Web 2.0: Just say yes

Web 2.0: Just say yes

Execs say social networking and other next-gen tools can provide competitive edge

Second Life at Cisco

At Cisco, there is no doubt about the possibilities social networking tools hold. In fact, the virtual world of Linden Lab's Second Life, which allows users to create computer-generated images of themselves, is quickly becoming a preferred method of interaction among the company's employees, business partners and customers. "It's much more intimate than a Webcast, because it's bidirectional," says Christian Renauld, Cisco's chief architect of networked virtual environments.

He says employees are using Second Life to give tech talks, hold press conferences, train employees on new compensation plans, and do product launches. "We had a tech talk recently where people came from all over the world and after the presentation, they walked up to the speaker and exchanged business cards virtually," Renauld says.

His own team, which spans six time zones, uses Second Life for general-purpose collaboration. "Second Life allows me to have face time with them without burning through my travel budget," he says.

While he's quick to praise the virtues of Second Life, Renauld says he also is aware of its limitations. "We don't talk private Cisco business on Second Life because it's not secure. Instead, we use virtual workspaces we've created behind the firewall or switch over to protected conferencing software," he says.

Accenture employees share with SharePoint

Chris Miller, senior director of project management at global consultancy Accenture, agrees that companies must exercise caution when deploying social networking tools. So, rather than using a public site, he opted to build a social networking platform behind the company's firewall on Microsoft Office SharePoint Server to connect Accenture's more than 170,000 employees worldwide.

"We've built a page for every person in the company, which features non-private data about them, such as their title and location. It has replaced our static company directory," he says. From there, employees can personalize their pages by posting photos, hobbies and areas of expertise, as well as create blogs for co-workers to subscribe to via RSS feeds. The company also uses RSS feeds to keep employees up to date on important corporate information, such as changes in benefits.

Miller says the trick is to keep these tools user-friendly. "If someone doesn't know how to use the tools to help them do a better job, they won't be effective," he says. Accenture has added an introduction to the SharePoint portal to its new-hire orientation.

Bonvanie is also a proponent of employee training. He enlists his 16-year-old son, a heavy Facebook user, to help employees, whose average age is 41, apply the tool's many features to their job requirements. "We've learned how to build out our friendships into sales connections," he says.

Like Accenture's Miller and Cisco's Renauld, Bonvanie understands the risks of social networking. He takes precautions such as using SharePoint to ensure that only authenticated Serena employees can follow posted links to documents.

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