Rather than relying on social collaboration, Facebook had to bombard impatient employees with specialized training so they would recognize and use the business intelligence tools available in their internal, Microstrategy-based portal.

David F Carr, Editor, InformationWeek Government/Healthcare

January 26, 2012

6 Min Read

Facebook prides itself on being a data-driven company, but when Kathleen Pedersen, a business operations specialist for the company, traveled to a regional office in Dublin, Ireland, managers there complained of being starved for the information they needed to do their jobs.

"One manager told me, 'I desperately need that--I feel like I'm driving a speedboat in the dark,' " Pedersen recounted in a presentation at the Microstrategy World user conference this week. She soon learned that all the information these people needed was available in a business intelligence portal, known internally as Nexus, built on Microstrategy's tools. Yet people weren't aware of it or didn't know how to use it.

Although Pedersen had come to tell a success story about winning over those users, her tale proves that even one of the most celebrated technology companies in the world isn't immune to technology adoption challenges. At a time when social business and social software advocates are arguing that bringing a little "Facebook inside your company" will improve communication and collaboration, Pedersen's story shows that social collaboration is no cure-all. In theory, Facebook employees who discovered the value of Nexus might have spread the word through their internal social network resulting in 'viral' adoption of the BI tools. In practice, that didn't happen until after Facebook and consultants from Microstrategy instituted a relatively traditional training program.

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This was a conference at which Microstrategy CEO Michael Saylor enthused about the potential of Facebook as the ultimate database of wealth and power and BI as a cloud service. The Facebook presentation was part of a track of sessions devoted to the intersection of BI and social media. Yet it was really much more of a story about enterprise technology adoption than it was about doing business with social tools. Of course, it was also an excuse for Microstrategy to brag about having Facebook as a customer.

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Facebook has its own sophisticated big-data analytics system based on Hive, an open-source technology Facebook invented that works with Apache Hadoop. Extracts from Hive needed for day-to-day business analytics are loaded into an Oracle database, along with business and financial data, and made available for reports and ad-hoc queries through Microstrategy.

Pedersen said she originally thought she would have to use some of the company's "more technical tools," but her superiors in California directed to tell the Dublin employees that all the information they needed was readily available in the Microstrategy system, Nexus.

"That's when they laughed at me. They said, 'We don't use Nexus--the data's not accurate,' " Pedersen said. When she investigated further, however, "I found the data was fine--it was perfect, in fact--they just didn't know how to use Nexus," she said.

Meanwhile, Microstrategy had assigned technical trainer Katarzyna Rezanko-Prajs to help Facebook drive broader adoption of its business intelligence tools. "I heard that the users had the most wonderful tools and Web apps in place, reports and dashboards in place, but they don't know how to use them," she said. She was charged with finding the fastest growing parts of Facebook and the ones with the greatest need for data--which turned out to be sales operations in international offices such as the one in Dublin. Together with the managers at Facebook, she established a goal of long-term adoption, which would start by "making Nexus known, successful, and loved."

"First, I had to learn how to catch their attention, which meant learning their culture," Rezanko-Prajs said. It's a culture of impatience, which she characterized by showing signs posted in the hallways with slogans such as "Go Fast and Break Things" and "Done Is Better Than Perfect."

"It's all about move fast, done is more relevant than perfect," she said. "An 8-hour training class will not work, not at Facebook."

"The Facebook culture, as well, is all about self-service," Rezanko-Prajs added, which meant employees were perfectly willing to create their own reports and fetch data themselves. However, if they couldn't figure out how to use a system like Nexus instantly, they were likely to shrug it off as useless. "They want to do it themselves, but they need guidance," she said.

Her answer was an around-the-world roadshow where she trained people in each office on the use of the tool in very short presentations, focused on the specific tasks employees in different roles needed to know how to do on Nexus.

When the roadshow came to Dublin, "that was the first time my people saw how easy and intuitive Nexus was," Pedersen said. "That's when they realized it was easier to use Nexus than it was to beg me for data or to use one of our more technical tools to get it."

In addition to the roadshow, the Microstrategy trainers developed a Nexus course for new employees, as part of the Facebook onboarding process. Nexus also was documented in a wiki, and Rezanko-Prajs used the Camtasia screen capture tool to produce a series of short videos on how to accomplish different tasks. For a few key tasks, the Nexus engineering team built links to the videos into the user interface of the BI portal. "They're about three minutes, designed for a very short attention span," she said. "When they're trying to accomplish something, they want to know how to do that immediately."

Although the videos proved extremely helpful, she found it was still important to pin down employees long enough to have them take the basic training. "People who hadn't attended that roadshow, often we couldn't get them over that hump until they had the training," Rezanko-Prajs said.

As adoption grew, Facebook's internal social network did help accelerate it. Facebook runs internal equivalents of the same applications available on facebook.com and established the Nexus Time! support forum using the Facebook groups app. Once employees had a place they could go to post questions about Nexus, those questions were often answered by other Nexus users rather than the official support staff. Although that's a phenomenon many companies report with their customer support on Facebook groups or pages, Pedersen said she was surprised by how well it worked internally.

As a result of all this activity, use of the Nexus platform has doubled in the last year, the presenters said.

As for why social networking within Facebook wasn't enough to make Nexus take off in the first place, Pedersen said, "When I post a status update, the first thing I think of to post probably isn't my Nexus reports. The Facebook group let us increase engagement because it let people know what is out there, but we did need a spark to get it going. The roadshow is what did that."

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard

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About the Author(s)

David F Carr

Editor, InformationWeek Government/Healthcare

David F. Carr oversees InformationWeek's coverage of government and healthcare IT. He previously led coverage of social business and education technologies and continues to contribute in those areas. He is the editor of Social Collaboration for Dummies (Wiley, Oct. 2013) and was the social business track chair for UBM's E2 conference in 2012 and 2013. He is a frequent speaker and panel moderator at industry events. David is a former Technology Editor of Baseline Magazine and Internet World magazine and has freelanced for publications including CIO Magazine, CIO Insight, and Defense Systems. He has also worked as a web consultant and is the author of several WordPress plugins, including Facebook Tab Manager and RSVPMaker. David works from a home office in Coral Springs, Florida. Contact him at [email protected]and follow him at @davidfcarr.

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