SAS Uses Social Collaboration To Keep Employees Connected And Engaged

My colleague Ted Schadler and I published several case studies in our recent report, "The Road To Social Business Transformation Starts With A Burning Platform." What follows is one of those stories -- SAS's social collaboration platform, The Hub, designed to capture conversations that were leaking out into the public social sphere as employees attempted to share information. Here's the story:

SAS is a company noted for its focus on its people — it has appeared in every one of Fortune's lists of "100 Best Companies to Work For" during the list's 15-year history. And it's no wonder: SAS's perks include intramural sports leagues and a subsidized healthcare center. SAS's commitment to its people, though, goes beyond their health and well-being. The Cary, N.C., software vendor also wants to ensure that its people have tools that keep them connected and engaged, allowing them to stay productive and informed.

In 2009, this desire manifested itself in Senior Director of Internal Communications Karen Lee's push for creating a new platform for the corporate intranet. IT Senior Director Tom Sherrod and his team had worked closely with Karen and her team to roll out an intranet with many embedded tools, such as blogs and wikis. But Karen and company felt something was missing — they wanted a "more social intranet" that provided more information about people, such as pictures.

Why, you may ask, was this important? Well, despite the well-designed intranet, Karen and company felt that important conversations — ones that could contain important company information — were happening in venues that SAS did not control, like Facebook. So, Karen pushed the idea of setting up a platform that allowed employees to interact freely in a secure environment.

Tom and his team set to work looking for technology that fit the bill. On February 14, 2010, one month after their first demo of the technology, SAS rolled out an activity stream called "The Hub" that was built on tools from activity stream provider Socialcast. Ten days prior to the official launch, SAS opened the feed to 30 beta users; by the time it launched, there were more than 1,000 users, thanks to viral adoption. Today, there are more than 900 user-generated groups in the Hub, Socialcast's APIs are piping articles and other news into the stream, and employees seeking assistance — like customer support personnel — rely on the Hub to solve problems using "the wisdom of the crowd." The technology is also helping them identify new information sources, as they take note of employees not considered subject matter experts compiling a large number of followers in the system.

The corporate communications and IT leadership, along with SAS's executive leadership, are pleased with the success of the Hub. So, how did they get here? Culturally, SAS is predisposed to looking for new and innovative ways of working. It's manifest in its consistently strong performance in workplace surveys. So, it's not surprising that the executive leadership in SAS encouraged the corporate communications and IT groups to look for ways to improve the intranet experience for employees.

Beyond culture, Tom and his team were careful to ensure that a cross section of the business was involved in creating the criteria for the new communication platform. Thus, the project team they assembled included about 30 people who worked within each division in SAS to figure out what the value of a social platform would be for each group. The 100 business requirements that came out of this exercise represented the common needs across the organization.

SAS kept an open mind when selecting a platform. It looked at its Microsoft SharePoint implementation but did not let its established investment keep it from considering vendors like Yammer or — as a software firm — developing their own solution. Tom and company — with key input from IT System Manager Joe O'Brien — settled on Socialcast because they believed the tool's ease of use, integration capabilities through Reach, and ease of customization best fit their business.

The Hub took off among SAS employees because they were invested. The name itself came from employees who voted on the social network's title. The internal communication team, led by Internal Communications Manager Becky Graebe, kicked off an internal marketing campaign with the activity stream's launch that included a week of events and training sessions. The tool really took off, though, when the CEO used the Hub to field questions during his quarterly webcast to employees. The success of this use case inspired other executives to use the tool during their own town halls. This, in turn, ensured that the Hub worked its way into the workdays of employees across the organization.

Now, the Hub's deployment wasn't completely smooth sailing. Managers still worry that employees spend too much time using the Hub for unimportant activities. And they have experienced outages of this hosted service at times. However, these are minor difficulties.

 

I'll be discussing this and other business cases, as well how to create a roadmap for social business transformation, in my upcoming webinar on Friday, December 14. I invite you to register for this event to join the conversation.