GE Nails the Internal Social Network


I recently interviewed Kyle Arteaga, Serena Software's VP of corporate communications, about his company's use of Facebook to replace an internal intranet and improve communications among its nearly 800 employees in 18 countries.


And I've written about companies interested in Facebook-like benefits, but concerned about security and other issues, that opt to build their own internal social networks. In that post, I noted that while internal networks tend to be more secure and functionally robust than external networks, they still face challenges, including ensuring they deliver business value and overcoming cultural barriers.


One company that seems to have absolutely nailed the internal social network is General Electric. As ZDNet blogger Oliver Marks writes, its SupportCentral network boasts 400,000 users in more than 6,000 locations around the world. It supports more than 20 languages, garners more than 25 million hits a day (that's more than Google and Yahoo combined) and hosts more than 50,000 communities with 100,000 experts who manage information and answer questions.


Other notable features: It's powered by an internal cloud, a concept discussed in more detail in a recent SYS-CON Media blog post. All users are allowed to take advantage of a sophisticated mashup system to create their own business applications. The software is updated twice a month, by a team of GE engineers using Agile development methods.


And more: SupportCentral interacts with more than 2,000 external systems. It allows users to access files and documents from any Internet browser, and GE is shifting to an all-online document system. No ROI justification is required for SupportCentral budgeting, because the system generates "millions" of dollars in annual savings for GE.


A reader commenting on Marks' post offers a link to an earlier post on the A Journey in Social Media blog, that offers more details. EMC's Chuck Willis lauds GE for using an incremental innovation process to create SupportCentral and for offering a number of networking models -- some focused on people, others on communities, documents or discussions -- so users can opt for the model or models that best suit the way they work. Willis also highlights the system's integration of process tools and formalized workflow layer that sits on top the social environment.


SupportCentral disproves some common misconceptions about such networks, notes Willis, including that they can't scale effectively, that it's impossible to cost-justify them, and that traditional corporate culture won't change to accommodate them. He writes:

... the functionality (GE had) deployed was many years ahead of anything I've seen or heard about in the marketplace. More importantly, it was developed and deployed in response to documented business needs from proficient users who'd made this platform the core of their business life.