What it takes to drive IBM Lotus Connections adoption in the enterprise

A case study of customer experiences

An increasing number of companies are evaluating social software for their enterprise. Most organizations from various industries are looking at IBM® Lotus® Connections for their social software needs. Without a clear adoption strategy and compelling business use case, though, even the best intended pilot programs can fail. Read about the lessons learned by some customers.


Laurisa Rodriguez, Senior Social Software Specialist, IBM

Laurisa Rodriguez is a Senior Social Software Specialist working for IBM Software Services for Lotus.

30 June 2009

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An increasing number of companies are evaluating social software for their enterprise. Lotus Connections has enjoyed outstanding sales in this space with customers in various industries. To achieve a successful social software rollout, a clear adoption strategy and compelling use cases are critical. Furthermore, because no two companies deploy social software in the same manner or for the same reasons, there are no one-size-fits-all rules. Thus, what exactly does it take for an organization to successfully adopt Lotus Connections? This article examines common key factors that contribute to a successful rollout of Lotus Connections by looking at the experiences of some of IBM's customers. The intended audience for this article is line-of-business managers, project managers, and IT architects in the process of evaluating or rolling out Lotus Connections in an enterprise.

This article covers the following:

  • How to identify business goals
  • Selecting the pilot audience
  • Overcoming common hurdles for internal deployments
  • Adoption recipes

I used internal and external social software to locate customers who were either running Lotus Connections in a post-sales pilot or in production, and then scheduled phone interviews with them to find out what they had done to be successful. I then compiled all their answers and came up with a set of steps to ensure a successful rollout of Lotus Connections. Based on my conversation with customers, they all agreed that having a defined set of business goals was the most important factor.

Identifying business goals

The most successful Lotus Connections customers are those who have taken the time to carefully define what they expect to accomplish with social software.

Failure to identify business goals prior to deployment can be compared to taking a trip without a map and a destination. Where are you going? Which path will you use to get there? How will you know when you have arrived?

Similarly with social software, identifying business goals lets you chart a clear path to what you want to achieve. Armed with this knowledge, you can plan specific activities to meet those goals. This process also provides you with before and after snapshots to demonstrate the effects of social software in your organization.

Below are some specific examples of how Lotus Connections has been applied to common business goals.

Business goal 1: Facilitate increased communication across teams, business units, and geographies to reduce duplication of effort

  • Customer issue. A research and development company thrives on innovation. Although the company already had an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solution in place for knowledge management, employees weren’t talking to each other. The general employee population didn’t know what others were working on or who had knowledge in a particular area. As a result, there was duplication of efforts in different areas of the company that didn’t become evident until much time and effort had been wasted. Furthermore, as a global company, the firm was experiencing a disconnection between their employees in the United States and Asia. Because innovation and collaboration are key to remaining competitive, they needed their employees to be fully engaged with one other.
  • How Lotus Connections met the goal. This customer deployed Lotus Connections Profiles and Blogs to bridge the gap between groups that weren’t communicating with one another. By being able to look up any employee in the company and immediately see that person's tags and read that person's blogs, employees were empowered to make their own direct connections with their counterparts abroad. Blogs allowed employees to share their expertise and knowledge with others and to make new connections regardless of geographic location. Employees began to blog about projects in progress, and that new level of information led to eliminating duplication of efforts.

Business goal 2: Enable employees to locate expertise and information on topics more quickly

  • Customer issue. A worldwide consulting company needs to be able to locate expertise and information quickly to meet their clients’ needs. This company was using traditional methods for knowledge repository such as databases. Practice leaders, though, needed access not only to information, but also to the people behind the information. Furthermore, they had a corporate-wide initiative to establish small networks of six colleagues from diverse backgrounds who did not previous know one another for the purpose of broadening their skills and expanding individuals’ networks inside the company. How could these people find each other?
  • How Lotus Connections met the goal. This company deployed Lotus Connections to enable its workforce to quickly find expertise and information, even among colleagues the employees did not yet know. By using a combination of the five features of Lotus Connections, the company was able to quickly locate expertise by a tag search across any of the features. For example, searching Dogear for a particular tag gives you a list of the most active bookmarkers of that term. More than likely, those bookmarkers are individuals with skills in that area or at least some interest in that topic. By allowing employees to form communities around common interests or existing expertise, the consultants become aware as to who their counterparts are and develop trust among themselves, an important enabler for successful collaboration.

Selecting the pilot audience

The second most important factor is selecting the right pilot audience. The customers interviewed included groups or departments who approached IT with a clear business need for social software. In this situation, the line-of-business leaders or department heads had independently been researching social software applications for business and discovered that it could help them. They approached IT and were allowed into the pilot with great results. Of the two types of groups, those who had been selected and those who had volunteered, the volunteers were more enthusiastic and more quickly realized the business value.

