It's also important to provide proper training to show employees how they can switch some — or many — email and IM interactions over to the ESN software, and be more productive and efficient. It's also key for managers and top company executives to endorse the use of the ESN software and lead by example through their own participation.
Experts also say it helps when the ESN software is integrated at a technology level with the other tools employees use on a daily basis to do their jobs, whether its their email and calendaring client, their CRM and ERP suites or their office productivity applications.
All that can be done in a way that works as intended. GE, which has made use of many of these best practices when rolling out ESN software in recent years, achieved success where other companies have stumbled.
GE has a primary ESN suite that's available to all 300,000 employees globally and that's known internally as GE Colab, and it has other ESN tools in place for specific teams and departments.
The adoption of ESN software is part of a broader push within GE to leverage cloud computing products to simplify employee access to information and help them work more effectively. It includes the recent decision to make the Box cloud storage and file-sharing service available to all employees.
The GE Colab system, in place since late 2012, gets very strong usage.
"Hundreds of communities have popped up on Colab," said Andrew Markowitz, the company's global director of digital strategy. "It's very actively used. There are strong metrics around it."
It has gotten so far about 50 million page views. Several hundred thousand comments have been posted to it. Users spend an average of 10 minutes on GE Colab per visit. "There is good, strong appetite for this type of tool," he said.
GE Colab, based on a commercial ESN suite Markowitz declined to identify, acts as the typical ESN: It's an intranet for information dissemination and lets employees create profiles, follow each other's posts via activity streams, host and share documents, brainstorm, track down experts, interact in forums and groups and the like.
In one of many similar examples, GE search marketing experts dispersed across the company have found each other and come together via Colab to share ideas and tips about their job.
"In a company like GE with 300,000 people, connecting those islands is a big deal," he said.
A key for its success is that it wasn't a solution looking for a problem, but rather the opposite. GE wanted to make information more easily accessible to its massive workforce, and from the start encouraged employees to use Colab, telling them it would be a tool where they would find valuable content and interactions that would help them with their work.
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