Serena is Serene about Enterprise Facebook

I’ve written before about Serena Software’s use of Facebook as their Intranet, as has Bill Ives. Recently, I asked Serena’s Kyle Arteaga and Rene Bonvanie a few more questions about this effort, and was so impressed by their answers that I wanted to share them here. I hope you find them as useful and insightful as I did. Leave a comment, please, and let us know what you think of Serena’s idea, and their execution of it.

Background on Serena

I remember you saying that even though you’re a high-tech company, you’re pretty traditional in a lot of ways —  older workforce that’s been with the company a long time, roots in the mainframe world, etc. Could you elaborate on this a bit? For example, I know you’re doing mashups now, but this has not been your historic business —  what was? 

Serena prior to 2007 could best be described as a company who provided Enterprise Software to manage your Enterprise Software, some call it Application Lifecycle Management (IBM, Computer Associates, HP all play here). For this reason, our customers tended to be the largest around (97 out of Fortune 100). We have a strong heritage in the mainframe as well as Software Change and Configuration Management (SCCM). More recently we purchased an adjacent business in Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) prior to our launch into mashups. We believe they are all related as our mainframe, SCCM and PPM products help you run applications, and our mashup products help you build applications.

Last year we did around $270 million in licensed revenue. We went public in 1999, however, three years ago Silver Lake Partners (private equity firm) took us private to give us the time and investment chops to reemerge as a faster growing enterprise.

The average age of our workforce is mid-40s, and average tenure with the company is over 8 years.

When were you founded? How did you grow (often by acquisition, right?)? How big are you now, and in how many offices?

We are a 27 year old company, and grew out of multiple acquisitions. We now have approx. 850 employees located in 18 countries, with more than 35% working from home.

Impetus for Facebook as the Intranet

What was your previous Intranet like? What information did it contain? How popular was it? How expensive was it?

Our previous Intranet was paltry at best. Though I’d imagine most companies of a similar size have the same problem. It had org charts, a place to post items and pages for each department where they could link to applications or documents we might need.

I suppose it served a purpose, but there was nothing interactive about it. Nor was it something that brought people together. Cost wasn’t really a factor, but since we managed it using our own content management system (Collage) we weren’t paying much (if anything) to maintain it. We certainly didn’t have a budget to rebuild an Intranet.

How did you decide to make the apparently radical switch over to Facebook as the Intranet? Do you remember the genesis and history of this decision? I recall reading somewhere that part of the reason you made the switch was to ‘force’ your workforce to become accustomed to Web 2.0 technologies and approaches to getting work done – is this accurate?

First and foremost, we realized that due to the distributed nature of the company and the growth through acquisition there was little sense of a Serena community. People often worked together for more than a decade, yet knew nothing about each other. And if you think about it, why would they? There was no easy way to learn more about your colleagues. So here we had all these home workers, or employees in satellite offices like  Melbourne who we only knew by name. We wanted everyone to feel like they were a part of Serena, we wanted our employees to help us mold what Serena should stand for in a very public way. And we wanted to create a persona for Serena made up of the company’s collective personalities.

At the same time we had just moved into business mashups. And as we looked at ways to train our employees on the value of Web 2.0 and show them how the workforce of the future will interact with software it occurred to us that the best way to learn is first hand. Our CEO and CMO were already avid Facebook users, and had both been into social networking for years so we thought, "what do we have to lose?"

A third, and what we believe is a radical thought, is that most Intranets are built on a wrong assumption.  They’re fundamentally built to make content available to employees and trickle only a tiny bit to customers.  We believe that the vast majority of content an organization produces is customer facing, with only a trickle back behind the firewall for truly proprietary materials.  This belief achieves two major goals: customers are better served and receive better and more frequent communication in their language, and rather than companies pushing it through email (the "most evil" application of modern times) customers can pull it at any time.

To be clear, we never mandated usage. Though we strongly encouraged people to participate, this is when we came up with the idea for Facebook Fridays. We thought rather than say "you must do this", we would be more constructive and give employees set times to update their Facebook profiles and learn more about Web 2.0 in the process. We went so far as to bring in teenagers to show us how to used some of the advanced functionality (e.g. privacy settings) into our larger offices. We gave in person seminars about Facebook and how social networking is changing the way people work. We spent a lot of time answering questions, and giving people a forum to try things out both individually and collectively.

Also we didn’t rely solely on Facebook, we also encouraged employees to explore Linkedin (at least 60% of the company is on here), YouTube, Xing (big social networking site in Europe) and other Web 2.0 platforms. We simply didn’t put a strong corporate emphasis on them as we felt we needed one unifying platform that all employees could converge on.

