Cognizant Global Experiment in the Collaborosphere Pays Off

As many of you know, I spent the first half of my career in the IT space tracking the IT services sector. The business of large-scale systems integrators and outsourcers wasn’t always thrilling, but boy-oh-boy, did those firms rake in the big bucks. Contracts weren’t even worth mentioning if they didn’t register in the hundreds of millions. At one point in the “megadeal” market for IT outsourcing, a contract would have to be in the billions to earn that designation.

Sigh.

I often wonder how my old friends in the SI/Outsourcer space are doing, and if in fact, any are adopting 2.0 technologies or practices internally or recommending them to their large customer bases. So, it was a pleasant surprise to reconnect with an old friend, Alan Alper, who is now working for another old friend, Malcolm Frank, both now at Cognizant— a large-scale integrator/outsourcer.

It turns out Cognizant is making productive use of 2.0 technologies and practices, and has realized some identifiable business results already. The company began an initiative about two years ago called, “Cognizant 2.0.” Essentially, the Cognizant 2.0 platform is a combination knowledge management/project workflow tool that incorporates 2.0 technology to leverage the combined intelligence and skills across Cognizant’s entire 60K workforce. What’s interesting about Cognizant 2.0 is that employees use the same tools they’re used to using in the workplace: Microsoft Project, Office, SharePoint, as well as their ERP systems. The platform integrates these enterprise “native” tools into a unique view that crosses time zones and geographic boundaries to glue the company’s expertise together. Dashboards now monitor critical project tasks and provide project teams with detailed, real-time access to workflow activities, information, targets, and deliverables. Internal blogging for the company has produced some surprising results. It grew essentially organically within the company as a means of communication and sharing and now includes non-related work content such as discussing charitable causes, movies reviews, weather, photography, and affinity-based professional interests.

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Cognizant estimates the new collaborative platform improves project cycle times on average about 20%. With more than a third (37%) of the company’s application development projects running through the platform, it encompasses over 4,000 projects at what will soon span more than 600 customers. One of the greatest gains has been a 70% productivity improvement for project managers who formerly used the company’s previous project management tool. About 20% of the workforce (over 10K), including the company CEO Francisco d’Souza, are blogging internally on the platform with over 3-5 million page views a month.

Customer satisfaction numbers for Cognizant have always been high (near 90% in recent years), but the advantages of working collaboratively and socially has given Cognizant a distinctive advantage vis-a-vis its competitors in a hotly contested space. In essence, the company has moved from “labor arbitrage” to what it now refers to as “intellectual arbitrage.” The Cognizant example is an excellent one that truly demonstrates business advantage to a large enterprise. The company intends on extending the platform to include suppliers and customers in upcoming releases.

If I had to point out a deficiency for Cognizant 2.0, like its enterprise software components, it’s not sexy. It could use a trendy 2.0 UI/UX makeover to make it more appealing to users. But considering most of Cognizant’s workforce is comfortable with plain-old-vanilla enterprise software for everyday use, there is probably no urgent need to doll up the platform. Moreover, as Cognizant is a public company with nearly $3B in revenue and an $8B market cap, the company’s priorities might well be more focused on business results than design awards. I give it a thumbs up for innovation, adoption, and an impressive approach to integrating the old with the new– which is what I’d hope to see from a world-class systems integrator.

Putting 2.0 to Work: Spigit

Here is another great product in the “Recession-Ready 2.0 Stimulus Package” series on products that can help jump start the economy. Hutch Carpenter, whom I’ve come to admire and respect deeply for his insight into 2.0 adoption, recently gave me a heads up he was joining Spigit. Of course, I checked out Spigit’s site and had an immediate reaction:

picture-2Somehow in my canvassing of the e2.0 universe, I missed this really cool company. I had a chance to see a demo last week with CEO, Paul Pluschkell and ask him some questions about the product and their journey.

