TELUS, a Canadian telecommunications company, spent considerable resources on third-party learning for its 35,000 team members. The company shifted its investment and adopted Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 to serve as the focal point of a new information and social learning initiative. TELUS, which worked with partner imason, will use the system to support learning through a formal, informal, and social content paradigm, including networking, blogs, wikis, videos, communities, and collaboration sites to foster knowledge sharing among team members. Team members will be able to learn more quickly because knowledge will be readily available from experts within the company, as opposed to solely through scheduled classes. The company also expects to see increased team member engagement, better sharing of institutional knowledge, and 20 percent savings on learning costs in 2010 alone.
TELUS, a national telecommunications company in Canada, strives to ensure that every Canadian is connected to the rest of the world, whether that connection is in the form of traditional telephone lines, wireless communication, Internet, television, or other technological means. The company has U.S.$9.4 billion in annual revenue and 12 million customer connections, including 6.5 million wireless subscribers, 4 million wireline network access lines, 1.2 million Internet subscribers, and 170,000 TELUS TV customers.
The company considers its team members vital to its goal of providing superior service. Therefore, it places a high value on learning, which includes leadership and professional development, business and sales, technology, and health and safety learning. Until recently, TELUS handled learning primarily by outsourcing instructor-led experiences for team members. Much of what the company’s individuals learned depended on the knowledge presented by the instructors, and the company was concerned that this was limiting the development of its team members. “Our learning methods were expensive, unscalable, and created the false impression among team members that they needed to attend an event to learn,” says Dan Pontefract, Senior Director of Learning for TELUS.
TELUS decided to shift its corporate philosophy from one focused on formal, classroom-based learning to one that also included informal and social learning. As defined within the company’s “Learning 2.0” initiative, informal learning would include webcasts, books, mentoring, coaching, and job rotations, while social learning would comprise videos, blogs, microblogs, and wikis. “We set the goal of making team member education more continuous, collaborative, and connected,” says Pontefract.
In 2009, the company’s learning budget was roughly $28.5 million, 90 percent of which it dedicated to formal learning. TELUS set a 2010 budget of about $21 million, but Pontefract aims to adjust the ratio to 60 percent formal and 40 informal and social learning for the year.
Introducing informal and social avenues of knowledge sharing has become more important to TELUS because its current work force is made up of increasingly younger team members who consider social networking to be a basic communication tool. About 40 percent of team members are in their 50s and 60s; 35 percent in their 30s and 40s; and 25 percent in their 20s. “Within the next 10 years, we could see 40 percent of our work force retire,” says Pontefract. “We’re establishing what we call a ‘culture of collaboration’ to give team members multiple ways of comfortably sharing their knowledge, no matter what their age or title. We recognize the importance of their intellectual property and of communicating it throughout the organization.”
To ensure that it would be successful in its effort, TELUS needed to create a powerful technology environment. “There’s a link between learning, people, content, and technology—all these combine to influence an organization’s culture,” explains Pontefract. “Effectively building bridges between all these elements results in a successful culture of collaboration. To get there, we needed a technology platform that would make this sort of organizationwide collaboration easy, seamless, responsive, and hip.”
TELUS decided to support its new learning initiative by creating a social learning solution with Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. “Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 specifically resonated with us as a foundation on which we could build,” says Pontefract.
||With its many social, learning, video, and other collaboration facets, this SharePoint Server 2010–based solution will serve as our ‘virtual water cooler.’
Senior Director of Learning, TELUS
The company has existing technologies, such as Confluence, MediaWiki, Oracle WebLogic, and others, and TELUS appreciates that SharePoint Server 2010 can interoperate with many of these products, providing flexibility for its technology solutions. “Our enterprise architecture team plans to use SharePoint Server 2010 as an enabling nucleus,” says Pontefract. “The interoperability of the solution will make it possible for us to tie in other components, both from Microsoft and third parties.”
TELUS plans to provide team members with a single point of entry to shared knowledge, with federated search capabilities for all of the company’s learning assets, from formal class programs to work groups to user communities. “It’s the way of the future to enable team members to access colleagues, documents, and learning all in one place, as opposed to visiting multiple systems,” says Pontefract. “We want team members to live in an ecosystem that encompasses our content, people, and learning.”
