Telecom Giant Takes to Web 2.0

A gradual rollout of microblogging and social networking tools is improving communication and collaboration at Alcatel-Lucent.

Executives at telecommunications giant Alcatel-Lucent knew that the company needed to find a better means of internal communication following its formation via the 2006 merger of Alcatel SA and Lucent Technologies Inc.

"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. It wasn't a way to communicate across the company."

Lowe said the company's initial moves into the Web 2.0 world in 2008 were facilitated by the fact that many of the company's 77,000 employees already had personal experience with popular social networking services like Facebook and Twitter.

Alcatel-Lucent began slowly, launching an internal blogging tool based on the free Yammer platform in September 2008. Employees may not have fully understood the corporate benefits of microblogging, but they were intrigued.

The move wasn't endorsed or promoted by management, and no one was told to use the system. But the number of Yammer users inside the company slowly started to grow -- from about 250 people at the end of 2008 to 9,300 today.

"It was a groundswell activity -- and it didn't cost us anything," Lowe said.

In March 2009, Lowe launched an effort to improve collaboration among workers housed in offices around the world. For 13 months, he gathered requirements, analyzed available technologies, garnered the support of IT executives and secured funding. "It was an exciting, entrepreneurial way of getting things done," Lowe said.

The result of that effort: In April, Alcatel-Lucent started rolling out a Web 2.0 service from Jive Software Inc. that provides Facebook-like social networking tools, such as updates, people searches and communication channels, to the corporate world. The service also lets employees communicate with customers, partners and suppliers.

Lowe moved slowly again in implementing Jive, first inviting just 125 people to join. Usage spread quickly, though; the company now has about 20,000 Jive users, Lowe said.

His decision to deploy Web 2.0 technologies slowly may have been key to the initiative's early success.

"If you roll out your platform and send out an e-mail saying, 'As of Monday, I'll expect everyone to start posting,' the chances of that succeeding are minimal," said Brad Shimmin, an analyst at Current Analysis. "If you put the tool in the room and let them pick it up and figure [it] out themselves, it'll be put to good use."

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an earlier version that ran on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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