How the AHA Promoted Use of Its Social Intranet

Ann All

Social communications are, in theory, great at helping break down information silos within organizations. Yet using multiple social platforms can actually result in the opposite effect, creating even more silos than before. When I wrote about this in December, I stressed companies should exercise control over the choice of social technology but not its use.


Another key is collecting social communications in a central hub, so everyone can benefit from added transparency. Because many companies already use intranets to share information, they are a logical candidate for this kind of centralization. I was so intrigued after attending a webinar about social intranets that I decided to contact the American Hospital Association, one of the organizations that shared its experiences, to hear more about its deployment.


The AHA encountered a problem I've written about before (and experienced myself): a not uniformly enthusiastic user base. As I've written before, some folks are reluctant to give up ingrained collaboration practices and will cling to tools like email rather than trying social technologies.


I got some great tips on boosting adoption in my interview with Jack MacKay, the AHA's CIO, and Karthik Chakkarapani, its IT director. Much of what they told me related to usability and relevant content, features that are important to drive usage of any intranet, whether or not it includes social tools.


The AHA evaluated Microsoft SharePoint and other technology but ultimately went with software from Socialtext, largely because MacKay and Chakkarapani felt folks would more readily take to a social intranet if users could post and manage content themselves. Explained MacKay:

... Everyone was concerned about having to come to IT for everything or maybe learn HTML. Karthik took the lead with Socialtext to build the whole thing around templates, so users could manage themselves. A traditional intranet is IT-driven. With SharePoint, you end up having to build a staff of .NET developers or SharePoint experts. With Socialtext, it's more cut-and-paste, more Excel tables. It's just much easier to maintain.

Though MacKay would have preferred to partner with business leaders to introduce the concept of a social intranet, IT ended up taking the initiative. IT was introducing a service line, and MacKay said the "new" and more social intranet was a great place to showcase its new services, at least some of which are used by every AHA employee. In addition to a list of IT projects and services, users can access four key applications -- HR, payroll, IT self-service and the performance management system -- and popular tools like Box.net via the intranet. Chakkarapani now considers integration capabilities with Socialtext a key criteria when evaluating new applications.


Single sign-on is utilized to make using these apps as easy as possible. (There's a great diagram showing the AHA's intranet architecture on the third page of my interview.)


The AHA put other must-see content, including a library of reference materials and a comprehensive event calendar, on the intranet. MacKay said posting photos of all of the employees also helps workers "feel more a part of the organization."


One idea I really liked, that makes good use of the transparency created with a social intranet: The AHA lists the key initiatives of each of its units, along with how they tie into the AHA's central strategic plan. Said Chakkarapani:

... We at least want to have one common view of projects and how they are linked to different strategies. Also, anybody can contribute ideas, which has opened up opportunities for innovation.

MacKay added:

Because of the structure of AHA, we're almost like 13 individual organizations. All of them are driven toward a central strategic strategy, but some of them report to different boards. They have their own unique directives although they support the overall AHA goals. We've started to link the initiatives each department is working on into that central strategic plan. That gives you a direct line of sight. It also helps track all of the projects and ensures we have a lot of opportunities for improvement. As people become more aware of activities of other departments, they start seeing opportunities for cross-departmental collaboration.

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