Analysis: A "Green" Utility Chooses Blogging for Business

Enel North America initially took advantage of blogging software to deliver

Blogs started as personal forums aimed at the Internet savvy, but they've long since entered the Web mainstream, visited by some 10 percent of the online population this year, according to Forrester Research. No surprise, then, that enterprise versions of blogging software are gaining popularity, offering a simpler and, in many cases, lower cost alternative for some of the same features provided by collaboration and portal environments.

Enterprise blogging software lets users easily create, post and update content. Like Web content and document management systems, the software has version tracking, permission controls, collaboration features, calendaring and search. Content linking and dynamic real simple syndication (RSS) features are also common.

Among the small but growing list of companies using enterprise blogware is Enel North America, a renewable energy company that specializes in wind and hydroelectric power generation. A division of a huge European utility based in Italy, the 200-employee firm needed tools for communication and collaboration.

"There are plans to expand the corporate intranet from headquarters in Rome, but all the content currently available is in Italian," says Ernest Kayinamura, director of information and communication technology at Enel North America. "We wanted something we could set up quickly that would give our users the ability to access, post and control content."

Last March, Enel discovered the Teampage system from Traction Software. The company invested $15,000 and had the system up and running within "a couple of days," Kayinamura says. The company initially took advantage of the software to deliver basic intranet-type information, including HR policies and benefits, company news and even a monthly company update from the CEO. The dozen contributors also exploited RSS features to post news summaries on renewable energy and the utility industry.

Work is now underway on a collaborative application for some 30 employees in the business development group who handle due diligence on potential acquisitions. In the planning stages is a tracking application that will reach beyond company firewalls to energy brokers and utility companies interested in buying environmental credits from the "green" energy company.

"There's an emerging market for renewable energy credits, and we need to track what price quotes we've received and who we received them from," Kayinamura says. "When we do sell credits, we need to document that." Teampage will support all these collaborative activities.

It's still early days for Enel's use of blogging, but the company's Latin American division recently added Teampage and the corporate parent is also negotiating with Traction about possible broader deployment, Kayinamura says.

Traction Software and competitors including Six Apart (developer of Movable Type) are counting on growing interest in enterprise blogging, and much larger software vendors are validating that vision. "IBM has an alphaWorks project Web log system, Open Text has a Web log as part of its Communities server, and Microsoft and Oracle are doing their darnedest to catch up," says Jordon Frank, a vice president at Traction. "There's no lack of interest from the big boys."

Enterprise blogs are spaces for group journals rather than individuals, with content organized by time and topic. The primary goal is to support communication, providing a place to share meeting notes, status reports, discussions and collections of information. In addition to providing permission controls, enterprise blogware lets administrators keep important elements such as open issues or task lists at a top-level view.

Blogs also make it easy to follow what Frank calls the "OHIO" rule about Only Handling Information Once. Rather than cutting, pasting or republishing, users can simply comment on existing posts and bring content into a new context without altering the original thread.