Eugene Roman, group president of systems and technology at Bell Canada, knows how to play a blog.
An enterprise blog, that is. And he has taught his employees to play a blog so well that they often have “jam” sessions–an internal blog forum where groups of employees discuss new products and work to streamline efficiencies at the C$18 billion telecom.
Except, Bell Canada’s garage is virtual and lives on the corporate intranet. The primary instrument, a lightweight enterprise blogging tool, lets coworkers blog about topics from figuring out ways to cut energy costs to conceiving new products for Bell Canada, whose distributed workforce stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Roman understands an ugly secret that IT departments all over North America don’t want to admit: E-mail, used by itself, doesn’t cut it anymore for project management and interoffice communication. People get lost in “CC storms” of reply-all e-mails that overwhelm users trying to collaborate on new business opportunities.
If you’re just now preparing to take the blog plunge, changing decades of work habits for a generation of information workers tethered to e-mail won’t be easy. Blogs also remain a tough sell for traditional IT leaders who value a command-and-control, top-down hierarchy when it comes to their infrastructure.
“Traditional enterprise solutions were designed to keep IT happy,” says Suw Charman, a social software consultant who helps companies understand the use of blogs and wikis in business. “They’re not usually designed with any thought to the user, like a blog is.”
For implementation success, say analysts and practitioners like Roman who have championed the technology, you’ll need enterprise-worthy blogging tools and test group members who become believers and ideally will evangelize the technology.
If successful, blogs could be the first critical building block in a group of Web-based applications to help spawn horizontal collaboration across the enterprise.
Clearing the Reputation Hurdle
Blogs still suffer a reputation problem within enterprises, analysts say. “People are hung up on this concept of the blog as a diary and as an external marketing medium,” says Charman. “There are actually very practical uses for blogs internally.”
In the beginning of a blog effort, Bell Canada’s Roman says, companies should consider avoiding the word blog altogether and use a euphemism.
It’s also important to address security and compliance issues from the start, Roman notes. Bell Canada addressed those concerns by building the blog behind the corporate firewall. Remote workers can access it only through the corporate intranet using a virtual private network (VPN).
While blogs are typically most useful when many users participate, analysts and practitioners say you’re better off to start small.
Blogs work well when they catch on virally, and you need to introduce the idea to the right test group, who will then evangelize the idea to the rest of the enterprise.
Curing the E-mail Addicts
One way to wean employees from e-mail communications: Don’t fight it entirely. The sister technology to a blog, Real Simple Syndication (RSS), can help. At Bell Canada, when a manager decides to start a blog jam, he or she uses an RSS feed to push an invite message to the desired participants’ e-mail inboxes.
In the e-mail, employees can click on a link that leads them to the jam session. The message also says they have 48 hours to comment on the topic, making it harder for them to throw the invite aside.
Tag It or Bag It
Teaching employees to use blog-editing tools isn’t hard, since they essentially look like a lightweight word processor. Instead, the challenge comes in reminding them to tag their posts with keywords that will help with later search and discovery needs.
Tags can be formed in ways that best suit your organization.
“You can have a tag associated with a person, a sales team, a region or a product,” says Yankee Group’s Edwards. “Establishing a proper taxonomy is important for these tools to be effective. It gives you a smarter search engine. Without it, you will fail.”
No’s Not a Good Answer
Remember, if companies don’t adopt blogging technologies for the enterprise, line-of-business heads are just a credit-card purchase away from a hosted offering.
The nitty-gritty implementation of a blog isn’t all that hard. Neither is navigating the selection of tools. In fact, line-of-business leaders who want to start a blogging effort without getting IT involved at all need only a credit card and a Web browser to deploy a hosted blogging service to their staff.
For companies taking the more proactive approach to enterprise blogging, says Jonathan Edwards, a Yankee Group analyst, pure-play blogging vendors like Six Apart make a natural starting point.
Blogging is bread and butter for these vendors, and they’ve made their livelihood in the past few years building enterprise-grade blogs and related tools with simple user interfaces, data integration and strong security.
Also in this group: Blogtronix, a platform that integrates blogs with wikis, RSS, communities, analytics and corporate social networking, and Jive Software’s Clearspace suite, which includes blogs, discussion and wiki tools.
For customers who don’t want a hosted solution because of compliance concerns regarding business communications, some of these vendors also offer on-premises solutions.
It’s just a matter of time, Edwards says, before traditional vendors like Microsoft and IBM capitalize on their blog capabilities by pairing them with a suite of Web 2.0 applications.
“IT wants a more integrated communications and collaboration suite,” he says. Today, IBM offers a blog function in its Lotus Connections suite of Web 2.0 inspired technologies, and Microsoft’s Sharepoint contains a
That said, Edwards warns against your ruling out the blogging specialists right now, since they’ve held the keys to innovation and have developed user-friendly interfaces.