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COLUMN. Integrating social tools with the EUMETSAT intranet. The wiki was created to help new starters settle in quickly MARCH 2009

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KM

COLUMN

MARCH 2009

Integrating social tools with the

EUMETSAT intranet

In 2008, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) won a commendation in the Intranet Innovation Awards. Their AJAX-based ‘Intranet Newsflash’ delivered quick bulletins of news and critical messages to users, regardless of the page on display. EUMETSAT’S intranet innovation doesn’t end there, however. A wiki for new starters and a discussion forum to improve dialogue and internal communication have also been launched.

I n th i s i n te r v i e w , N i k l a s S i n a n d e r , Enterprise Content Manager at EUMETSAT, discusses the motivations for both tools, and they are motivations that will almost certainly strike a chord with most intranet-focused professionals.

S2D: Why did EUMETSAT begin

looking at tools such as wikis and

discussion forums?

There were separate reasons for each tool, although they’ve evolved similarly.

For the wiki, the idea emerged because we have a high turnover of employees from countries from all over the world.

When they arrive, new employees have a difficult time due to the social differences, how the authorities work and the different language (German). Naturally, in their first few weeks and months, new employees need to concentrate on settling in: they need to buy or rent a house or flat, get a tax identity number, get all the needed insurance, import their car or buy a new one, find schools for their kids, find schools teaching

German for themselves, find new friends, and so on.

During this time they’re not very productive for EUMETSAT since, quite naturally, their minds are occupied with all the settling in issues.

To help new employees settle in more quickly, which would be beneficial for both EUMETSAT and the employee, we felt there was a need to provide all the necessary information in one place and ensure it was right up to date.

To this end, we introduced the wiki, with the idea being that all employees, new and old, can add all this information.

The forum

The discussion forum (Figure 2) was fuelled by the need to solve a different problem, that of employees using different tools for expressing their views or discussing multiple topics.

This wasn’t an ideal situation, since it required the user to keep track of where all the different tools were located, the different user names and passwords needed for signing on, as well as learning how to use all the different tools. In addition, if searching for specific information, users would need to search in several different repositories. On top of this, sometimes they were using unsupported tools, for which IT did not have the expertise to help or solve problems. To solve this problem, we introduced the discussion forum, with the aim of providing one place for all discussions. This means the users only need to go to that one place, and they only need to learn how to use one tool. In addition, since it’s maintained by an in-house team, users can always get support on the tools.

The wiki was created to help

new starters settle in quickly

Alex Manchester is a senior con-sultant at Step Two Designs, an in-tranet and content management consultancy based in Sydney. Alex has a specific focus on intranets, internal communication, and social media.

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Integrating social tools with the EUMETSAT intranet• Page 2 © Copyright 2009, Step Two Designs Pty Ltd •www.steptwo.com.au

S2D: How do the new tools integrate

with the intranet?

Both the wiki and the forum integrate fully and seamlessly with the intranet, including graphic design, login and search. This fundamentally lowers the threshold for entry and use. The user doesn’t need to log in to use either the wiki or the forum, the entire system is managed via single sign-on.

S2D: Was integration difficult?

The integration of the forum took very little effort. We used phpBB (free, open-source forum software) and provided a working the discussion platform fairly quickly. The aspect that took the longest was actually skinning it to look like our existing intranet. That took longer than anticipated.

Even with the longer time it took to do the graphical side of things, it still didn’t take very long.

Integrating the wiki

The wiki was developed as part of our CMS, w h i c h b e n e f i t s t h e a u t h e n t i c a t i o n integration and gives us integrated search. The main work there was replacing the editor provided by the CMS. It wasn’t a proper WYSIWYG editor, so it was replaced with an open-source editor.

S2D: How do you govern either tool?

The governance aspect has actually evolved very well, and the experience has been similar for both tools.

Essentially, because users are always logged in and there are no anonymous users, every single comment on the forum, or edit on the wiki, is attributed to the user, with their name included on the page.

Further, each user profile is linked directly back to the corporate phone directory, so if you click on a user, their picture and contact details are presented.

This integration is a key element in the governance model, which becomes self-regulating. It deters and prevents people from writing inappropriate things, and, if they did, they would be identified and their manager can talk directly with them.

S2D: Did you run into any problems

with the idea of open commenting?

Initially, yes. Management were reluctant to introduce these tools. They saw that by allowing all users to edit articles and comment in a forum, there would be no control of the information, which in turn could result in people badmouthing or bullying each other, or writing sexist articles or similar.

T he s ol u t i o n w e p r ov i d e d , w i th a l l comments and articles directly linked to employees, reassured the management team, and they gave us the go-ahead.

We added further security too. For example, on the forum, when a user searches, the query only returns posts they are authorised to see (based on their credentials, stored within their user profile).

S2D: What impact have the tools had?

We see these tools as being very successful. Thanks to the wiki, it’s now much easier for new employees to get the information they need and settle in quickly.

Employees are helping each other by updating the wiki where needed, and it helps them to build up a social network at EUMETSAT much faster than they would have done before, since they get in contact with people in the same situation.

By settling in faster, employees do get up to speed with their job and become productive much faster than before.

Another benefit has been reduced emails, because some of the information that’s now in the wikis was previously sent round to everybody via email, disturbing some people who didn’t need the information (they almost regarded it as spam).

Integrated sign-on prevents

inappropriate comments

Niklas Sinander is Manager, Enterprise Content

Management, at EUMETSAT, an intergovernmental organisation tasked with delivering weather and climate-related satellite da-ta, images and products, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It was founded as an international organisation in 1986.

