by Kristin Burnham

5 Tips for Social Business Adoption: How SAS Succeeded

May 21, 20126 mins
CIOIT LeadershipSaaS

SAS needed a way to consolidate information repositories and wrangle millennials from using Facebook for work purposes. Here's how the business analytics company decided on and rolled out their enterprise collaboration platform, plus tips for success.

Business analytics company SAS was at a crossroads common to many companies pondering a social business platform: Its intranet housed various repositories of information that were cumbersome to navigate. The business, too, understood that millennials were seeking more social business tools.

“We have 12,000 employees and the knowledge is so widespread,” says Karen Lee, senior director of internal communications. Lee was the point-person for implementing a solution for SAS. “We needed something that brought communication channels together—one place that would reference a lot of our communications.”

Lee says discussions about what was next in communications prompted their interest in an enterprise collaboration platform. SAS was using Chatter, an organically created microblog, but the tool was mostly used mostly by employees who belonged to the research and development team. So, acknowledging their increasing population of millennials in the workplace, Lee says they investigated the services and tools this group of employees was currently using.

“They all were using sites like Facebook and Linkedin, and they were all very comfortable with smartphones,” she says. “Looking at how they were communicating, I said, ‘You know what? I want something like Facebook.'”

Objective: Be as Compelling as Facebook

Becky Graebe, manager of internal communications, who worked closely with Lee during their search and implementation of an enterprise collaboration tool, says that when they discovered that millennials were turning to social networks like Facebook to communicate, they realized the need for a platform was more urgent than they first thought.


“There were a lot of people on Facebook talking about what was happening at the company, but we had absolutely no control over what would happen or what was said there,” Graebe says. “We knew we had to build a platform that was so compelling they’d have to use it.”

From an IT perspective, Tom Sherrod, senior director of IT for SAS’s information systems division, says that their main requirement was that the solution was fast to roll out. “Different business units had different requirements,” he says. “We narrowed down the requirements to only the common ones.” In total, they gathered more than 100 requirements from every division in the company.

[CIOs Must Embrace Social Networks to Drive Social Business]

Still unsure whether or not they would build the system themselves, they looked at several vendors. One in particular—Socialcast—met many of their requirements. “Socialcast had the right balance between feature set and cost for what we were looking for,” Sherrod says. They signed with Socialcast, and after six weeks, SAS launched a pilot of their platform, which they later would call “The Hub.”

SAS Goes Viral by Accident

Graebe and SAS’s development team launched the pilot, which “accidentally went viral,” she says. More than 1,400 signed up to use The Hub before it went on production. “It’s bringing global expertise to each individual at SAS. What’s not to love about that?” Graebe says. “Within five minutes of one question being asked in Europe, answers come in from places we wouldnt have been able to access via email: Europe, Latin America, Australia.”

Sherrod says that one unexpected challenge they faced in the pilot that went viral was the demand for off-network participation, which they had not architected. “The install was initially intranet only with an on-premise appliance,” he says. “Based on that change, we may have compared the hosted and on premise offerings a bit closer.”

Once The Hub officially launched, SAS saw continued adoption and enterprisewide success. To date, the company has more than 8,500 users onboard, which is about 67 percent of their employees worldwide.

Unlike many other businesses that struggle with adoption of enterprise collaboration platforms, SAS was successful by all measures. Here are five tips that Graebe, Lee and Sherrod say were key in promoting user adoption.

1. Get executives excited. Lee says they met with executives within the first few days of launching The Hub to tell them about new tool. They hosted a town hall event to feature Socialcast and get the word out.

“Our CEO told everyone that if you’re not on The Hub, you’re not on the right platform,” she says. “That was pretty great. There’s always the concern from the executive standpoint that people are going to go and sit out there all day like on Facebook. If your people aren’t being productive, you’re going to notice it whether they’re on The Hub or not,” she says.

Gaining buy-in—and support—from their CEO was imperative.

2. Lightly train employees. Graebe and Lee say they didn’t want the platform to require a lot of hands-on training. Instead, they offer training to people on a regular basis. “We’ll show people a new demo or ask department heads to bring their team to a workshop and we’ll show you how to use The Hub to promote its offerings,” Graebe says. “Or, we might pull together a panel of executives and superusers to share how they’re using the site.”

3. Promote, promote, promote. Though the pilot went viral, Graebe and Lee say they still spend time wrangling the slow-adopters.

“People still use the old listservs, so when I see a question someone posts there I’ll say, ‘I bet you’ll get a lot more feedback on The Hub,’ and then I get a thank-you note from them for pointing them there,” Lee says.

“You’re going to have to deal with executives—or other employees—who just want no part of the new platform,” Lee says. “But that’s your opportunity to point out great examples. If someone spends hours looking for one document, send them a link to the discussion on The Hub.

[Enterprise Social Networks Deserve Time, Careful Consideration]

4. Make it unintimidating. Encourage employees to look at the tool like they would email and blogging, Graebe says.

“People don’t think they need it to do the work they’re currently doing. But, to keep up and take their offerings to the next level, they’re going to have to work differently,” she says. “They need to have a taste of how this gets them more feedback quicker, and to give them that we try to give them a nonthreatening reason such as a great photo gallery to check out. That way they’re less intimidated.

5. Trust your employees. The Hub was successful at SAS, Graebe and Lee say, because they trusted their employees to use it properly.

“They know they’re trusted by execs and managers and know they have a voice here,” Lee says. “If there was no culture of trust, they wouldn’t feel as good about using it.”

That doesn’t mean they haven’t had a few issues pop up: “We’ve seen blog posts that were questionable, but other people flag it and the problem usually corrects itself,” Lee says.

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