Virgin Media turns to social tools for its enterprise

Telecom company looks to cut back on travel time, email with Cisco collaboration tools

U.K. telecom provider Virgin Media is reducing travel time, increasing team work and decreasing email dependence by deploying social enterprise collaboration tools.

Executives at Virgin Media, which provides Internet, television, and mobile and fixed phone services in the U.K., had been looking for a way to help employees reduce the time they spend on the road so they can spend more time at work or at home with their families. They also wanted to encourage employees to engage more with their colleagues, while cutting down on the barrage of email flooding in many inboxes.

Colin Miles of Virgin Media
Colin Miles is head of technical services at Virgin Media.

Colin Miles, head of technical services at Virgin Media, said social collaboration tools would be the best way to take care of these issues.

"It's not just centered around the cost of travel, but the amount of time people spend traveling," Miles said. Employees are often working on trains or using hands-free devices while driving their cars, he added. "They're not as free as doing the work at their desks. We wanted more of a choice in how people conduct themselves. The introduction of these tools enabled people to spend more time at their base location. It was positive for the organization, but they were more productive and spent more time dealing with what's important."

About eight or nine months ago, Virgin Media, which has about 20,000 employees around the U.K., began a pilot test with 1,000 workers of Cisco Quad and WebEx. Cisco has been a longtime player in the enterprise social collaboration market. Its Quad is an enterprise Web-based collaboration platform designed to pull together Facebook-like update posts, instant messaging, document sharing, video communication, microblogging and communities. WebEx is a suite of collaboration-focused applications.

Since the pilot went well, Virgin Media is rolling out the tools to another 4,000 workers, which would bring the number of employees using the enterprise social tools to 5,000, a quarter of the staff.

Miles said he'd like to see Cisco Quad and WebEx rolled out to all 20,000 employees sometime in 2013, but there's no specific plan for a full deployment.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research, said he's not surprised that Virgin Media is turning to social collaboration tools to better their business. Enterprises are increasingly heading in this social direction, he said.

"Social networking can streamline communications as they enable workers to deliver messages and content to people in common communities," he added. "Instead of posting status messages about where you're shopping, you'll post messages about what you are working on. Instead of posting pictures, you'll post documents." Kerravala also said it's only a matter of time before social tools replace corporate email.

The social tools are being rolled out as part of a program Virgin Media dubbed the Flexible Working Initiative, with the goal of helping employees work together from offices or from their homes by using tools like instant messaging, video calls and shared documents.

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