Desperately seeking the right social enterprise tool?

Scott Carl, CIO of Parsons, an engineering and construction company with more than 11,500 employees, knew he needed the right tools to help new employees integrate into the company and facilitate collaboration among existing staff--particularly recent college grads. "As we hire them, we have to help them form a personal relationship with whomever has the answers for them," he says.

Parsons had been relying on instant messaging or general email for collaboration and wanted to change its old-school culture with an enterprise-based microblogging application. Yammer was recommended to Carl by an HR colleague who had used it at a previous employer. Carl says it was attractive in terms of cost.

"We are cost conscious, and we were not purchasing a more advanced tool because of cost," he says. The tool pulled in 3,500 users, including Parsons' CEO, over the first two years of the pilot. But after that, adoption and activity slowly started to flatline. "We were scratching our heads," he says. "We had several thousand accounts, but no one was using it."

Piloting Yammer

Yammer was initially adopted by HR with young staff in mind, but when adoption began to plateau, Carl examined what employees were actually doing and discovered what the problem was. He observed that it was seldom that people were actually posting and interacting even though the amount of registered users was strong.

"We were still heavy with employees that were [just] typical listeners. They didn't collaborate," he says. Carl didn't see any changes in how much email or how often employees used IM either. "We wanted Yammer to show us the best practices for team collaboration and we wanted to say this is how we can collaborate and eliminate all the email we receive,'" he says.

As a last ditch effort, Carl tried to boost the number of active users by developing other use cases for the tool--such as idea management and collaboration between internal and external clients. "We wanted people to innovate, put good ideas into the tool, and be able to shape the idea and use it as a business proposition," he says.

But Carl eventually concluded that Yammer didn't meet his requirements and decided to reevaluate what he was seeking in a collaboration tool and consider other vendors. "We realized we needed more than just a social blogging tool and felt Yammer didn't even do that very well."

Courting Other Vendors

After considering Salesforce Chatter and other options, Carl is leaning toward Jive's Social Intranet Solution, a product designed to let companies bring popular social networking features like activity streams and microblogging to its intranet and to let them create incentives for users to participate. The vendor also won out in terms of responsiveness: "Jive came back with their demo in a week. They were the best at demonstrating their tool."

In Jive, each employee has a profile that lists information about them, such as their areas of expertise and contact information. Anyone can post or create various content such as Word files, blog posts, SharePoint files and newsletters; any of these can be added to people's tasks and bookmarks. Jive aggregates content in a form of a news feed and each person can customize their home page depending on groups they are in or people they follow. "There was a definite positive reaction from Jive," Carl says.

Carl has just begun testing Jive and is planning a presentation to his executive team about its financial and business value. He says that so far, the amount of features and depth of the user interface were immediately better than Yammer:

"There's a wow factor with Jive. You can see everything better than you can on Yammer." Carl is only in preliminary negotiations with Jive but anticipates moving forward with them.

Contact Editorial Assistant Lauren Brousell at lbrousell@cio.com. Follow her on Twitter: @lbrousell.

This story, "Desperately seeking the right social enterprise tool?" was originally published by CIO.

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