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Figure 2: The discussion forum homepage, fully integrated with the main graphic design Figure 1. The EUMETSAT intranet homepage

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Integrating social tools with the EUMETSAT intranet• Page 4 © Copyright 2009, Step Two Designs Pty Ltd •www.steptwo.com.au

Also, since emails are easily lost, the same information was sent round over and over again, which was even more irritating. The wiki is now used for much more information than only the settle-in articles, but it started with a clear purpose, which we believe is the reason it became successful in the first place.

Forum success

The forum has also been very well received. There are many active discussions ongoing and, as with the wiki, it’s reduced the amount of emails sent, since a lot of the discussions have moved from emails to the discussion forum. Again, this has the added benefit of making it easier for people to find older information.

In addition, it’s possible to invite new members to a specific discussion forum, who will then have access to all posts, whereas before one had to resend a lot of emails for them to be up to date.

S2D: What has surprised you most

about the uptake of the tools?

For me, the best part is the self-moderating/ regulating governance, introduced by always displaying the name of the author for each article.

This might seem a simple solution to come up with, but most examples of these tools, especially wikis, seem to be not regulated at all, or semi-regulated by requiring a user-defined login, where you can always hide who you really are. Alternatively, you can have a moderator watching over the articles, but this could prove very costly in terms of resources.

All of these reasons might result in management not approving to introducing such tools. In this respect, the self-moderating/regulating has proved a useful solution to the management of articles.

S2D: What were the main lessons?

There were quite a few lessons that will be useful if we implement something like this again. With the wiki, usage was quite slow at

first. In hindsight, the main reasons for this were:

• Too few articles initially. I’d recommend populating the wiki with a decent amount of articles before rolling out. • Users did not add new articles initially.

I’d recommend identifying and supporting some wiki champions throughout the organisation that will evangelise the wiki.

• Some users did not know, or did not dare to, edit articles initially. In the future I would offer frequent training

opportunities for users.

• Some people were not aware of the wiki several weeks after the rollout. Next time I would campaign and communicate frequently that a new tool has been introduced.

• Some people did not understand the benefit of a wiki for this type of

information. Again, more training here. I’d clearly communicate the benefits to all users.

• Consider a governance model that would work in your company. Self -regulation worked for us, but might not for another company.

• Make the wiki really easy to use. If you are targeting more than just the technical guys, the threshold to use these tools must be really low.

• Consider the lessons learnt above and understand how to address them before rolling out.

On the discussion forum, it worked well to just start with the basic functionality and then add more functionality when the users requested it. Being open source, the platform also allows IT to react quickly. It has so much functionality built in, and if it isn’t already included in the software, the open source community will likely have an answer or solution.

This has the further benefit of giving the users confidence that we are listening to them, and means they don’t need to wait for eons in order to get more functionality The open-source forum software was also a very cost-effective solution. The effort needed to skin and integrate the tool was much less than the cost to develop and implement it on the CMS.

These tools encourage

collaboration

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Figure 4: Displaying an author profile on the EUMETSAT wiki. Details are pulled from the directory Figure 3: The EUMETSAT wiki, also integrated with the graphic design

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Integrating social tools with the EUMETSAT intranet• Page 6 © Copyright 2009, Step Two Designs Pty Ltd •www.steptwo.com.au

Our thoughts on the EUMETSAT wiki

and discussion forum

The first thought on these examples is, simply, ‘Great!’. It’s fantastic to see such simple software being put to use to meet what are very common organisational demands, particularly the new starters’ handbook in the form of a wiki. This is a superb application of a such a tool, and very much in the Wikipedia mould.

The single sign-on of both tools is also something that should be widely regarded as a ‘must have’. Too often, the clunky sign-on process is an application killer. This is true both on the Web and with internal systems. Single sign-on solves this problem in one decisive action.

Of course, the additional benefit of single sign-on is that comments are attributed, providing a ‘self-regulating’ governance model.

Governance is critical for social tools in a business environment. Without it, or expensive moderation, management and communications staff fear that they will 'lose control of the conversation'.

If this happens, the worst-case scenario is a forum full of anonymous and usually vitriolic posts, and an overall experience that can leave an organisation scarred. In an ideal world, there would be sensible employees, attributed comments, and a moderating team.

We saw an example boasting all three of those things in the British Airways Crew Community forums, which won a Gold Award in the 2008 Intranet Innovation Awards.

EUMETSAT seems to have found a happy medium with its self-regulating model and, clearly, with the long-term growth of both sites, self-regulation has worked, validating both the decision to implement it, and management’s decision to approve the project as a whole.

Back-end integration

Underlying the governance model is the phone directory integration (see Figure 4). In many organisations, there’s a disconnect between the directory and other tools, despite the directory often being the most-used application on the intranet.

The type of integration demonstrated at EUMETSAT, between interactive tools and corporate service applications, closes the loop, and it’s something we can expect to see much more of in the future.

Front-end integration

Overlaying the back-end integration is the seamless graphic integration of the main CMS and the new tools. This is best practice exemplified.

Users don’t care what systems or tools are in use, they hate multiple passwords, and they just want tools that work and allow them to do their job more efficiently.

Single sign-on across all social

tools is a ‘must have’

Users don’t care what tool it is,

they just want it to work

www.steptwo.com.au contact@steptwo.com.au•

intranets usability & IA• •content management information management•

Step Two

DESIGNS

Did you like this article?

Send your thoughts and feedback to:

alex@steptwo.com.au

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Figure

Figure 2: The discussion forum homepage, fully integrated with the main graphic designFigure 1
Figure 4: Displaying an author profile on the EUMETSAT wiki. Details are pulled from the directoryFigure 3: The EUMETSAT wiki, also integrated with the graphic design

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