The company’s decision makers were particularly eager to adopt SharePoint Server 2010 for its social networking capabilities. “The social networking elements alone drew us to SharePoint Server 2010, but we also saw how straightforward the end-user interface could be,” recalls Pontefract. For example, TELUS likes the ease of use associated with the product’s familiar Ribbon functionality, particularly for users who want to create and contribute content quickly and easily.
Building the Pilot Solution
For assistance in envisioning, designing, elaborating, and executing several pilot solutions, TELUS turned to imason, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner with which TELUS has had a longstanding relationship. “We had some crazy ideas and whiteboard mockups, and imason worked with us to translate them for use in the real world,” laughs Pontefract. “There’s no way we’d have been able to develop the pilot solutions without imason—we just didn’t have the time or current SharePoint 2010 experience.”
The partner has considerable experience with Microsoft SharePoint products and technologies that it could bring to bear for TELUS and had already educated itself about the advancements in SharePoint Server 2010. “We feel as though we’re able to take a quantum leap forward with SharePoint Server 2010 in our ability to deliver highly usable solutions, particularly those involving social networking,” says Jeff Dunmall, Co-Chief Executive Officer for imason.
TELUS and imason took advantage of out-of-the-box My Sites functionality in SharePoint Server 2010 to create an internal social networking solution in which team members can create their own pages that include their areas of expertise and special skills. Team members will be able to see their positions and others’ in the organization’s hierarchy, connect with colleagues, establish informal groups with people who have common skills, and use the Expert Search functionality to obtain ranked search results as to which TELUS team members have expertise to offer in specific areas.
One-click blogging capabilities within My Sites make it easy for all team members to discuss their experiences and to share advice and information by building their own blogs and contributing to each other’s. Through them, a team member can identify an expert, go to his or her blog, and find the answers to questions without having to take a class or even interrupt a colleague.
In addition, the company developed a team sites solution, called My Communities, wherein project teams, departments, and other internal groups can share documents and other content, work together, gain quick access to the right people, and so on. TELUS launched both the My Communities and My Sites components of SharePoint 2010 for pilot testing in April 2010. A multigenerational group of more than 1,000 users from throughout the company will participate in the pilot, with an enterprisewide launch in late 2010. “The pilot users will provide valuable feedback to help us ensure that we’re meeting the business objectives that TELUS laid out for the solutions,” says Dunmall.
Another solution in the works is TELUS Tube, a place for team members to post and view user-generated video content. TELUS Tube is slated for pilot testing in late 2010 and production release in January 2011. User-generated content, such as videos for TELUS Tube, makes it possible for the company to drive both the informal and social learning strategies inherent in the Learning 2.0 vision.
The company also is developing a new learning management solution that will work closely with SharePoint Server 2010. The solution will replace an existing system and make it possible for team members to track and show which formal learning courses they’ve taken, as well as view the courses other team members have taken, again enhancing the ability for team members to find the specific resources they are looking for.
TELUS will eventually use the language support in SharePoint Server 2010 to make its solution content available in French, which is critical for the Canadian company.
Fostering the Cultural Shift
To familiarize team members with the company’s new approach, TELUS reached out to them using a variety of mechanisms. The company set up an internal site that shows tangible examples of the collaboration tools that will soon be available to team members along with the company’s plans for the future. It also launched a wiki site to spur conversations about its forthcoming culture of collaboration, how team members can begin participating, and so on. In addition, Pontefract includes information about the Learning 2.0 initiative on his blog to help prepare team members for the shift.
“This is not a scenario in which we can flip a switch and have everyone change their work habits overnight,” notes Pontefract. “Going from expert-led instruction to a more casual, pervasive model of team member–led social learning represents a major adjustment for a telecommunications company that’s been around for 100 years.”
Thus far, however, the concept has been met with enthusiasm from team members. Internal surveys returned positive results, with 99 percent of the 7,000 team members surveyed reporting that they understood the three categories of learning—formal, informal, and social—and 97 percent agreeing that learning can successfully take place in all three ways. “Team members definitely grasp the concept, so it’s our job to make them feel comfortable participating in and contributing to the culture of collaboration,” says Pontefract. “That’s where Microsoft technologies come in. We need to provide a pleasant user experience with easy-to-use tools organizationwide, and SharePoint Server 2010 is critical to that endeavor. We see the equation as equal parts philosophy and technology.”
