If you need to share information inside the European Commission, where do you go?
Increasingly, the answer is the online network set up in 2009 using the Yammer enterprise microblogging platform. The Commission’s Yammer network now connects over 5000 staff across the organisation. It has grown organically, mainly by word of mouth rather than an official promotion campaign. Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič has used the platform to chat live with staff about organisational reforms.
I met recently with Julie Guégan, who is responsible for internal communication in the Commission’s HR department. She explained the main reasons why the institution is investing in collaborative tools, including Microsoft Sharepoint and Yammer.
The European Commission is a knowledge organisation. Its staff need tools to help them share experiences, deal with information overload and work more efficiently. The organisation is also spread over many different locations across Europe and staff need to have a way to keep in touch with colleagues, including when they are on the go.
The introduction of digital tools for online collaboration has not been plain sailing. Although some 350 collaborative sites have been created using Sharepoint, adoption is still relatively slow. Yammer has helped to attract people to digital collaboration, by allowing immediate discussions in a very easy way. But the use of this cloud-based platform has raised other issues relating to data protection and security. And, as Julie points out, the organisation cannot hope to make the best use of digital tools unless it trains all staff to be digitally competent and develops a truly collaborative working culture.
But these challenges are gradually being overcome. Action has been taken to make sure that Yammer complies with EU data protection rules and in-house security standards. Better integration between Sharepoint and Yammer should help to combine the best elements of both platforms. Yammer will only be used for discussions, whereas Sharepoint will be the place for document sharing and co-authoring. There is also a project with the Learning & Development Unit to “grow staff’s digital competence”.
And, more generally, Julie argues that the introduction of collaborative tools is reinforcing the values of the web (openness, meritocracy, flexibility …) in the organisation. “Some colleagues told me how pleased they were to realise that their colleagues cared about them. They start to see the benefits of digital collaboration from idea generation to content distribution”.
When I asked Julie what experiences in the US she thought we could learn from, she mentioned Microsoft IT’s experience with over 10,000 active collaborative sites within the company. I hope to have a chance to find out more about this first-hand when I am in Seattle next year!
I’m also excited to have made contact with the US State Department’s Office of eDiplomacy. it will be interesting to look into their use of digital media for knowledge sharing and collaboration, including the “Diplopedia” wiki.
Do you know other good examples of organisations using digital media for internal knowledge sharing and collaboration? If so, I’d love to hear from you!