Though we do use YouTube quite liberally both internally and externally. Many of our marketing campaigns have strong YouTube components
Here is our most successful to date: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLTs6jlbkjE&feature=related
Here is the second installment of the same campaign, now residing on Facebook: http://apps.facebook.com/supermasher/watch

What we really like about the second Facebook campaign is that our employees can easily get involved in pushing it out to their Facebook friends, if they want to. And you’ll note the standings (far right) are littered with Serena employees choosing to help us get our message out.We believe this is the future of marketing. Our top promoters are in Support, Sales Operations, IT and even includes one of our developers in the Ukraine. Everyone can get involved, that’s the type of culture we are building. And it’s the type of culture that we think the Enterprise of the future needs to survive.

History of the effort

What were the major milestones? When did Facebook ‘become’ Serena’s Intranet? When was the old Intranet decommissioned?

We came up with the idea in October and moved to Facebook by November 2007. Within a month we exceeded 90% penetration of Serena employees with Facebook profiles.

We didn’t completely decommission the old Intranet, but we certainly aren’t spending any cycles to update it and I know few if any employees that have it set as a default in their browser. Many of us (myself included) have Facebook as my browser default.

How much training did you have to do, and how and when did you do it?  I recall hearing or reading that you actually brounght in young people (teenagers?) to educate people about how to use Facebook – is this right?

What we realized early on was that while Facebook is a pretty simple application in itself, the social elements are much less understood.  In fact, we noticed that the etiquette of 16-year olds seemed very well aligned with how we envisioned our employees to use Facebook.  This of course starts with the profile visibility settings and understanding what the implications are, to a deep understanding of the social impact of posting content, commenting on articles, inviting people in certain ways, etc.  16-year olds are much more concerned about that than 40+ year olds, and hence much better informed.  So we chose to invite teenagers to come and give our folks a crash-course – from helping them to set up their profile to making them aware of all the social implications.  You can imagine how proud I (Rene) was to see my son Sander, who was one of the teenagers, work with our Chief Legal Council…

How is it working so far? What are your favorite stats / stories / anecdotes about Facebook as your Intranet? For instance, I recall hearing that you’ve learned that it’s important for people to add a picture to their profile – that this lets their colleagues feel like they ‘know’ them better – am I remembering this right?

It’s working really well. I would say at least 25% are very active users  (daily or pervasive use) of the platform, and another 50% are passive users (meaning they visit the site at least three times a week). The rest have profiles and will check them from time to time. But I have to say it’s quite addictive for those of us who use it often. Pictures were the first thing people glommed on to. Everyone wanted to know more about the people they were working with. Especially the large contingent of home workers who often feel isolated from "water cooler" chat at the office. Ironically, our employees were particularly keen on pictures that were not corporate. They really liked when colleagues posted pictures that gave them a better sense of the person. For example, our general counsel for Europe, Erik Daems (http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=570541515&hiq=daems%2Cerik) regularly posts random pictures and while we have only met once, every time we work together now we have something new to talk about.

Since pictures were the first things people wanted we started our foray into the Facebook Intranet via a worldwide event we called Facebook Fridays. The concept was simple, take an hour off of your day on Friday to update your profile. The first event we held in November and we asked everyone to dress us in a way that shows a bit about them personally. For example, our CEO races cars so he came dressed in his racing outfit. Our CFO is a big golfer so he came dressed in golf attire. We also asked everyone to bring in their digital cameras, so we had people uploading their pictures in real time to Facebook. Within 24 hours we had more than half of the company worldwide with full profiles and pictures on Facebook. It was a lot of fun to see the pictures from the Ukraine, Australia, Japan, UK and perhaps most importantly it gave our home workers a way to contribute. They were able to dress up at home, post their picture and virtually join in the event.

While pictures were the most requested feature of an Intranet at first, status updates quickly took precedence. At any given time I know as much about my colleagues as they want to share via Facebook (e.g. John B.  from IT "is sucking on a Starbucks, yummy", Scott O.  from Sales "says don’t mind the smoke, its just my fingers dialing, Peter S. from Support "is gesturing evilly at the rain clouds).

So I now have context when I next speak to each of them. I actually need to call John about a project we are working on later today and I will bring up his Starbucks comment. Peter and I work together quite a bit and he is based in London, so having lived there recently I can commiserate with him about the weather.

At the time we thought having an event to kick things off was essential to get people to feel like they owned the initiative. In fact, it was so successful that we decided we needed to have at least one quarterly event where everyone in the company did something to a common goal. So we shortly thereafter created a new Corporate and Social Responsibility program using Facebook as the rallying point.

