Blogging was where we began, and how we built our company so we have preserved this archive to show how our thinking developed over a decade of developing the use of social technology inside organisations

Portrait of a social intranet

by Penny Edwards

During our Insight Event last week, Steve Perry (Head of Knowledge and Business Development Systems) discussed Freshfields’ new social intranet and the changing shape of business processes in the firm through the use of social tools
These are my notes from Steve’s talk along with his presentation

Business Need
The firm had an old, tired intranet, where things were difficult to find and keep up-to-date. It was clear that the system had to be replaced. In doing so, Steve and his team were determined to implement a more collaborative solution that would tap into the wealth of knowledge held by over 5,000 people across the firm (worldwide) and deliver more personalised, valuable information to users

Headshift worked with the team at Freshfields to select and design the solution: Confluence. That platform was to replace the entire intranet with a series of spaces and community areas, containing a range of static and user generated content and ‘social’ functionality.

Each group space needed to be easy to set up and yet be flexible enough to offer a readily customisable home page with information tailored to the particular practice area or group. For instance, the Private Equity Group space illustrates how the blogging feature is used to add news and then link off to content else where in the space or site.

Equally important was the ability to provide people with unique home (or start) pages, since an IP/IT lawyer in Germany would have different interests and needs to one in Employment or Commercial Property in the UK.

So, iFreshfields (based on iGoogle*) was developed and integrated with the Confluence platform to provide people with personalised home pages
The existing library of widgets made it really easy to pull information from within the Confluence platform (i.e. in the wiki and blog) as well as from other sources (e.g. tube maps, to-do lists, etc)

Solution
Confluence represented a low-cost enterprise-level solution. Following many large costly enterprise-wide implementations a new approach was adopted for the implementation of the social intranet. The focus has been on the use of far more lightweight systems and web services that are loosely coupled. Amongst other things, that has helped to considerably reduce implementation time frames

Elements of Confluence
The platform includes:

  • Collaborative workspaces as well as a structured intranet;
  • Themes and templates help people to quickly set up spaces and pages;
  • Labels/tags that help guide people to content items and add a richness to the site’s functionality;
  • Great out of the box search; and
  • RSS feeds.

Using the social intranet
People live and breath out of email. Internally, it is used for all manner of communications and ideas/information sharing. So, there has been a concentrated effort to move people way from this behaviour and to work collaboratively in the wiki, which offers a quicker more transparent way of doing things.

In one instance, to prepare a thought leadership piece, several people across different jurisdictions came together via the platform. They created a wiki page with different sections corresponding to the chapters that needed to be produced. Having drafted their respective sections, the group came together on a couple of conference calls, revised some elements and swiftly finalised and published the piece

Other typical uses of the platform include planning international conferences and managing training schedules. These result in tremendous time savings and avoid sending out individual emails with document attachments. In addition, all the content is searchable and available for future reference

Results

  • Previously, the firm had around 40-50 global editors. Now there are around 2000 people contributing to 270 spaces. There are approximately 20,000 pages, with 1200 updates a day. The diverse and regular contributions helps to keep content fresh and up-to-date.
  • The platform also links people, ideas and insights, building up a rich network that is beneficial to both firm and individual.
  • There has been minimal training (more in the nature of hand-holding) to get people over initial hurdles.
  • People’s feedback indicates that they now feel better informed about what’s happening in the firm, about the sectors that they follow and clients that they work with.

Whilst there is still more work to be done around connecting people with each other, Steve indicated that the Confluence platform is a stepping stone in right direction. Importantly, it is breaking down barriers and helping people to work more effectively across jurisdictions and time zones

*A review of different personlised start pages, including iGoogle, Pageflakes and Netvibes can be found here.

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