranet right for your organization? Consider these questions:
- Do you have a distributed enterprise, but cross-departmental functions are critical to success/operations?
- Do you have silos of knowledge and resources, duplication of effort between teams, complaints from users about lack of communication?
- Do you have trouble encouraging users to log into the existing intranet or use other applications provided by IT?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you can improve communication, collaboration, your users’ overall experience and your organization’s efficiency with a social intranet. We’ve seen these advantages first hand, by giving our users the tools they needed to establish connections and share information, ideas and resources. We’ve now tapped the wisdom and creativity of our entire organization. We’ve become a social enterprise. Yours can, too.