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When The Vanguard Group Inc.'s Abha Kumar needs to talk to a co-worker, she's inclined to pick up the phone. No cameras, please. For text communications, email is her preferred modality. So much for cutting-edge enterprise 2.0 tools.
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"I'm old-fashioned that way," says Kumar, the head of corporate systems integration, as well as a principal in the IT division at the Valley Forge, Pa.-based mutual fund investment firm. "But our head of international will only have a video chat with me because he wants to see my expression."
The confession is an inside joke. For the past three years Kumar, who joined the firm in 2007, has spearheaded the technology component of an ambitious enterprise 2.0 project that is putting Vanguard in the, yes, vanguard of e-collaboration and e-communications -- at least for a highly regulated business like financial services. Her tool chest covers the gamut from video conferencing and secure global video to webinars, e-meetings and collaboration sites -- and increasingly, mobile communications from any device.
Kumar has the numbers to show for it. Since the enterprise 2.0 project became technology-enabled in 2009, Vanguard's employees -- or crew members, as they are called -- in 2010 alone, chalked up 95,000 e-meetings, participated in 9,000 webinars and collaborated on 1,200 active Microsoft SharePoint sites. "We like to interact with each other a lot, and we like to have lots of meetings. It's just what we do," she says.
Minding the business of enterprise 2.0
Policy and governance turn out to be a big part of IT's job in The Vanguard Group Inc.'s enterprise 2.0 project, according to Abha Kumar, the mutual fund investment firm's head of corporate systems integration. Every new technology that's introduced for the project is analyzed for its impact on company policy.
A steering committee of high-level representatives from the legal, HR and security departments and the firm's business units makes the approvals, allowing IT "to make a whole lot of progress fast," Kumar says. These three IT practices have helped speed the adoption and success of the enterprise 2.0 tools:
Piloting: IT rarely rolls out the technology to everybody. Kumar looks to groups that are asking for it, and relies on them to talk it up. "We spend a lot of time talking about how we are going to roll out various technologies: who to roll it out to first, and how do we assure we have buy-in," she says.
Monitoring: Constantly. Vanguard's 1,200 SharePoint sites, for example, are watched closely and shut down when there is no activity. "The last thing you want is to have something out there that nobody is using," Kumar says. The other factor is cost: "My whole disaster recovery is around storing everything."
Improving the technology: On the mobility front (Vanguard supports company-owned and personal devices), IT found a security risk related to email attachments. "It took us a number of months working with the vendor [Good Technology Inc.] to get them to a place where we felt comfortable," Kumar said. -- L.T.
Vanguard now has 130 Tandberg video-conference rooms at its domestic campuses and about 11 internationally; some have the high-end digital equipment that allows participants to see people's facial expressions. The penchant for face-to-face meetings at Vanguard, in fact, prompted Kumar to provide Movi video conferencing on company-provided laptops to 720 crew members currently. They video conference from hotel rooms, airports or their homes -- and not just domestically, she said. The 12-hour-plus time difference between Vanguard's U.S. and Australian operations, for example, means that employees overlap minimally during their respective office hours.
"By providing these Movi devices, we increase interaction. The business benefits a whole lot more because there is more interaction time and we interact in the way we like to, which is personally," Kumar said.
Any enterprise 2.0 tool, of course, must operate within the confines of the security, privacy and regulatory environment to which Vanguard is subject. That's always a governance and technical challenge, Kumar said (see sidebar, right). Commercial versions of instant messaging, for example, were off the table because of requirements that all messages be stored.
But IT must push on, Kumar said. Crew Chat -- a compliance-ready version -- is being piloted to groups that want to connect instantly for a quick chat. "If we don't do that, we will not be a competitive place to work," she said.
Enterprise 2.0 ROI, anyone?
The point is well-taken, according to Craig Roth, an analyst with Gartner Inc.'s Burton Group division and author of the recent report, "Building a Business Case for Collaboration Initiatives." As the business environment becomes more competitive, more global, and more cost-sensitive and responsive, the need for technologies that support collaboration is increasing.
But even knowing that, many companies struggle with determining the value of collaboration initiatives because it is hard to know all the ways they can be used, they have no fixed time frames and they generally are indirect contributors to success, Roth said. The challenge for IT leaders is to figure out which technology initiatives will provide the most benefit, he said.
Vanguard's enterprise 2.0 project has suffered setbacks related to the technology, the instant-messaging piece being just one example, Kumar said. Project leaders have moved beyond proving the business case. "The cost savings in travel alone just jumps out at you," she said. But the Vanguard enterprise 2.0 initiative, she added, is "so much more" than about cost savings, and greater than the impressive sum of those project numbers she recites by heart.
Today, attracting a high-performing employee base means providing the flexible and collaborative environments young workers experience in their personal lives and expect from workplaces, Kumar said. The enterprise 2.0 project's three "sleeves" -- communicating, collaboration and mobility -- help build that environment.
- Abha Kumar and other key players at The Vanguard Group Inc. conceptualize plans for the company’s enterprise 2.0 project.
- The group secures a small budget "experiment."
- Forms steering committee.
- Establishes three "sleeves" of the project: Communication, collaboration and mobility.
- Deploy enterprise 2.0 tools, video conferencing and SharePoint at midyear.
- Enterprise 2.0 tools are widely adopted: 95,000 e-meetings in 2010, 1,200 active SharePoint sites and other blogs are launched.
- Improving video conferencing, adding SharePoint sites, video updates in business units.
- Extending mobility with "bring your own device" program. -- L.T.
For starters, the ability to connect employees virtually makes perfect sense for a company like Vanguard, Kumar said. Unlike some competitors, the firm does not have storefront shops that clients visit. Advice and access are virtual, by phone or online, in keeping with the firm's promise to keep overhead low. Its internal experiments with social media and other enterprise 2.0 tools over the past three years serve as a lab for expanding virtual client services.
The enterprise 2.0 project also taps into the firm's corporate blueprint for success, which starts with high-performing employees and "like a ziggurat," ascends from there, Kumar said. "If you have a good crew, you have flawless execution. If you have flawless execution, you have service excellence, which leads to client loyalty and profitable growth."
Culture changes in the workplace
It remains to be seen whether the tools will lead directly to profitable growth (the peak of the Vanguard ziggurat). Kumar is convinced, however, that the tools are driving a profound cultural change. In her view, they presage a fundamentally different workplace: a Vanguard where the corporate managerial hierarchies and even compensation structures are redefined by the collaborative work these new tools facilitate.
"Today, directionally, everything goes from top to bottom. But tomorrow the knowledge and the 'value-add' that a worker brings through collaboration will change all that," Kumar said.
It's already starting to happen at Vanguard, Kumar said. There, the chairman puts up proposals on the "crew ideation" site and asks employees to weigh in. "We changed our constitution based on the responses he got back from crew on what should be added and deleted," she said.
Corporate communication is starting to look like a two-way street. By the end of last year, the chairman's blog was getting 12,000 unique visitors a month. That means that practically every one of the firm's 12,500 employees was checking out what their boss has to say.
"I am so excited where the enterprise 2.0 project is today," Kumar said. "I cannot really believe that what was just a thought process during the budgeting season of 2008 is today a key enabler for cultural change."
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Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.