Pontefract is confident that the 35,000 TELUS team members know quite a lot and that the company can benefit from sharing that internal knowledge, often as a substitute for outside instruction. By using SharePoint Server 2010 to empower users and support informal and social learning, TELUS is engendering a culture of collaboration in which team members have easy, ongoing opportunities to share what they know. “With its many social, learning, video, and other collaboration facets, this SharePoint Server 2010–based solution will serve as our ‘virtual water cooler’ around which team members from all over the company will gather to swap acumen and experience, ideally checking with each other before turning to outside classroom instruction,” says Pontefract.
Although the company’s learning budget for 2010 is $21 million, TELUS anticipates saving 20 percent of that—nearly $5 million in 2011 as a result of its shift toward informal and social learning and its adoption of SharePoint Server 2010. “We’re expecting to better utilize our allotted budget because switching to a more internally focused learning model will be more cost-effective than paying third-party instructors,” says Pontefract. “Plus, with SharePoint Server 2010, we’re providing familiar tools that people already know how to use, so we’re not adding to our learning needs.”
TELUS expects to further streamline its learning budget as team members become better versed in all the options for informal and social learning. “We anticipate that those cost savings will grow over the next few years as the solutions take hold,” adds Pontefract. In fact, the company’s three-year plan is to move to a situation in which formal learning accounts for just 50 percent of its total learning budget.
Faster Speed to Collective Insight
TELUS team members will have faster access to the specific skills and knowledge areas with which they need help. “There will be no more waiting for the next formal learning session,” says Pontefract. “Instead, team members can immediately reach out to the colleagues who already have a level of expertise in a particular area, or they can read wikis and blogs, watch videos, and view content about that area and take part in related discussions.”
The company also is likely to enhance its processes through collaboration, which means that team members’ shared insights will result in positive business changes, such as bringing products to market faster and better understanding customer feedback. “We’ll be more likely and better able to innovate, so we’ll be more nimble in addressing changes in our business,” says Pontefract.
Heightened Team Member Engagement
The company expects that its shift to a culture of collaboration will not only empower team members and contribute to an increase in team member attraction and retention, but also counter the stereotype of telecommunication companies as being entrenched in old ways of doing things. “We want to give our recruitment department the means to fulfill or exceed candidates’ expectations of workplace technology and collaboration,” says Pontefract. “Certainly from a team member–retention perspective, engaging team members more thoroughly and giving them more reasons to stay with us is a good thing.”
By developing and deploying SharePoint Server 2010–based solutions, TELUS is opening the door to strategic and tactical conversations and encouraging team members to be part of the collaborative discussion. “We’re supporting TELUS team members in having an opinion, a voice. We also want team members to ask how they can contribute to the company’s success,” says Pontefract. “Putting this solution in place is a further step in our quest to ensure that team members consider TELUS a great place to work.”
Enhanced Document Governance
One of the high points of SharePoint Server 2010, as far as TELUS is concerned, is the improvement in governance when it comes to document management. “Teams can function better with more structure around sharing documents and storing them in repositories, a natural informal learning strategy,” says Pontefract.
The enhanced governance capabilities make it easier for team members to classify and share user-generated content. “We’re able to get team members to really think through how others will access their content when they upload it—not to just dump it in any location as they have in the past,” continues Pontefract. “With the taxonomy, built-in folksonomy tagging, and advanced social networking pieces that we get with SharePoint Server 2010, we’re setting our teams up to share and collaborate more often and be more effective overall, particularly with regard to the Learning 2.0 vision.”
Better Sharing of Institutional Knowledge
With its SharePoint Server 2010 solution, TELUS team members will be able to capture and share their knowledge like never before. “With 40 percent of our work force nearing retirement, we’ve got a lot of intellect that we want to nurture,” says Pontefract. “We now have the tools to encourage our people to set up communities, virtual team sites, and so on, so that team members with valuable intellectual property can easily and effectively share what they know in a natural context, not a forced brain dump,” says Pontefract.
Concludes Pontefract, “With SharePoint Server 2010, we now have the ability to synchronize our existing Microsoft technology investments, federate non-Microsoft technologies, and use the combined whole to establish and promote a culture of collaboration that easily connects our people, content, and learning.”
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