Discovering the Power of Social Networking Sites

IT executives cite the value of Web 2.0 applications in staff collaboration, knowledge management and marketing efforts.

You’ve probably received an invite to LinkedIn, a popular corporate social networking site. Or maybe you’ve heard your teenage son or daughter talk about the coolness of Facebook or MySpace. Social networking—interactive, collaborative online communities created by technology—has certainly gone mainstream. And now it’s becoming a value-added feature of the corporate landscape.

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Although social networking has raised security and liability concerns, members of the CIO Executive Council are embracing it, even leveraging it, for its attendant benefits of collaboration, enterprise knowledge management and brand and mission extension.

Using Websites to Collaborate

Miley Ainsworth, director of IT innovation at FedEx Services, started using social networking principles in late 2006 as part of FedEx’s internal innovation-focused website, Face Net (a play on Facebook). FedEx users enter areas of personal interest and expertise and then identify colleagues with similar entries. Users can join issue groups, collaborate on projects and even post video how-tos.

“Ideally, I’d like to have Face Net—and social networking in general—become an accepted part of doing business at FedEx,” says Ainsworth, whose 40-member team includes four dedicated to social networking. To do so, Ainsworth knows that the user base must grow quickly. Participation is encouraged through prizes like iPods and other gadgets.

Collaboration is also the payoff for Lockheed Martin. “We decided to respond to social networking using a martial arts philosophy—‘go with the momentum’—and then use this momentum to encourage collaboration,” says Joe Cleveland, Lockheed Martin’s CIO and president of Enterprise Information Systems. “As the newer generation of workers started coming on the job, we saw how comfortable they were using instant messaging to bounce project ideas off each other. We also noticed that they were being quite effective and efficient,” says Cleveland.

But along with collaboration came security, compliance and governance concerns. “For example, even something as simple as embedding a hyperlink in an instant message is problematic because hyperlinks can open attack vectors that include virus propagation, spyware infection and malicious code execution,” says Cleveland. He updated security guidelines, set up training sessions to inform users about potential breaches and provided other IT support as needed.

Cleveland says he has already seen positive results from social networking’s real-time collaboration, especially in terms of reduced project cycle times.

FedEx Team Fosters Dot-Com Ambience

Miley Ainsworth, director of IT innovation at FedEx Services, is in charge of social networking projects and researching other next-generation technology tools. Ainsworth and his 40-member team—four of whom are dedicated to social networking—are housed at FedEx Labs in downtown Memphis, geographically separate from the rest of FedEx.

The team sits on the third floor of a renovated 1900s furniture warehouse on the Mississippi that some refer to as “California on the River,” harking back to the days of innovation and dotcoms in Silicon Valley. The office space has easily configurable furniture, offices and cubes to encourage new ways of collaboration and work. There was even a rooftop view of the Memphis Triple-A baseball affiliate (the Redbirds) for those who find inspiration in baseball, until construction blocked it.

“The truly collaborative workspace helps to replace a more traditional mind-set; for us, the location breathes new ways of decision making and thinking—which is exactly what we are tasked to do,” says Ainsworth.

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