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Jun 13 2008   1:45PM GMT

What is Unity? Lockheed-Martin’s implementation of a social computing platform wows Enterprise 2.0 conferees.

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

One of the unexpected hits of the Enterprise 2.0 Conference this past week was a presentation by Lockheed-Martin on Unity, its social computing platform. One of the world’s largest defense contractors would seem an unlikely candidate for early adoption of enterprise 2.0 technologies, or at least that was the impression when the session kicked off. By the end of the hour, audience members were asking “Where can I buy it?”

[Image credit: TechLuver.com]

Shawn Dahlen and Christopher Keohan talked at length about what they’d learned over the course of eighteen months developing the platform, kicking off their presentation by noting that there was a compelling need in government sector to collaborate through social media. Chris noted that embracing social computing at Lockheed Martin a major component of recruiting talented Generation Y IT workers, the so-called “millenials,” as showing the company’s prowess in the adoption of cutting edge tools was a key differentiator.

Before Unity was implemented, the state of collaboration at their enterprise should be quite familiar to most corporate workers : email, meetings and office docs like Powerpoint presentations emailed around as attachments. “Project Unity” was conceived as a way of applying Web2.0 technologies for “mission success.” To that end, the team resolved to provide a user experience employees would love, address “what was in it for them” and balance the need to share vs the need to know — crucial in a defense contractor. Unity’s designers wanted to foster a social computing ecosystem around a standardized platform, integrating blogs, wikis and other documents into their current platform. Over time, they added discussion forums, a social bookmarking tool called “uBookmark” and weekly activity reporting to capture usage and adoption patterns. They included a suggestion tool to solicit community insights on the project as it rolled out and created an internal homepage to aggregate popular content. Unity’s internal team of developers also made a priority of maintaining a cohesive user experience and to ensuring that all information could be both feed-enabled and integrated.

How did they pull it off? By integrating Google enterprise search appliance (GSA) , Microsoft’s Windows Sharepoint Services (WSS) and Newsgator’s Enterprise Server. Take a look at this demonstration of Social Sites 2.0 to get a feel for what this looks like. They Unity development team took a close look at how to use social computing tools in an everyday business context and took the time to understand how they would integrate and evolve from the existing email/Powerpoint/meeting model.

The crucial question, asked over and over again this week, was addressed head-on by Unity’s designers: “What is the value of social networking in the enterprise?”

Their answer was, in the end, simple: Being able to watch what other people are doing, easily, and then being able to search it and ask questions raises productivity and leads to improved collaboration and knowledge exchange. Instead of tracking what your friends are doing on, say, Facebook with a “friend feed,” an enterprise derives value from tracking an activity stream of interconnected colleagues. At any point, a worker can see what others are working on, access shared documents and ask questions on shared virtual workspaces or directly to the relevant decision maker or technologist.

Lockheed-Martin built the basic Unity platform in 07 and then ran a beta pilot of it over the course of the year with 40 engineers building, testing and experimenting with the release. After the initial release, it took just six months for a second iteration that addressed both information security and legal issues.

A crucial question that they were asked to account for again and again will be familiar to CIOs: How did they quantify the return on investment (ROI) for the dedication of internal resources and purchase of software? Each time, the traditional productivity savings of a user finding information was a factor. What really sold them, however, was the soft case of customers interested in their social computing initiative. Unity helped in Lockheed-Martin’s bidding process, especially proposals that involved knowledge managememt.

As the project rolled out, a crucial component was the in development and distribution of a “collaboration playbook.” New standards for playbook and best practices were laid out in its pages. For instance, as a team member, you should ask questions on a group page, not wander over to ask or send a broadcast email; this helps to capture questions and answers for everyone. Adding to documentation whenever possible was crucial, along with teaching people the power of linking and understanding which communication type made sense for different business cases: blog posts, wikis, email, virtual conferences or in-person meetings. In the end, the Unity team created the playbook as much for themselves as they worked as for the company as a whole, “eating their own dogfood.” They used a project management office (PMO) blog to keep colleagues up to date about what the dev team was doing.

One of their other key discoveries was that pervasive enterprise search is key to keeping documents both relevant and accessible.

What’s next for the team? Adding filters to content that depend upon the clearance of those accessing it. In highly classified work, user-assignable taxonomies are crucial for opening up content for collaboration while maintaining information security. Also in the works are adding recommended content, similar to the Digg-model of social news, employee profiles, export control filters and network-based search.

If you’re looking for a great case study for enterprise 2.0 adoption, look up Unity.

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  • Iano
    Thanks for the post, it was a good read.
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