Spigit is a beautifully designed “idea-based” social network for any size enterprise. What’s uniquely interesting about Spigit is it is action-oriented: its sole purpose in the enterprise or within its external ecosystem of customers and suppliers is to generate good ideas that lead to better products, better usability, revenue-producing initiatives and/or cost savings recommendations. In fact, anything can be a good idea and you can virtually find it anywhere– inside the company or out. With Spigit, now you have a way to get support for a good idea and refine it further.

The company offers two basic platforms: one for internal idea generation, InnovationSpigit, and one that faces externally, IdeaSpigit, to reap good ideas from its external community of suppliers/partners/customers/fans, etc. Judging from the live demo I saw, the user interface on this product is gorgeous and has an addicting “game-like” quality to it that encourages adoption. For management, there are over one million different variables for tracking metrics and user behavior. Additionally, this is the first Enterprise 2.0 product platform I’ve seen that incorporates prediction markets technology, PredictionSpigit, (which Andrew McAfee is so fond of).

The good news on Spigit is a single great idea can deliver a mind-numbing ROI. The somewhat bad news is it’s a little pricey. Enterprise licenses range from $25K for less than 1,000 people to $300K for over 100,000 people annually in a standard SaaS-based monthly pricing contract. If you want to host Spigit behind the firewall, that’s also an option. But, it’s probably the most expensive option, as you must buy the license in perpetuity. With each license, Spigit bundles in a dedicated community manager, a kickoff and training program, and a variety of helpful services that encourage adoption and promote meaningful results. Spigit received very favorable reviews from Bearing Point’s Nate Nash who alerted me to this post.

Innovations on the horizon with Spigit include an iPhone app in the works and customizable widgets that can house the entire product which has already been sold to one large customer. Once customers “get it,” the Spigit choice is easy. Companies prone to innovate and tout the people power of their workforce are eager to get into a relationship with Spigit. Marquee customers include IBM, Sun, Intel, Southwest Airlines, AAA, and Wal-Mart.  Additionally, Spigit has a major initiative underway to layer the product on top of SharePoint.

So think Digg, Dell’s IdeaStorm, Innocentive, mashed and wrapped up in a customized, user-addicting collaborative social network (that also has reporting, analytics, and prediction markets) and you have Spigit, the wonder platform.

Kick me before I miss a product like this again.

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Circles of Expertise in 2.0 for Biz

For a long while now, Jevon MacDonald and I have been grousing about how the different players involved in delivering 2.0 solutions to business can often be confused and misunderstood. We started working on a graphic, which I’ll happily “open source” for anyone’s input or for re-purposing. Just send me a note and I’ll invite you to the shared space we are working on at Vyew.

Generally speaking, there are primarily four logical groups with similar characteristics:

Digital Marketers: These are the good folks who track what you’re searching for and buying on the web. They create digital brand extensions of leading brands and develop imaginative ways to capture your attention online.

Social Media: This group comprises a vast group of players who are exclusively focused on how communications in the interconnected social web impacts influence. Predominantly, the people involved with monitoring social media are involved in marketing communications.

Enterprise 2.0: Within the Enterprise 2.0 area of expertise, whether it’s behind the firewall or out on the open Internet, this core area specializes exclusively on delivering a business value via 2.0 technologies.

Mass collaboration: This group is more symbolic of a new way of thinking about collaboration than any specific 2.0 tool. The notion of reaching outside of your boundary (whatever it is) to co-create innovative solutions is key here.

Although there is overlap among all these groups, the areas of focus are distinctly unique. Of course, businesses can benefit by incorporating the expertise from all these areas, but they’d need to source it separately.

Vertical e2.0: Travel Industry has an e2.0 platform of its own.

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I interviewed John Samuel, head of Sabre Travel Studios at Sabre Holdings, and Denise Fernandez, the Studios’ head of Marketing this week. The Travel Studios functions as an incubator within Sabre, experimenting and releasing innovative new products that don’t fit in neatly within other business units. The first product the group is bringing to market is cubeless, derived from an enterprise 2.0 social computing platform they have been using internally about a year at Sabre called, “Sabre Town.”