The lesson here is for IT to listen to their line-of-business leaders when selecting pilot participants. Active and enthusiastic users who can seed the environment are key to adoption success. Imagine logging on to a social site like Facebook with no content in it. The site would just not provide any value, right? Furthermore, if these users have use cases in which they can quickly demonstrate business value, this testimony can aid in getting other departments on board and in spreading social software throughout your enterprise.

Overcoming common hurdles for internal deployments

Most of the customers we interviewed faced some kind of hurdles. In this section, we summarize the common hurdles faced by these organizations and document how they were able to overcome them successfully.

Recently, we received an email from a customer in the process of running a Lotus Connections pilot:

"I am getting resistance and concerns from various groups about the adoption of social software. The groups feel that keeping these tools will open the flood gates of non-productive communication and information. Below is some of the feedback I received:

  • Employees' productivity would decrease notably
  • Care must be taken when employees upload profile photos of their families
  • We must moderate employees' blog posts, comments, profile information because they could write about anything
  • We must control what communities are being created for what purpose

I need evidence from companies that deployed Lotus Connections that the sky did not fall!”

Not only will the sky not fall, it will be bluer than ever. Before you get to the sunshine, though, you need to overcome these obstacles with evidence and previous experiences from our customers. The following subsections are some of the common hurdles that customers face. Each shows how existing customers have used social software successfully and provides examples that you can take back to groups who are resisting the deployment of social software.

Effects on productivity

Do you think your employees will suddenly abandon their responsibilities and become power bloggers? Or that they will spend their days adding new colleagues to their networks? If a manager sees that productivity was being affected, this is simply a performance management issue and can be handled appropriately. However, most customers haven’t experienced any drop in productivity at all. In fact, if anything, Lotus Connections has enabled employees to become more productive.

One customer is using Lotus Connections Activities in the Procurement department to improve customer service and speed up orientation of new vendors or employees. The tasks performed in the Procurement department are mostly repetitive, yet they require the flexibility to be handled by one or more people. Activities templates were created by senior staff that defined common procurement processes. These templates are now used by new employees or vendors when starting a new task. The senior person has shared knowledge and is virtually mentoring the more junior person. This process can be repeated multiple times, even if the senior person moves to a new position. Social software clearly allows employees to more easily leverage the experience of others.

Legal issues

At one customer location, the legal department suggested a purging system in which all socially generated content would be removed within 30 days. Their reasoning was to limit liability exposure in the event of a lawsuit. The customer told the legal department that the main objectives with social software were to capture the knowledge of their aging workforce in the form of blogs and social bookmarks and to encourage reuse of existing knowledge. They presented use cases to the legal department to help them understand how purging content so frequently would defeat the purpose of the system. They settled on applying the same use policy and code of compliance that they use for email.

Appropriateness and control

If you give free reign to your employees, what might happen? Brilliance, unexpected ideas, new serendipitous connections, and more. How would you feel if you needed approval every time you wanted to share an idea or ask a question? You might stop asking. This situation is the opposite result of what you want for successful adoption of social software.

Experience has shown that the more controls you put on social software, the more you stifle creativity and create an environment in which users are apprehensive about participating.

The customers interviewed for this article reported having no required approval cycle or controls to restrict content. Furthermore, they had no reports of inappropriate use. They could operate in this manner for several reasons:

  • Nothing is anonymous. Inside the firewall, there is no anonymity. Every time an individual adds any type of content to Lotus Connections, it requires users to be authenticated. The user name displays next to anything that user adds: blog comment, bookmark, or community forum question.
  • Conditions of employment. Most companies have conditions of employment in place that all individuals must honor. Often, the conditions include agreement not to use company property, systems, or networks for malicious purposes. You can include a link to this as part of the user agreement for your Lotus Connections implementation and that you let users know that you trust them to use social software responsibly. As an example, you can view the IBM Social Computing Policies.
  • Flagging of inappropriate content. Lotus Connections allows users to flag inappropriate content. Rather than relying on a corporate watchdog, this approach fosters a self-policing community in which the participants and consumers of the content determine what is and isn’t appropriate. System administrators can configure the system so that any flagged material is routed to an appropriate individual for review.

Adoption recipes

If you build it, they will come – Field of Dreams

That theory might work for baseball fields in Hollywood movies, but it probably won’t work for enterprise social software. Because user-generated content is crucial to the success of any social software endeavor, you need a solid plan to get your users interested. While you might eventually experience widespread viral growth, you’ll never get there if users don’t feel engaged immediately upon their first encounter.

The following subsections describe ways that you can use to make sure that users are engaged from the first time they use Lotus Connections.

Publicize it

Would you host a meeting without sending out an invitation and just expect people to somehow figure out they were supposed to participate? Of course, not. Don’t expect people to stumble upon your social software installation. Publicity might seem like an obvious necessity, but it often gets overlooked. Therefore, create a marketing plan to get the word out about your Lotus Connections installation after your pilot is in place and ready for business.

