SharePoint 2010: How I Made Enterprise Social Networking a Reality

Canadian Telco company Telus has ditched traditional employee training classes and rolled out SharePoint 2010 for real-time, social networking-based training that includes Webcasts, communities, blogs, microblogs and wikis. Here's a look at how they did it — and the business results.

You often hear the terms "Enterprise 2.0" or "Facebook for the Enterprise", but what does it really take to roll out a social networking platform at a large company?

Telus, Canada's second-largest telecommunications company, is trying to redefine its culture with social networking tools, specifically by investing in the new social features built into SharePoint Server 2010.

Vancouver-based Telus provides wireless coverage, voice, high-speed Internet, and television for 12 million customers (the company also offers health care services). With 35,000 employees, Telus puts an emphasis on employee training as the key to better customer service.

Telus had long used formal employee classes for everything from sales to technology and health and safety training. But the method for organizing classes — outsourcing instructor-led training sessions — depended too much on the knowledge of outside instructors, and Telus realized employees would be better off learning from each other's expertise.

The best way to do that? Telus decided on informal, Web-based learning through social media.

Goodbye Training Classes

Dan Pontefract came on board at Telus in 2008 as a liason between the company's business units and IT. His role as Senior Director of Learning is to implement and maintain an Enterprise 2.0 strategy at Telus.

"Employees had been going to one- or two-day classes or conferences and learned a bunch of stuff, but that's not the only way to learn," Pontefract says.

[ For complete coverage on Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration software -- including enterprise and cloud adoption trends and previews of SharePoint 2010 -- see CIO.com's SharePoint Bible. ]

Business unit representatives at Telus had been mulling over a social media strategy for at least a year but had not made progress, says Pontefract. So he formed a internal Web 2.0 adoption council last fall to present to IT the business requirements that would be fulfilled with social networking tools such as online communities, following co-workers, tagging content, and integrating e-mail, phone and IM with presence.

"The IT folks took a vendor-neutral approach and looked at different solutions," Pontefract says. "But the decision lied in bang for buck, use of social networking features and integration with the Microsoft ecosystem. All this compelled IT to move forward with SharePoint."

The company is now using SharePoint 2010 to develop team sites, called MyCommunities, where project teams, departments, and other internal groups can share documents and other content, communicate easier, and gain access to the right people quickly.

SharePoint 2010: Social With Benefits

Telus had a lot invested in Microsoft products, Pontefract admits, since it was already using OCS (Office Communications Server), Office and SharePoint 2007.

"I'm not speaking for the CIO, but I'm assuming that Microsoft integration was a compelling argument to go with SharePoint 2010," he says.

With that said, Ponte points out that SharePoint 2007 did not have much social computing and SharePoint 2010 has made great strides in this area.

"The 2007 version had some discussion board features but that's about it," says Pontefract. "SharePoint 2010 allows you to connect people, follow your colleagues and see what they're doing or working on. It opens up the notion that it's okay to put your hand up and say, 'How can I help' as much as asking for help."

Telus is using SharePoint 2010's enhanced MySites — which include profile pages similar to those on Facebook — to "make a connection between Telus employees' skills and talents and what they contribute, such as user-generated content and blog posts."

On SharePoint 2010's MyProfile page there is an "Ask me about" section for each person that lists his or her areas of expertise, so co-workers can see a person's skills and ping them for help on a certain subject.

Pontefract underscores the benefits of connectivity between SharePoint 2010 and the rest of the Microsoft ecosystem. When viewing somebody's MyProfile page there's a "presence" tool next to the profile picture displaying whether that person is online, in a meeting or offline.

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"The presence tool integrates into Outlook and OCS so just by hovering over someone's picture there are options to e-mail that person, send an IM, place a phone call or set a calendar request meeting."

The organization chart for a group has also been elevated in SharePoint 2010 using Silverlight to display people's clickable pictures, titles and job descriptions. "You can move vertically up and down to see the hierachy. It puts in context what was a static text-based organization chart in SharePoint 2007," says Pontefract.

Advice: Don't Navigate Culture Shift Alone

Pontefract can't stress enough that instructor-led classes are a thing of the past, calling them "single-stop shop thinking." Social networking tools, he says, represent a fundamental and philosophical shift in old school learning.

"The nine to five day is gone and physical locations are going away too," says Pontefract."Enterprise 2.0 technologies are allowing that to happen and are connecting people to other people, to work projects, career opportunities and intelligence like never before."

Pontefract offers this advice for large companies trying to get on the E 2.0 train: Don't try to do it alone.

"Adoption can be hard when it changes the culture," he says.

"But there are innovators within every company, you just have to find them. Start a council, invite people to round tables and Web casts, start blogging, create a help site. We've done all these things through our council to get the company inspired about what Web 2.0 actually means, technologically as well as culturally."

Shane O'Neill is a senior writer at CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter at twitter.com/CIOonline.

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