Four Tips for Getting Good ROI from Web 2.0 Projects

Telecom company Embarq has seen early success making Web 2.0 technologies part of its innovation strategy. Here are four lessons they've learned on how to make social networking or collaboration software work.

While Web 2.0 applications such as blogs, wikis and social networks have been wildly popular with consumers, efforts to measure the technology's success for businesses have returned mixed results. In fact, recent research from the Burton Group indicates that business leaders have struggled to define best use cases, measure their success and chart returns on investment.

But Embarq, a high-speed internet and phone company serving 5.7 million customers (both consumers and businesses) in 18 states, has had some early success making Web 2.0 part of its overall innovation strategy to improve idea generation and ultimately create new products.

The potential for Embarq to use Web 2.0 and social applications extends beyond its immediate enterprise walls: Since Embarq works with other technology providers and vendors to deliver products, the company wondered if they could use conversation-enabling technologies to bridge communications between all of these entities.

Although it's early in the implementation process, which Stafford's team began in February 2008, the company has already been able to track measurable results. CIO.com spoke with Jeff Stafford, Embarq's manager of capital investment and innovation strategy, about his implementation of Jive Business Social Software, an application suite that includes blogs, wikis and discussion forums.

Stafford shared his tips for people looking to utilize collaborative technologies for employees internally and business partners externally, then measure and prove success to the boss.

Target Your Inefficient Communications

Traditionally, Embarq has communicated both internally and externally using staple enterprise technologies: phone, teleconference, and, of course, e-mail.

While none of these technologies will be replaced by social software, they have their pitfalls, Stafford says.

"There's an inherent slowness to those interactions," he says. "They're also a point-to-point medium. You do have cc-ing with e-mail, but we all get cc'ed so much now that it's hard to pay attention to what's being said. What we needed was a place to collaborate in a central location, where all the information could be visible."

Pick a Software Delivery Model

Many social software vendors run on a purely software-as-a-service (SaaS) based model, where the data is hosted offsite and users access applications using a web-browser. Many companies find this a desirable option, especially when users trade a lot of non-sensitive information.

Embarq, however, knew that its people wanted to talk about product development and other R&D related projects over a social software platform, so it wanted to own the servers housing the data. While Embarq looked at purely SaaS collaboration vendors, it settled on Jive because the vendor offered the option to hook a special collaboration server up to Embarq's existing infrastructure, and Embarq could purchase licenses as they needed them, Stafford says.

Jive includes profiles for each user to upload his or her picture and list expertise. Each site you set up within Jive has the capability for blogs, wikis and discussion forums on certain topics. You can tag and search for information, making it easily discoverable later.

According to Stafford, the Jive platform at Embarq is in the "early stages of maturity," but they have doled out 1,000 licenses to date.

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