How One Company Is Using Wikis and Blogs to Unclog E-mail Boxes

The Berkshire Hathaway-owned CORT speeds up internal collaboration and project management with wikis and blogs.

CORT Business Services has adopted wikis and blogs to help foster internal collaboration across different departments and to manage the workflow for its e-commerce site, which rents out home and office furniture and helps companies relocate employees to new locations.

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A subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, CORT has approximately 2,500 employees spread out across 180 locations. The highly distributed nature of its workforce made it a perfect candidate for a social software suite, notes Lee Thomas, vice president of information technology and product development. "We're a decentralized company," he says. "It's hard to know who is impacted by every decision we make. We need the proper people to stay in the loop regarding relevant information, and stay out of the loop when it isn't relevant."

As that comment might suggest, Thomas says most internal communications and project management at CORT had been previously done over e-mail, which had its pitfalls. One of his many project teams that handles software development for cort.com, an e-commerce site that allows CORT customers to sign up for their relocation services or rent furniture, serves as a good example.

Like any website, cort.com gets an occasional software bug. In the past, developers would address that bug and communicate about the process for fixing it by e-mailing each other. Now, if one of them notices it or sets out to fix it, he can post a message on a blog or update a wiki, leaving it there for his or her colleagues to see (and making sure they don't waste their time trying to fix it simultaneously).

Jonathan Edwards, an analyst with Yankee Group who studies Web 2.0 in the enterprise, says many companies have begun to see the value in bringing these types of technologies into the workplace internally because teams can use them in any way they see fit. "The beauty of these tools is their flexibility," Edwards says. "They are being used for project management, internal collaboration, and to build customer, partner and developer communities. [Social software] vendors have been blown away with the creativity of their clients."

Thomas himself is a good example. As a department head, he frequently had to write e-mails updating his team on operational issues and line of business heads who were interested in ongoing IT projects. Since adopting the social software platform, those parties shouldn't expect to see e-mails from him anymore; he requires that they subscribe to his blog, where he lays it all out. "I'm getting out of the status report business," he says, chuckling.

CORT's wiki and blog are served up to employees over Clearspace, a social software platform provided by Jive that is currently being used by 200 companies. According to the Yankee Group's Edwards, Jive and other social software vendors of the last few years have begun to prove their mettle in the enterprise space merely by showing that companies can work a different way (such as loosening the e-mail noose). "They have demonstrated the soft ROI of having a more transparent and connected application infrastructure for collaboration," Edwards says.

It's also pretty cheap. The pricing varies according to the number of users. But assuming a company has 25 users or more, it's about $59 per user per year.

According to Thomas, much like how blogs and wikis grew up in the consumer space, allowing groups within the company to embrace the technology and use it how they see fit will help in its overall adoption. Right now, of Cort's 2,500 employees, Thomas estimates 100 of them make contributions and another 200 view it almost every day. Just like the Web, however, he sees it catching on virally. "This whole thing is very organic," he says, "and I see new groups popping up every couple weeks.

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