Posted by: karisyd | May 19, 2012

Enterprise Social Networking in Knowledge Work

In today’s service economy many businesses revolve around knowledge-intensive work. A good example are professional service firms. For these companies effective communication and knowledge sharing are crucial capabilities. Against his backdrop enterprise social media such as social network platforms promise to provide individuals with new means for connecting, communicating and exchanging ideas in easy to use, straight-forward ways.

In our latest study we have analysed the role and benefits of the Yammer social networking and microblogging service within professional service provider Deloitte Australia. Deloitte has been an early adopter of Yammer and has achieved wide-spread adoption and use of Yammer across all of its service lines. Much like in earlier studies (e.g. this one) we have undertaken a genre analysis and hand-coded more than 1,800 blog posts over a two week period, which provides a representative example of Yammer-enabled communicative practices that emerged within the Deloitte Yammer network. We analysed and interpreted our results against the requirements of knowledge-intensive work practices.

We find that Yammer fulfils four knowledge-related functions for Deloitte (for detailed descriptions of the communication practices please download the full report as pdf):

  1. Providing input: A key ingredient of all knowledge work is new information input. In Yammer Deloitte a significant number of posts serve the purpose of sharing new information such as articles, files, links to web pages or otherwise information that users think might be interesting and relevant for their colleagues. This practice lays the seeds for those serendipitous moments where one unexpectedly finds new and relevant information.
  2. Creating new knowledge: An interesting practice in Deloitte we founds we term Idea generation, which play out as a form of shared online brainstorming sessions, initiated by users with the aim of creating new knowledge, such as ideas for products, projects, meetings or other events. For a detailed description please see table 2 in the full report.
  3. Harnessing existing knowledge: Users are aware of the value of the social network on Yammer. They draw on existing expertise actively and explicitly when they have a problem. In the genre category Problem solving and Advice we are able to witness “knowledge in action”. This represents the most work-related activity that takes place in the Yammer space. Yammer is an effective way for having questions answered, but also for learning about other people’s expertise and for accessing the geographically dispersed expertise of one’s colleagues in an almost instantaneous fashion.
  4. Building the social fabric: Effective communication and knowledge work requires people to develop a shared background, a phenomenon that has previously been described as common ground or mutual knowledge. Yammer is serving that purpose: through discussions of industry matters, current affaires and the sharing of status updates people get to know each other, learn what is held important by people in the organisation, and how others interpret and talk about matters of interest. What emerges is a shared background that is the foundation for all other knowledge work to happen. This background is essential! Only if people are aware of what others are doing and what they are interested in can they post the relevant information that provides the foundation for serendipity to happen. A shared background is also important to understand and interpret other people’s questions and their input.

The figure below summarises these findings. At the same time, we also find that a number of knowledge-work practices are not carried out within Yammer, even though we found these practices in some of our earlier enterprise microblogging cases:

  • Task coordination: In an earlier study of software development teams we found that microblogging served as a task- and team-focused coordination medium. In this case, it resembled a stream of activity and awareness-related posts on which people can draw to enable coordination and alignment of immediate shared task matters.
  • Project management: In yet another case, we found practices of project management whereby microblogging was used to coordinate and organise shared project meetings.
  • Information storage: In both of the above cases, we observed that users posted into the shared space “notes to self” (or to the team) with attached files for later reference. The practice evolves around using the platform as an unstructured storage space, where information is later accessed facilitated by tagging and a powerful search function.

It is easy to see why Yammer in Deloitte is not used in these ways. The user group does not share (as a whole) an immediate work context, such as shared work tasks or projects. The group is much larger, more diverse and dispersed as in the above-mentioned two cases. Yammer in Deloitte Australia connects a large group of people, it creates an online community and awareness of what is going on in the organisation, as well as a space for crowdsourcing ideas and problem solutions. It provides an example of what has been described as a personalisation approach to knowledge management, where the focus is on dialogue between individuals, not knowledge objects in a database.

The full report

Riemer, Kai; Scifleet, Paul; Reddig, Ruwen (2012): Powercrowd: Enterprise Social Networking in Professional Service Work: A Case Study of Yammer at Deloitte Australia, Sydney University Working Paper: http://hdl.handle.net/2123/8352 (download the full pdf from this site). UPDATE: pdf has been corrected!


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