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How American Hospital Association Combined Social, Single Sign-On

AHA shares how its hybrid cloud architecture using Symplified for authentication and Socialtext software improved communications and business processes.
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Karthik Chakkarapani, IT Director at the American Hospital Association, said there were times in the implementation of AHA's enterprise social network when he was tempted to give up "because there was too much resistance" from groups like human resources, who were skeptical of the value of the effort.

Enterprise 2.0
Part of the message of his presentation at Enterprise 2.0 in Boston, a UBM TechWeb event, was that persistence pays off. "Don't give up!" he said.

AHA is a trade organization representing about 5,000 hospitals and health care networks, and it is in a knowledge-centric business where improving the sharing of information was one of the best contributions IT could make. But it is also a relatively conservative business, where many employees didn't really understand Facebook or Twitter, let alone how social mechanisms could help them get their work done better, Chakkarapani said.

One of the ways he learned to sell the program was by showing a Social Media Revolution 2011 video created by Erik Qualman, author of the book Socialnomics. The video provides an animated presentation of the growth and significance of social media. It includes statistics like, if Facebook were a country, it would be the world's third largest.

"I don't have to market too much, I just show the video," Chakkarapani said.

AHA also created its own video demo of the social network as a learning tool. Importantly, the social project team also began accumulating success story examples, where people got their questions answered more quickly because of the "additive intelligence" of multiple people adding to or refining the answer to a post.

The AHA system uses the enterprise social network from Socialtext. The architecture actually centers around single sign-on technology from Symplified, which provides common authentication to other social applications, such as Box for file sharing in the cloud, and business applications like UltiPro for human resources management.

Chakkarapani said the architecture is hybrid cloud, incorporating pure cloud services like Box, but with Socialtext installed inside the firewall as an appliance for better, more secure integration with Active Directory and other internal resources. Symplified played an important role in integration with the cloud services, using the Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) standard where possible and custom integrations where necessary. Now that the architecture is more established, Chakkarapani said he tells cloud computing vendors he is only interested in talking with them if they offer SAML support.

From the user's perspective, the important thing is that they don't need to remember multiple passwords, and services like Box are available from links on the Socialtext dashboard.

Another important element of the design was making sure "not to mess up people's workflow" by making social interaction another step in the process, Chakkarapani said. Used right, the social platform should instead reduce the steps in a business process, he said. The IT team changed some of its own processes, for example by stopping sending out emails as a way to organize projects, instead posting messages through Socialtext. Instead of sending out a "weekly email from corporate communications that nobody reads," the company now sends out more discrete topical messages.

Instead of producing an organizational strategy document that goes out once a year by email, or gets posted to an intranet page, AHA now has a more dynamic online strategy document broken down into specific projects that employees are invited to comment on and contribute to.

"ROI is something you cannot prove for social media," he said, but you can still show the value with accelerated business activities.

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