Custom-built from scratch on open source tools, Apache and Linux, the software is a Rails application, according to Samuel. Sabre is announcing cubeless as the “industry’s first enterprise 2.0 community platform for the travel industry.” The app was built by less than a half dozen developers and launched within a few months, although Samuel notes parts of the application were built prior to putting it all together for the launch.

Hosted behind the company’s firewall, cubeless enables community members to inquire, in a traditional Q&A format, about ordinary travel questions (hotels, restaurants, etc.) as well as a host of other community topics such as Sabre Town’s private group on Rails development or a lifestyle group on Yoga. The platform fulfills all of the SLATES criteria for a standard enterprise 2.0 platform and excels at sharing advice and recommendations.

Sabre is working with American Express Business Travel on the initial launch of cubeless, scheduled for mid-2008. The focus is on business travelers, offering cubeless as a new module from Sabre’s GetThere which is the world’s leading corporate booking solution and a long-time partner of American Express Business Travel. Examples of how it will be used are explained in a statement by Tom Klein, executive vice president for Sabre Holdings, “It can be anything from finding out about services to support [an employee’s] business trip in a location others have been to, to what nearby restaurants are opened all night for a quick bite to verifying that a hotel they want t stay in has dependable, fast wireless Internet access and a gym that is open early in the morning.” Samuel and Fernandez believe users will make heavy use of the software, acknowledging people tend to trust people in their own organization to provide such personal insight into their travel plans. Fernandez says with Sabre Town, the ratio of questions to answers is running nearly 9:1. They’ve found people are eager to share their experiences and help other travelers.

Through GetThere and its affiliates (agencies and corporate travel departments), cubeless will have access to hundreds of thousands of members. GetThere already serves over 3,000 businesses in 40 countries worldwide and more than half of America’s 100 highest spending business travel accounts. More than half of the F200 that have an online bookincubeless communityg tool use GetThere including Cisco, Oracle, GE, EDS, and Wal-Mart. Sabre has already proven its prowess with online collaboration and community via its IgoUgo with its 350,000 members sharing travel experiences, advice, photos and tips and stories on a multitude of worldwide destinations.

What’s interesting about cubeless is it has an easy, low-risk threshold for engagement for community members with a healthy incentive: self-interest. Everyone who is introduced to the product will “get it.” The benefits to using the social platform are obvious and immediate. In addition, the software scores high on the “fun” factor that facilitates rapid adoption. Sabre reports that over 10,000 profiles have been submitted since the internal launch of cubeless. And in a single month, more than 900 referrals had been sent to others whose profiles indicated knowledge or expertise they could address.

Launching an enterprise 2.0 community platform to suit a vertical market’s needs is innovative and should inspire others to follow suit.

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Enterprise 2.0 Photo Gallery on Flickr

Flickr group for w2.0I started a group photo gallery on Flickr for photos related to Enterprise 2.0. The photos are open to the public for use in presentations, documents, etc. I started with the AA|RF technology summit I attended last week here in Austin. I’ll post more as I go to conferences during the year, and I encourage any readers here to post there too. You can subscribe to the Enterprise 2.0 group feed too, to keep abreast of what other people are posting. Please feel free to post topics, share your photos and ideas.

Now, we’re collaborating. 🙂

Dion Hinchcliffe and the Dalai Lama– Separated at Birth?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama Dion Hinchcliffe

When Dion speaks, I listen. Sometimes I think he is the High Holy Priest of Enterprise 2.0 for the technology audience. If he were not flying around the world so much, he might get a chance to blog more. When he does blog, his teachings empower and enlighten us. Enterprise 2.0 is somewhat of a philosophy more than a technology paradigm, so the metaphor is fitting.

If you’re interested in the topic and you’re not reading Dion, introduce your feed reader to this URL: http://blogs.zdnet.com/Hinchcliffe/

Dion’s post this week is aptly titled, “The state of Enterprise 2.0.” He’s given us a 1-7 lessons learned and taken the initiative to coin a new acronym (or pithy mnemonic as he calls it): FLATNESSES (okay, it’s not Hollywood, but we can get used to it), that does an excellent job of extending the meaning of Andy McAfee’s original SLATES acronym.

FLATNESSES