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Collaboration Unites Berlitz Language Instructors

Far-flung employees find experts and share best practices with IBM Lotus social networking tools.

Berlitz International, the well-known language training organization, is putting blogs, wikis, employee profiles and other social networking tools to use to unite a highly distributed enterprise with more than 10,000 employees across 550 language centers in 70 countries.

The large-scale intranet Berlitz has put in place is called SPACE (Smart Place to Accelerate Community of Excellence), and it's built on IBM technologies including Lotus Connections and Sametime instant messaging, WebSphere Portal and IBM Tivoli Identity Manager. Employee profiles let managers and instructors search for employees with specific skills. A communities and friend feature let users form virtual groups based on interests, expertise and business needs. Berlitz uses blogs to post breaking news and executive messages and micro-blogs to gain real-time feedback from centers around the world. A company wiki and file-sharing components let employees access company policies, definitions, documents and presentations such as training course materials.

"With SPACE, we can collaborate more quickly, more efficiently and at a deeper level to foster innovation and see our work in a new light," said Yukako Uchinaga, CEO of Berlitz, in a statement. "Harnessing the collective wisdom of our workforce will be the key to success in business and employee satisfaction."

Berlitz is doing more than just providing a set of tools, according to Allistair Rennie, General Manager of IBM Lotus. "Berlitz is leveraging the ideas of social software, formation of community and location of expertise as a way to be more effective as an organization," Rennie said in an interview with InformationWeek. Use of social software in the enterprise is increasingly about harnessing a new way of working to develop more effective processes, connect people, locate skills and improve customer service.

IBM Lotus is weaving social analytics functionality into its Connections environment to improve search, Rennie said. When you search on topics, for example, you'll find relevant content as well as communities, people and news based on predictions about what's relevant to your search.

Having embraced the social networking phenomenon early, IBM has been a leader in enabling so-called Enterprise 2.0-style collaboration, according to Rob Koplowitz, an analyst with Forrester Research. "IBM Lotus is four years and four releases into this and they made a big bet on social networking," he said. "A lot of large enterprises are basing their social strategy on Lotus Connections based on the maturity of the product."

Assessing the primary competition, Koplowitz said Microsoft SharePoint has taken major strides toward people-centric, rather than content-centric, collaboration in SharePoint 2010, but it is not as innovative as what IBM is delivering. "IBM Lotus has taken a more modular approach, and I expect them to stay out on the cutting edge," he said.

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