Serena Gives Back is our new CSR program and basically its tenets are that we pick a quarterly theme (we started with Green Day on St Patrick’s Day) and ask that everyone go out and volunteer for a local charity for a day. We recruit local coordinators in our larger offices (bigger than 15) and ask them to poll their colleagues and find a charity that both needs help and wants to work with us on that day. For home workers we ask them to do the same individually.

For recruiting of local coordinators and to post the results and start rallying the troops we use Facebook, the best examples of which you can see here:

Facebook Fridays — Nov 9, 2007  (http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/event.php?eid=18752686312)
Serena Gives Back, Green Day — Q1 08 (http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/event.php?eid=6986299980)
YouTube video we did to promote Green Day to our employees: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRHNqrie55I
Serena Gives Back, Children In Need — Q2 08 (http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/group.php?gid=15137852327)

You’ll notice that we do all of this completely out in the open. Why? Because we believe Serena Software is a living entity, that companies should be personified as much as possible. We want customers, vendors, partners, prospective employees and anyone else who is interested to be able to easily find out more about our company. We want to be approachable.

We were also very aware and interested in the personal involvement from each of our employees in social networking. One person just told me yesterday how excited he was to have found a childhood friend on Facebook who now lives in Turkey. He is planning to visit his friend on his next vacation. Other employees have been pleasantly surprised at how it helps them interact with their children better. Our Head of HR in Europe uses Facebook to communicate with her daughter. It’s certainly shown our employees how the future workforce interacts with Web 2.0 platforms.

Have their been any downsides / horror stories?

We weren’t thrilled that Facebook took down their network pages recently. And while we understand their rationale (it was leading to spam on larger network sites like university pages), it was terribly inconvenient for Serena. It was a great central location for employees to post, see who else was on the network and communicate. Since we already had enlisted most of the employee base, we can still use Facebook quite effectively for our means. However, had we not had a network page it would have grown much more slowly.

Otherwise, the only other thing that has cropped up is a concern about questionable postings on people’s profile and/or related Facebook blogs. While we can certainly see why people might take offense to certain topics and/or opinions we have not changed our communications policy despite our social networking initiatives. At the end of the day, we trust our employees to use common sense. We consistently tell them "be smart, do what you think is right". Of course, everyone’s parameters are different. But we see no reason why we should put out specific Facebook guidelines on what you can and can’t post, it’s not as if we put out guidelines on what people say on the weekend at their neighbor’s barbecue or at their child’s piano recital.

We share the common belief that work and home lives are starting to become intertwined. The separation that used to be prevalent is becoming less and less so with the ubiquity of Blackberries, mobile phones and social networking sites. This is why we encourage employees to determine for themselves what their level of comfort is with this increasing transparency (e.g. learn how to create slices of your profile so that you share the right information with the right people). We also realize that many (particularly millennials) only know complete transparency, and that with complete transparency the traditional buttoned down corporate culture that has thrived for so long may well be dismantled.

What else do people need to understand about this effort?

You have to let go to be successful. Be willing to take some hits along the way. Everything we did was unchartered territory, and yes, we realized there were risks involved. But why wait? You learn as you go when you’re acting as a lead adopter and frankly we wouldn’t have it any other way.

People often misconstrue social networking as the latest technological fad. And while yes technology might be responsible for the features that exist, at its core it is much more a sociological phenomenon. Simply put, people want to interact with other people. Most companies forget that having fun is a basic human desire. If you can find a way to incorporate a platform that enables people to interact, to have fun and still get their work done then everyone wins.

Should everyone follow in your footsteps, or would this be a bad idea for some kinds of companies?

I don’t see why everyone shouldn’t be following in our footsteps. We’re amused when we hear about companies banning sites like Facebook at work. You hear things like "it is a distraction to workers", so are you banning cell phones because Facebook has a great app that resides on mobile devices, what’s stopping them from accessing it there? Often we hear, "aren’t you concerned about confidential information being put on Facebook (or the internet in general)?", our response is "if someone wants to release confidential information about your company maliciously they will find a way to release it". Ironically, since people tend to use their real names on Facebook posting confidential information is the least of our worries, it doesn’t take much to track who posted what and when. We also hear "aren’t you afraid that if all your employees are on Facebook that recruiters will start poaching your best talent?", our response is "if you create a corporate culture that embraces the fact that your employees are people and gives them numerous ways to not only contribute but help shape both the direction and the image of the community they are part of then we trust that we will always have an engaged workforce." We started this off by saying every employee in our company is a PR person, a marketer, a developer, etc.., We want everyone that wants the opportunity to get involved.

So if you are in a company that is willing to tread in new waters, then you should take the plunge. We’ve only seen benefits so far, and feel that our employees are all gaining immeasurably because of it. The first question companies should consider is "what is the corporate culture we are looking to create?" The answer to that question will dictate how you move forward.