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Facebook replaces corporate intranet at midsized firm

Web 2.0 social media application draws in remote users and increases communication while relieving IT of intranet management duties.

Here's one company's approach to Web 2.0: It ditched its company intranet in favor of the social networking service Facebook.

Serena Software Inc. is a San Mateo, Calif.-based developer of business mashup and application lifecycle management software. Rene Bonvanie, head of the 900-employee company's IT department and the vice president of global marketing, made the move to Facebook in September 2007.

Bonvanie said the switch has been a major success for both IT and Serena's employees and partners.

"I have never heard anybody describe their intranet as a fun experience," Bonvanie said of the decision to bring Facebook into the workplace. "To me, the big surprises here were the uptake of the employees, who clearly have started to engage in this.

"We have people who only communicate with me through Facebook. They have given up on email, which is highly intrusive and not really an effective tool."

That means employees inform their managers of their locations through Facebook status updates and use the free, Web-based tool to stay in touch with partners and customers.

Inside the IT department, dropping the corporate intranet meant one less responsibility. Bonvanie just might not be joking when he talks about building an IT department without computers, shifting all functions to Software as a Service.

"I would argue a company our size and our revenue can effectively run entirely in the cloud and reliably and economically in the cloud," he said.

Employees at $300 million Serena, many of whom are remote workers, took to Facebook quickly, Bonvanie said. The company holds "Facebook Fridays" to encourage networking. Bonvanie said he feels the push from the C-level helped legitimize the change for some naysayers. But the effort really started from the bottom, he said, with use by company employees.

It's Bonvanie's opinion that what people do in their private lives and in their business lives are completely the same things. "There is no wall between the business experience and the consumer experience. In fact, the consumer experience is driving the business experience."

There's a lot of informal usage today going on in the marketplace and there's very little top-down strategic usage.

Carl Frappaolo, vice president of market intelligence, Association for Information and Image Management

Kyle Arteaga, vice president of corporate communications at Serena, has some anecdotal evidence that other companies are following Serena's lead. He receives about three phone calls a week from business colleagues of Serena considering using Facebook within the company, so much so that he has assembled a PowerPoint project detailing the experience.

CIOs, of course, should have a role in developing an Enterprise 2.0 plan, said Carl Frappaolo, vice president of market intelligence for the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), which conducted a survey on the area earlier this year. The survey of 441 people, about half from midmarket companies, found that most use Web 2.0 tools throughout their companies, but not for any strategic business use -- which restricts their ROI.

But it really should be business leaders who oversee any project that's undertaken, he said.

"It shouldn't be done by an individual," he said. "It should be done with a team … and led by the business side because this, in the end, is [about] how are we going to use this technology to effect positive change in the organization?

"With that said," he continued, "you do have to have people who understand the technologies and what they can and cannot do."

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