With about 77,000 employees scattered across the globe, telecommunications giant Alcatel-Lucent was looking for a better way for its workers to communicate with one another.
While there was a desire throughout the Paris-based company to improve communication, there was no overarching command from on high about how to do so. The answer came when workers familiar with using social networks like Facebook and Twitter thought they simply needed to become more social at work. Some began to turn to enterprise-scale social networking tools.
With nothing more than word of mouth and a casual invitation here and there, Alcatel-Lucent now has more than 19,000 employees creating work groups and social communities, sharing information and getting work done faster.
"There was a problem in that we had no way to communicate across boundaries," said Greg Lowe, social media strategist and global infrastructure architect at Alcatel-Lucent. "Our CEO had a key message that we needed to be much more collaborative, yet we didn't have the tools. We were stuck with process-focused tools like Sharepoint -- things that are designed more to support projects. It wasn't a way for us to communicate across the company."
Lowe, who sparked the movement that led the global company to stick its toe in the water of enterprise 2.0 technologies, said it all started in September 2008 when he signed up for Yammer, a free microblogging service for contained communication within a company or group. Lowe said his main focus was to "push buttons" and be provocative in his daily posts, hoping to lure other Alcatel-Lucent employees to join him in the new endeavor.
The move wasn't endorsed or promoted by management. No one was told to use the service, but slowly the number of Yammer users inside the company started to grow, with about 250 Alcatel-Lucent employees using it by the end of 2008. Employees may not have fully understood the corporate benefits of microblogging, but they were intrigued.
Lowe noted that among all the groups that were formed in Yammer, IT was the least-represented department. "IT was very focused on bigger priorities -- ERP and large global systems," he noted. "This was the kind of thing that wasn't on anybody's radar.... At any time, anybody could have shut this thing down. But there was so much adoption that they didn't want to shut it down. It was a groundswell activity. And it didn't cost us anything."
Using a free service, according to Lowe, was critical in getting Alcatel-Lucent to take its first step.
"Yammer was really good in that it didn't cost us to do a pilot," he said, adding that 9,300 employees are now signed up to use the microblogging tool. "We had zero dollars to throw at it. That's good because if I'd had to get a budget for this, we never would have done it."
But now that Yammer use is widespread, "people have come up to me and said, 'Yammer saved me three days of trying to find who I should talk to about a problem.' It was those anecdotal cases that drove the business case for Yammer."