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SAS's Year Of Living Socially

A year after launch, SAS Institute employees find their "internal Facebook" a valuable resource for connecting with peers and sharing knowledge across departments and around the world.

Rick Wicklin considers himself too busy for Facebook, but he loves the Hub, his employer's "Facebook inside our company" enterprise social network.

Wicklin is one of the experts on statistical software development at SAS Institute. Prior to creating the Hub, SAS already had other collaboration systems in place, such as SharePoint, and implemented wikis and blogs on its intranet for knowledge sharing. But the Hub caught Wicklin's attention in a way those other tools never had.

"I guess the difference between the Hub and all those others is that I use the Hub, and I didn't really use the others," Wicklin said. Internal blogs were a fine vehicle for "a select few" within the organization who committed to maintaining them, and wikis could be useful for finding specific information, but the Hub couldn't be beat for browsing through short messages from people across the organization, in search of the "serendipitous moment" of finding something he hadn't been looking for (but still found useful) from someone he never would have connected with otherwise, he said.

We first reported on SAS's implementation of Socialcast in April, when it was fairly new. The company did an informal launch of the software in January 2011 and had more than 1,000 users within a month. By the end of the year, the Hub had nearly 8,000 users out of the company's 12,000 employees. The adoption is even greater than it might sound from that, given that the total employee count includes people like landscapers and food service workers, who don't use a computer to do their jobs. In divisions like research and development, use of the Hub is nearly universal.

[ Why wouldn't every organization flock to the vision of an agile, transparent, people-centered, and collaborative team? Read 10 Enterprise Social Networking Obstacles. ]

SAS is a prominent analytics software vendor, but there are other reasons to pay attention to its example--particularly if your organization values having happy, productive employees. For the past two years, SAS has ranked 1 on Fortune's list of the 100 best companies to work for.

SAS internal communication manager Becky Graebe said the Hub is delivering on the goal of providing new ways for employees to connect and collaborate. "People ask me, 'Do you think this is cutting down on email?' Well, I'm not measuring that right now. Our intent was to get people communicating more, not less. We're a knowledge-based organization, so this is focused on knowledge sharing. We're trying to get knowledge out of the minds of our employees, out onto the table where it can be talked about."

VMware acquired Socialcast in May, putting it at the center of a division that develops cloud and social software applications and acquires startups in those areas. Graebe said SAS has been happy with the support it has received from Socialcast, but because of the way it has rebranded the environment, most employees probably don't even realize that it's Socialcast under the covers.

One particularly high-impact program launched atop the Hub was an Innovation Day event organized around brainstorming new product ideas, which continued for months after the designated day, with contributions from employees around the world. "I don't know of any tool we had previously that would have allowed us to do that," Graebe said.

Use of the Hub is not mandatory, but it's becoming central to many companywide processes, Graebe said. For example, when CEO Jim Goodnight conducts a webcast town hall meeting, employees are invited to submit questions in advance through a forum on the Hub. During the event, employees can also participate in "live tweeting" Q&A and commentary, where routine questions can often be answered by other employees, or by the corporate communications staff, if they don't require the attention of the CEO. Several senior sales executives have taken to doing something similar, she said.

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