Swiss Re - one of the smart companies

On Monday In Zurich during SOMESSO's Web 2.0 University™ based masterclass delivered by Jim Benson, one of the attendees related her company's adoption of Social Media.  I was soaking up the material and offering Jim a little help, as we have just started to represent Hinchcliffe and Web 2.0 University™ in the UK.  One of the weaknesses that we currently have in the enterprise 2.0 or "social media in business" space is not enough good case studies, with the existing pantheon of stories being recycled too much.  That's one of the reasons that Susan Scrupski's 2.0 Adoption Council initiative is attracting such a buzz at places like the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in San Francisco

Anu Elmer's explanation of the collaboration platform they call Ourspace inside Swiss Re is another great "text book" example of how to get enterprise 2.0 and social media adopted properly in the corporate landscape.  Swiss Re is the World's second largest reinsurance company and has been in operation since 1863.  Their business is all about understanding risk, and they are known for being a conservative organization, which makes it all the more powerful that they have made such a success of this new technology.   Anu, who is their Vice President of Communications and HR, told us that the mantra for the project is the proverb "None of us is as smart as all of us", which is a superb way to position their intent.   She says:

"increasing virtualisation of work including a large number of geographically dispersed teams drove the need for a collaboration platform in Swiss Re. We needed to break silos and increase interaction   between different units and experts.."

Swiss Re have done some of the classical things you need to do to make a project like this a success.  The project was sponsored by a member of the Swiss re Executive Committee.  Before they started they held an online strategy "jamming" session involving a significant percentage of all Swiss Re staff - this is an online, forum based discussion, a concept first piloted by IBM back in 2001, something that we strongly advocate.  When the project itself started, they involved 1,300 users in a pilot that ran from April to September.  The platform, based on Jive, is available to all 11,500 employees.  As of today 55% of all Swiss Re employees have logged in at least once, and they are seeing a steady increase in creation and viewing of content.  There are currently 347 groups created for collaboration on business topics with both global and local themes.  The participation is cross-functional and comes from all regions and countries.  They had used data from an existing internal user directory, called "Who is", as a starting point and IT had been amongst the first regular users, but eventually they've even got their account managers involved. 

There are some important messages to learn from their adoption story.  Anu explained that they had to fight against the perception that they were creating an internal social network like Facebook, and that the social media terminology got in the way (more on that in a later post).  They were careful to position  this as a set of business collaboration tools.  They spent time considering what type of exclusive and interesting content the community would need.  They trained community managers and recognized (and budgeted for) the significant amount of time that group moderation, support and management takes.  They identified a network of advocates, or champions, who they helped develop and encourage.  They consulted group owners to see what more they could do to help.  Anu also commented that it took a lot of off-line promotion to get things moving. 

One of the key questions that people from the corporate world ask about this kind of project is where is the ROI and how did you cost justify the project.   Anu used the classical example of old style group working with a presentation sent by email to 9 people.  You are immediately out of control, with 10 copies of the presentation - who's got the latest version?  You then have to track and make sense of all the email dialogue back and forth.  If you put that presentation in a shared group, the master presentation is in one place, and the team can have a sensible, threaded discussion together to agree what needs to be done.  Anyone can see the benefit to that style of collaboration, but part of the problem with tracking ROI is that the company didn't measure how efficiently it worked the old way, so it's not easy to come up with "hard numbers" to help cost justify the spend to get to the new way.  When we discussed this Anu explained that Swiss Re had taken a similar line to some other companies like Wachovia.  They argued a very modest percentage saving in overall travel budgets.  They had two existing, old, and not very effective Knowledge Management systems within their Intranet.  These systems were turned off and the associated cost savings along with the travel reductions were used to help fund the project.

This is a great adoption story for enterprise collaboration.  I'm hoping we can facilitate a longer case study write up, but Anu and the Swiss Re team should be congratulated on how far they have come.  I think it's fitting that the hosts of the 2009 SOMESSO in Zurich should be such a great example of the conference theme - bridging the gap between corporate culture and "the web 2.0 society".