By Gloria Lombardi

When it comes to engaging about 290,000 staff in 50 different countries, getting them to collaborate in over 20,000 online communities of the enterprise social network (ESN) is about as high a challenge as you can get.

Frank Bock is the Project Director responsible for Enterprise 2.0 adoption at the German engineering and electronics company Bosch. Since the beginning of 2012 he has worked on making Bosch Connect, the IBM Connections– based internal platform, the enabler of a new way of working and communicating inside the company.

“We started in autumn 2012 with the pilot phase. From month to month, we allowed the user base to grow while implementing the use cases that early adopters were discovering when interacting on the platform.”

Use cases are anecdotes that show users the steps for achieving a specific goal through the platform. In that sense they are highly educational and can help employees to get up to speed with the tool.

Bock believes that it was thanks to the adoption of those existing use cases that in autumn of 2013 more than 40,000 members were already on-board.

That was also the time when they opened Bosch Connect up to all the associates.

The Experience City community – the power of use cases

But in a highly complex organisation with hundreds of units and business areas, describing some use cases to general employees can be difficult. “Because of the specificity of the type of work and interactions, they can be hard to explain as well as to comprehend. At the beginning we had some strong discussions around which ones to implement.”

For example, a successful yet not easy to analyse use case was about dealing with product and component related ‘Target Figures‘ within their distributed production network.

“It took us more than one year to sort out how to run those processes entirely on a virtual community. But, once that was achieved, the people working on that project were able to increase transparency and in parallel reduce administrative efforts and e-mails. They gained a great deal of efficiency via doing all the communications through the ESN.”

To build wider adoption the E2.0 project team decided to focus on international use cases. “We have a huge number of associates working together around the world on different topics or projects. So, we wanted to give attention to those ‘virtual teams.’ They generally have the biggest problems when it comes to synchronize information and relationships, and the biggest need to use the platform to collaborate.”

In addition, the E2.0 team described common and recurring ‘daily work’ procedures, which everybody benefits from by transferring them to Bosch Connect. “They can be simple examples like preparing a meeting on the ESN. Before using the platform it could have taken us several exchanges of emails to define the agenda, themes and people involved. That now has changed. Our goal is to motivate more and more users to adopt Bosch Connect by showing them convincing examples and success stories.”

But, finding and sharing use cases is something that anyone can and should do to help others familiarize with the new ways of working. “Nearly every associate has something to recommend about how to use the network to improve the job.”

For that reason the company has created a specific community called Experience City which has about 6,500 members and about 15,000 visits per month. This has become the de facto group for posting and discovering all “the experiences, use cases, support issues and FAQ. Everything that we learn about working on IBM Connections goes there.”

Inside Experience City there is also a list of success stories that the E2.0 team likes to highlight above others. “Those use cases are the most relevant because they show a strong benefit for our daily business.”

Top-down and bottom up – getting the balance right

To build engagement the E2.0 project uses a strategy that combines a top-down with a bottom-up approach. The former involves strategic thinking and business acumen.

“Top-down means that we are trying to find spots within the management where Bosch Connect could really support the business. We are working on finding strategic use cases with the leadership to get vibe and support from them.”

By contrast, the latter relies on the power of motivation. “Within the bottom-up approach we established an ambassadors programme with a global network of volunteers helping their colleagues to adopt new ways of working and the tool.”

Finding volunteers is not a demanding job. “It is quite easy to find ‘evangelists’ on the platform because they are very motivated. And, generally we receive great support from them when asking for help. We give them more background information and good arguments about why building an enterprise 2.0 – a highly connected company – is a necessity for the business.”

But, more than anything else it is the opportunity to ‘lead by example’ that incentivises employees to volunteer. “In a traditional enterprise leading is not something easily achievable unless you are in a boss role. So, being an ambassador is an opportunity to lead by example and further develop within the business.”

Leadership on Board, literally

Among the leadership there are some great supporters and active users who are “promoting the platform and becoming a role model for their teams.”

This can take the form of blogging and can be very powerful to create awareness on topics with strategic relevance. “For example, management blogs allow direct exchange and dialogue between management and associates. They help to establish feedback channels in all directions and to serve as a barometer for important topics. The result is a better understanding of strategic and key issues on all levels.”

Promoters at all management levels support Bosch Connect and are visible whenever there is an important internal campaign and the need to discuss ideas for new products or services.

Community is about business

The overall rule when creating a community is that “it has to support the business.”

Among the over 20,000 groups there are many examples that have been highly successful. One of the most favourite for Bock is the Powertrain Community which helps to combine ‘knowledge islands’ throughout the Bosch world. About 1,100 members are able to network, share their knowledge and collaborate on new innovations about powertrains. It increases the relevance of what is shared while reducing the redundancy of communications. “Since using this group the e-mail volume within the project team has been decreased by around 40%.”

Another popular community is the Bosch Experts Organisation, where “there is a lot of expertise available.” And he really means a lot – there have been 13,000 Bosch associates assigned as experts for a specific topic. They have special understanding of the different elements of the business and provide their knowledge across many sub-communities divided by topic.

Training for you

Training is instrumental to leverage awareness about Enterprise 2.0 and Bosch Connect. “Employees can choose among different offers.”

Beside the regular programme with web-based trainings, tutorials as well as classroom trainings, there is what Bock calls the On-boarding wizard. It is a online tutorial with links to communities and content relevant to newcomers: “When a user enters the platform for the first time, that wizard gives them a tailored explanation telling them where and how to start. We try to give recommendations based on job roles. For example, if you work as an Assistant, we show you how the tool could be useful to you, which communities can be relevant and so on.”

Internal Communications is changing

The model applied to Bosch Connect is inspirational, in particular for the ability to combined different roles within the E2.0 project. “Internal Communications, organizational development and IT have all been key players since we started.”

Since the ESN runs in parallel to the existing intranet, the job of Internal Communications has to do with combining the available channels depending on the target group or the communication goal. “We have a great communications team dealing with it by exploring the new dialogue options and sharing experiences throughout the internal Communicator’s community.”

The future is integration

The ESN has been around for approximately two years and its impact on the business has been clearly visible. “Everything is faster. It is an amazing way to get in contact with interesting colleagues, content and ideas that help to innovate and drive the company forward.”

Future plans include integrating IBM Connections with other online tools such as document management systems. “Right now we have different solutions. It can be difficult for users to understand which one to use depending on the situation. As we continue to grow on Bosch Connect, it is very important that we sort this out.”

Bock will also continue to encourage the sharing of use cases. “This is a journey not a self-running thing. The more mature we get with those new ways of working the better the results.”

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate