Booz Allen Hamilton’s Social Media Adventure

The “do you know?” e-mails used to fly around the in-boxes at Booz Allen Hamilton like bats in a cave. “Do you know anyone who’s worked with the Navy’s ERP system?” “Do you know a .NET expert?” “Do you know what percentage of the firm is PMP-certified?”

E-mail was the primary tool that consultants and those responsible for staffing used to hunt down the people and answers they needed. Sure, this information was sitting here and there in accessible systems–an intranet, a human resources platform, blogs and wikis–but there was no central repository, and the “Do you know?” method was short on speed and long on inefficiency, according to Walton Smith, a senior associate at the consultancy who is heading up the firm’s social media strategy. “It’s not a scalable system and does not build institutional knowledge,” Smith says. “You can’t search other people’s e-mail, and messages often get deleted.”

Like its private sector and government clients, in the past two years, Booz has been developing its social media platforms in a way that makes use of the existing structured and unstructured content that resides in companywide applications, as well as in localized social media efforts like blogs, wikis, custom-built communities and social bookmarks. It has done so by building a social networking application focused on its most valuable assets: its experienced people and intellectual capital.

The application, called Hello, is akin to consumer social networking sites: Each employee has a profile page and can connect online with other employees. Users can post documents and status updates and join special interest groups, as they can on Facebook and LinkedIn, but the site, according to Smith, is all business. “People aren’t looking for happy hour, but for information to help them improve the firm,” he says.

That information often includes identifying the person or people with knowledge in a particular professional arena. Employee data, such as certifications, subject matter expertise and language skills, gets automatically pulled into employees’ profiles from a human resources directory that Smith says had been used infrequently. Hello also taps into other company systems, such as blogs, wikis and a document management program.

The integration of these important but disparate tools is the future of Enterprise 2.0, according to Smith. “Blogs and wikis are not that powerful, but when you aggregate them in a way that’s intuitive, that’s where the power is,” he says.

In most companies today, the de facto collaboration tool is e-mail, a closed but highly usable application. “Whatever you do [with social media], it has to be … as intuitive as e-mail,” Smith says. “If not, people don’t change.”

Speaking of change, Smith is adamant about the level of care and attention needed to drive adoption and usage of these new tools. To that end, Booz allocated one-half of Hello’s budget to change management and cultivating its usage. Smith recommends the same ratio to clients. Since Hello was rolled out in August 2008, 70 percent of the firm’s employees have logged on to the site, and 35 percent have edited profiles.

The most aggressive change management is geared toward senior consultants who have been with the firm for more than a decade. “They’re our target market,” Smith says, because they tend to “sequester” their files in e-mail and on hard drives, where only they can benefit from the information. “We have to teach them how much value the firm can get from that knowledge.”

Smith says it is imperative to get that demographic out of e-mail and onto Hello because the firm is revamping the new-hire training process to include an in-depth session on Hello’s features and how to connect with more seasoned employees. “We’re trying to enable new employees to have the same reach back that an old employee has,” Smith says. The goal is not for co-workers to build purely virtual relationships, he says, but to make connections to the right person or right piece of intellectual capital and then pick up the phone. It’s just a new spin on an old technique.

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