by Kristin Burnham

How Random House Overcame 3 Common Enterprise Collaboration Obstacles

Jun 29, 20116 mins
Collaboration SoftwareInnovationIT Leadership

Enterprise collaboration tools can foster better communication and elicit transparency from business units. Here's how Random House implemented an enterprise collaboration suite, encouraged adoption and is measuring its success.

With more than 10,000 new book titles and products launching every year, publishing company Random House needed a real-time solution to help manage and share information, and improve employee communication. Email, says VP of IT Chris Hyams Hart, just wasn’t cutting it.

“If you have a really important message you need to get to people, email is where it goes to die,” he says. “What if marketing needed to know what sales was doing, but not everyone in that email list needed to know? People needed a sense of ambient awareness—they needed to know what was going around them.”

Hart and his team looked at a number of enterprise collaboration suites over a few months. They weren’t so much interested in building an internal Facebook; rather they were more interested in the communications from systems. Their main criteria in the new platform: integration with Twitter’s API so they could migrate from toolset to toolset, an open standard, and easy integration with other tools they may later need .

Ultimately they decided on Socialcast, citing how easy the enterprise collaboration software is to use and trouble shoot.

The suite, Hart says, puts users in control of the information they want to consume. For example, employees can “follow” the status of a person, system alert or project. When a status changes, only those who are subscribing to it receive an alert, then they can take action if necessary. If an employee is involved in a project with another department, she can choose to follow their alerts—and unsubscribe to them when she no longer needs to be in the loop, Hart says.

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While Random House is in the early stages of its internal social deployment, Hart says the company has learned a lot about some of the common challenges and obstacles that businesses deploying social platforms face. Here’s what Random House learned about changing employee preconceptions, shifting behaviors and generating best practices.

Reforming Employee Mindsets

Hart says that when the IT department introduced the new social platform to small groups of employees, some people were nervous that it would be used for “wasteful things,” such as inane posts and as a procrastination tool. They likened it to a “Facebook at work.”

To thwart this mindset and encourage adoption, Hart says IT purposely rolled it out to groups where improved communication around critical projects was a business priority.

“Tools in the enterprise are only well-adopted if the person using them gets value out of them,” he says. “It may add value to the company to act as a data entry point, but real usage will be low if there is no personal value gained.”

Also important in getting the naysayers to see the benefits of a collaboration suite was education. Since one of IT’s reservations about the platform was that employees would use it to “play around,” Hart had to emphasize that everything they said or did inappropriately was visible to managers.

Once these fears were assuaged, the benefits—including greater visibility into day-to-day events within a business unit—became more apparent. “Imagine being able to view a work homepage like you do your Facebook homepage, and know exactly what has happened today at work,” Hart says.

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Generating Desired Behaviors

Hart says that when employees gained access to the platform, their first posts usually indicated “here is something I want you to know”—a good first instinct, Hart says, but not quite how he intended employees to use it.

“We were trying to get to the ‘this is what’s going on’ type of status posts,” Hart says. “Something more along the lines of, ‘I’m doing this and if you tell me what you’re doing, we’ll have a greater awareness of what’s going on and we can collaborate better.'”

Guiding employees to these behaviors meant enlisting senior managers and directors to set the example, so others could learn from them. Not only did this tactic work, but it introduced another benefit: For those employees who weren’t previously using social media such as Facebook and Twitter, the platform provided them with a strong understanding of how to use social media properly, should they choose to do so on their own.

“Social tools support and focus staff on the skills needed for the future. Just as technology is becoming consumer-based with software and hardware from Apple and Google, communications is also seeing that impact with Facebook and Twitter,” Hart says. “Having people learn how to appropriately participate in social media as an employee is crucial—knowing what to say and how to support our authors, titles and our strategy online is a big part of our future.”

Another observant point: Hart says that training people in a social tool may be futile because they are generally intuitive to use. Instead, he recommends, train teams in communication.

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“There’s a lot to sharing in a company—the act of sharing is very much exposing you to a lot of departments and there has to be a lot of trust and transparency,” he says. “It takes a while to see that it isn’t scary.”

Cultivating Patience and Creating Metrics for Success

Depending on workplace culture and environment, adoption of enterprise-class social tools can sometimes be slow. Random House, which is purposely rolling out the platform slowly, uses a different metric for success. Instead of evaluating the deployment based on the number of posts, Hart is measuring its success on the basis of engagement.

“Remember the 1/10/100 rule of posting: For every 100 people, one person will post, 10 may comment or ‘like’ it and 100 people will read it,” he says. “[Assuming] that the 1 percent rule is true, don’t expect a huge number of posters.”

Instead, he says, look for people joining groups, posting comments and “liking” things. And keep an eye on those who do post: Use them to drive others to use the tool and share projects so the rest of the company can get that information without emailing or scheduling meetings, he says.

Likewise, it was important for Hart to acknowledge that the deployment of a social platform was not a cost-savings initiative since the goal was not to rid the company of email.

“I don’t think the ROI for a social platform makes sense. It’s like the ROI for email: We know the speed and impact of email,” says Hart. “The next step is moving to collaborative media to accelerate communications. I think the focus needs to be on making the company faster, more self-aware. The goal of it is speed—pulling together in one shared forum with no segregation.

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Kristin Burnham covers consumer technology, social networking and Web 2.0 for Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Kristin at