April 28, 2011, 7:31 PM — When you are a company with 500 offices and 15,000 employees, it's easy for people to lose each other, or never meet at all.
For Colliers International, a decentralized commercial real estate firm based in Seattle that does business in 60 countries, the need to connect the local experts operating in all its global markets became vital as the firm expanded its operations.
"We make most of our deals through referrals, so we rely heavily on relationships -- with our clients and with each other," says Colliers CIO Veresh Sita. "But we did not have a social collaboration platform."
The firm had been depending on old school ways of connecting: email blasts asking if anyone has expertise in a subject or a relationship with a particular client.
"Most of these blasts would get deleted because they were viewed as spam," says Sita.
Colliers looked to Microsoft SharePoint 2010 to accelerate and manage how its far-flung employees connect with each other. Sita had never implemented SharePoint before and signed on with Microsoft's TAP (Technical Adoption Program) when SharePoint 2010 was in beta in early 2010.
A SharePoint 2010 customer for a year now, Sita reports that Colliers has greatly enhanced and improved how employees communicate. But Sita and his staff had to do a lot of customization to tailor SharePoint to Colliers' needs.
Customizing SharePoint: The LinkedIn Influence
SharePoint's out-of-box capabilities will not solve all your problems, notes Sita, and that's where customization comes into play. Colliers decided to modify SharePoint internally by hiring developers.
The first place Sita looked for inspiration? LinkedIn.
"LinkedIn is a phenomenal repository for networking," says Sita. "Its user interface is directly applicable to our business where we have experts on certain real estate subjects who are geographically dispersed."
[ For complete coverage on Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration software -- including enterprise and cloud adoption trends and reviews of SharePoint 2010 -- see CIO.com's SharePoint Bible. ]
So Sita and company effectively used SharePoint 2010's MySites to build out their own "LinkedIn for Colliers."
Now, a year or so after relying on e-mail blasts for collaboration, Colliers has 15,000 people around the globe with professional profiles that can connect and collaborate through integrated Exchange, SharePoint and Lync (or Lync's predecessor OCS, depending on what part of the world you are in). Colliers has plans to migrate to Office 365, Microsoft's soon-to-be-released cloud platform.
"People can see each other's presence information right on the profile pages and then IM or do a video call," Sita says.