Today’s youth have grown up using tools like Facebook, Twitter and mobile chat applications, not just as ways to pass time, but as tools to enable and enhance creativity. And when they enter the workforce, they tend to find it tough to adjust to the highly restricted corporate environment, which limits the use of social media.
“Employees are constantly demanding access to consumer tools for productivity purposes. While this concept is still very nascent in India, organizations should be ready to support consumer applications that can improve employee productivity,” cautions Bangalore-based Biswajeet Mahapatra, research director at Gartner, an information technology research and advisory firm.
Citing an example of how employees are increasingly demanding consumer tools, Mahapatra says: “In the past, organizations gave a BlackBerry to all senior management and they could connect with everyone within the organization using BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). However, now that people are moving to other platforms like Android, iOS and Windows, they are demanding access to tools such as WhatsApp, which can be accessed on any platform. It would be tough for enterprises to deny such requests going forward.”
Mahapatra says an increasing number of companies, though wary of social media, are adopting tools that simulate consumer tools, trying to find ways in which employees can feel at home without corporate security being compromised. Consumer-class technologies and services are changing the way enterprises communicate with customers, partners and constituents, with benefits including improved customer reach, engagement and intimacy. They are also changing how employees work and collaborate internally.
Take, for example, Lapp India—one of the largest manufacturers of cables in the country, based in Bangalore. The group realized that more than 90% of its employees were on Facebook, and always active on their smartphones. So it felt that replacing some of the existing applications with something similar to Facebook would encourage employees to collaborate better.
Lapp India adopted Salesforce.com’s Chatter a year ago—a customer relations management software that looks and behaves like Facebook. Now, instead of exchanging long emails, employees need to post their messages and documents on Chatter, and these can be viewed and responded to by the target group within the company. Owing to the consumer-centric interface, employees don’t have to go through extensive training to understand the tool.
Hemanth Shetty, head—process excellence, Lapp India, says, “Chatter lets our workforce connect better with each other, share ideas, and the organization gains advantages of collective wisdom.”
Lapp India has been able to reduce email volume by close to 50% and is seeing gains in collaboration. The company is even considering connecting its channel partners on the same platform.
This is not an isolated example. Take the example of Mumbai-based FoxyMoron—a five-year-old digital marketing company with around 75 employees, and an average employee age of 25. Since its inception, the company has been hooked on to consumer technologies because they are simple tools and employees know how to use them.
In its first year, the company used Facebook Groups to connect its workforce and share ideas. The platform, however, doesn’t allow role-based access or sub-groups. So FoxyMoron moved to DeskAway, which allowed it to create micro-communities within company groups. The tool also creates milestones for projects and helps define the workflow.
FoxyMoron now uses Yammer for its HR work (such as performance tracking, incentive management, employee induction, etc.) and DeskAway for general collaboration. Yammer reduces paperwork and email clutter and is a cross between Facebook, Twitter and email. Managers can acknowledge good performance and incentives can be calculated based on the performance badges earned on the platform. Even employee induction now takes place through Yammer, which acts as a central repository for all company information. The tool can also be accessed on mobile, which helps employees stay connected on the go.
According to Suveer Bajaj, co-founder, FoxyMoron, “Understanding of social media comes easy and natural to employees and therefore, using tools such as DeskAway or Yammer allows the company to engage the young and bright employees to contribute to the organization without wasting time in understanding complex traditional applications.”
Enterprises are also finding mobile apps a great way to connect employees. Mumbai-based advertising agency Lowe Lintas India, for instance, uses multiple mobile apps for internal use. A little over a year ago, Lowe Lintas realized that about 25% of its employees use company-owned BlackBerry smartphones and decided to leverage this opportunity to use mobile applications for faster transactions, remote information access, and for tracking project implementation in rural areas.
The company started out in 2011 with BlackBerry’s TimeSheet application, which keeps a track of what its employees do. The other mobile application Lowe Lintas uses, Leave app, is for leave and attendance. “With the help of these applications, employees can convert their unproductive time into productive time. For example, when they are travelling, they can use the time to apply for leaves, approve leaves of their subordinates and prepare their time sheets,” says Pravin Savant, chief technology officer, Lowe Lintas India.
The company is also testing an application called LinScan Mobility on the BlackBerry to track the status of rural campaigns. The app allows ground representatives to collect the relevant data and click pictures of the campaign from the BlackBerry mobile. The organization can use the GPS coordinates of the employee to verify if s/he actually went to the village for the campaign.
Lowe Lintas intends to build an internal app store that’ll have a variety of enterprise applications for employees for multiple mobile platforms, including BlackBerry, Windows, Apple and Android.
Punjab’s Lovely Professional University (LPU) also uses mobile apps extensively.
Communication between parents, students, faculty and management is carried out using LPU Touch, a mobile app launched by the Phagwara-based university. It’s free for university members, available on iOS, Android and Windows Phone, and can be used to share timetables and attendance records, or apply for hostel rooms, even lodge camplaints about the hostel or the university. The same app can be used by faculty members to apply for leave and get leave approval status, while parents can track their children’s progress.
Aman Mittal, the university’s deputy director, says, “Even faculty and parents of the students who may not be very tech-savvy can easily use the mobile app.”
Will this be enough? Mahapatra doesn’t think so. He believes that giving users a consumer-like feel may not be good enough and enterprises may eventually be forced to allow Facebook, Twitter and mobile apps like Whatsapp in their organizations. For, while the corporate replacements offer employees similar functions, most users still show an inclination for consumer platforms.
Certainly, enterprises have been forced to acknowledge the importance of such tools.