Can you find the people you need?

One of the more common use cases of Enterprise 2.0 is finding expertise within a large organisation. At Lotusphere last year, a representative from the recently merged Bank of New York / Mellon Financial explained the problem (I’m paraphrasing slightly, it was a year ago!):

“I’ve got 14,000 people over here, and 18.000 people over there who don’t work in the same building, don’t know each other and I’m supposed to drive synergies!”

Our friends at Socialtext are quoted as saying that 70% of searches on a companywide intranet are people searches, which more often than not are unsuccessful. From a recent IBM survey, only 13 percent of HR execs said they are “very capable” of locating an individual with a particular expertise within their company.

How important is it to be able to find people and how can social software help? Almost all companies preach “teamwork” and “working together” and as I wrote previously “a strong network of contacts can help you get things done and make things happen“. Who you know is important, as well as what you know. A sales rep who knows the right person to talk to in accounts to book that deal right at the end of the quarter to make his target knows this – as does the journalist who needs to find someone who works for her publication who happens to speak Chinese and English fluently in order to meet her copy deadline.

Social software can help you find the right person in the following ways:

  • It can show feeds of people who read the same content as you
  • It can show feeds of people who contribute to the same content areas as you
  • It can show who knows and works with the people you know and work with
  • It allows people to describe themselves rather than official job title and role in the corporate hierarchy
  • People can signal what they are working on
  • People can blog about who they are and what they do (both in and outside of work – a volunteer in the Scouts could be useful if you are preparing an proposal for that organisation!)
  • People (and their blog posts) can be tagged – eg “Chinese” to show up in relevant search results

An internal directory, which can be potentially pre-populated from existing data sources, could be a great way to start deploying social software within your organisation.

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16 Responses to Can you find the people you need?

  1. Larry Hawes says:

    Fabulous post, Jon! Starting with a directory is a good idea, but I’d urge moving quickly to the next step — completing a social network analysis (SNA) of part, if not all, of the organization. The SNA can reveal associations between people that are not obvious from the tools and activities that you mentioned. SNA is well worth the small investment!

  2. Jon Mell says:

    Thanks Larry – do you find most SNA’s manual or have you seen any good auto-magic ones?

  3. Good Post, Jon.

    I think this is an area where Lotus Connections is performing well. The Profiles feature of the product (based on IBM’s findings from its decade-old bluepages application) really works well in making it easy to get to find and recruit others in the organisation, and goes way beyond the usual business contact information. The multi-way tagging (adding tags to my profile and others, plus seeing what other folks have tagged eachother) is a powerful additional layer of functionality.

  4. Steve Cogan says:

    Piling in here – good post.

    There’s a podcast (& the transcript if you want to skim) on Atlas for Connections available here via Dogear on

    or directly here:

  5. Dan Smith says:

    We need strong ties for teamwork and weak ties for new ideas and innovation.
    In an organization, SNA of individuals could raise some tricky issues if used inappropriately. Certainly in the realm of observing “Group X could use more links with Group Y” SNA is a good thing for companies to do.

  6. Brendan Tutt says:

    I think SNAs are great (and Steve is right about Atlas) however you really need to be able to access the communications going on inside an organisation to do it and that is not always possible.

    Also having Blogs, Bookmarks, Communities etc exposes a LOT more interconnection. Would be interesting to get a researcers view on the value.

    However (and to the point of a very good post) building a good, fully searchable directory is key and a great starting point. Whenever I talk to clients this is the hook that gets them interested. I am also always surprised at how many don’t have this capability.

  7. Jon Mell says:

    Thanks for the comments guys.

    @Brendan – I’m also surprised by how few organisations don’t have a searchable directory already. Guess I was spoiled!

  8. Hi Jon,
    as you know and quoting Larry Hawes, we’re seeing plenty of value into social network analysis both as a standalone activity and as a starting point for further enterprise 2.0 initiatives. While most of the benefits you cited can be achieved also through social networking on a personal level, what you often miss is the bigger picture at the organizational and intraorganizational level.

    Effectively discovering emerging topics, shared expertises, experiences and experts can really make the difference on the bottom line and social media (other then email) make up another enormous and valuable archive of information that can be analized and measured in order to optimize your organization, spread innovation or fuel change management.

  9. Great post Jon. IBM’s Bluepages (now Lotus Connections Profiles) is an excellent tool. At Socialtext we strongly agree about the importance of people as a key component in collaboration. That is why we’ve made sure Socialtext People ( is integrated through the Socialtext platform.

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  11. Samuel says:

    Nice post! The company I work for has a people directory, but we extended it with expertise network tooling, which is now being commercialized as spin-off, called guruscan ( Works really well!

  12. Wouldn’t it have been better to call this “Can the people who need you find you?”

  13. Jon Mell says:

    Good point Dennis – I try to phrase things in terms of “What’s in it for them” – there is more obvious value in being able to find people than being found – although I agree with you in that it can be higher beneficial for one’s career if they can be found and show the value of their expertise.

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