This plan can be a combination of email, intranet announcements, and old-fashioned flyers posted around the workplace. Rather than depending on IT to publicize this new offering, you should involve your line-of-business leaders in customizing the message for their users. Provide users with a specific use case or goal that can be reached by using Lotus Connections. Users tend to pay more attention to messages from an authoritative source that they know and to content specific to their needs and daily tasks.

As an example, one of our customers hosted an afternoon session where employees were encouraged to take 15 minutes out of their day to get started with Lotus Connections. They publicized this event with flyers posted on their digital information board and in various high-traffic locations throughout the work site. After publicizing the event for only two days, they had a high turnout from various lines of business such as IT, Marketing, R&D, Service Desk, Business Analysis, Sales, and Customer Operations. The attendees continued to spread the word virally after the event.

Population parties

No one likes to be alone at a party. Yet, if you don’t take time to seed the environment with relevant content, that is exactly how your users will feel. How can you make sure that your early adopters add enough data so that others can find value later?

One customer combined a Profiles population session with an Annual Conference attended by most of their employees in the R&D department. As part of the conference, they introduced Profiles. Afterward, they gave the attendees time to update the About Me and Background sections, tag themselves and the others attending the conference, and invite colleagues to their networks. They reported it as being a fun and engaging activity. As a result, they accomplished three items key to adoption:

  • Enabled users on the use and purpose of Profiles
  • Created valuable information on the attendees' background that allows others to know how they contribute to the company
  • Raised awareness of the availability of Profiles in the company

At the event mentioned previously, the company identified key tasks that they wanted people to accomplish:

  • Create a profile, including a photo, using a digital camera that was available during the session so that anyone lacking a headshot could create one
  • Add bookmarks to the Dogear repository
  • Create or join a Community
  • Create or join an Activity
  • Share content (Blogs and Dogear) and invite others (Activities, Communities, and Profiles) so that even colleagues who didn’t attend could see the notices in their inbox and be drawn to participate

Give your users a helping hand

Instead of flipping the switch and hoping your users can figure out what to do, help them out.

Some customers have produced short, two- to five-minute videos illustrating how to use Lotus Connections services within their environment. Examples include "How to update your profile," "How to find people," "How to search," and "How to Dogear." Users might not have an hour to learn everything, but if you break down key functions into smaller pieces, users can willingly partake.

Knowing that most people won’t read a thick manual or even bother with the online help, one customer created a brief guide to Lotus Connections. This guide was small, index-card-sized with quick reference material for getting started. It provided the internal URL and brief descriptions of the five Lotus Connections services. It gave users just enough information to get started without feeling overwhelmed.

Other customers have Knowledge Centers or advocates that partner with interested business areas getting started with social software. These advocates can spend time at department meetings or meet one-to-one with users who need to know how Lotus Connections can be applied to their specific work tasks.

No matter what approach you choose, make sure that users know where to go when they need help. Nothing can kill adoption faster than users feeling stuck, lost, and frustrated.

Get sticky with it!

Enterprise social software is for business, but allowing your users to have some fun and share their personality can give them a reason to return.

"We don’t want employees wasting time talking about sports or video games or food or anything else that isn’t directly related to their jobs." This sentiment is a common concern. A recent study done by IBM Research showed that allowing employees to share both work and nonwork topics grows strong bonds that ultimately benefit the bottom line. In fact, social networking inside the company allows employees to strengthen existing relationships and discover new contacts that they might not have encountered otherwise.

Enterprise social software also provides a secondary benefit. Employees might initially come to the site for a social aspect, but stay for business benefits. For example, they might join a social community, but then discover a business community applicable to their role. Or, they might start out perusing the community service and discover blogs or dogears in the process. Either way, your goal to get people actively engaged can be met.

One of our customers asked key employees to form communities around nonwork topics such as the Nintendo Wii. Community members trade tips and ask questions about Wii usage. Employees from across the company, who would probably never have had a business reason to reach out to each other, are now engaged in lively communication. It is among the top-used communities in the company and has provided the "stickyness" factor that draws new users in and keeps them coming back to Lotus Connections.

Another customer in the insurance industry allowed their employees to form communities around hobbies. A vibrant community of motorcyclists quickly grew. When the company needed a focus group for a new line of policies targeted to motorcyclists, they knew exactly where to go. Furthermore, those employees were members of motorcycle communities outside the company and had the connections necessary for a successful launch of the company's new product offerings.

Take some time to determine what type of nonwork topics and communities you would like to provide in your environment. Doing so can provide the needed incentive to stimulate activity and encourage contribution to your site.


In this article, we’ve shared the journey of customers who have taken the first steps into enterprise social software. You now know the importance of determining your business goals and selecting a pilot audience. Furthermore, you have some hints on how to overcome common objections to enterprise social software and how to promote adoption. By capitalizing on the experiences of others, you can have a successful enterprise social software deployment.



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