Aegon is one of the world’s largest insurance and pension groups. The company relies on a network of 24,000 employees to deliver a range of life insurance, pension, and asset management services to more than 20 international markets. However,
the size of the network also created challenges. Without a unified network for sharing information, it was becoming increasingly difficult to locate and share data across business divisions. Aegon also realized that social networking could help to better connect
its people and resources and facilitate sharing of knowledge and best practices. To realize this vision, the company launched a global intranet on Microsoft SharePoint Server and combined it with the Social Sites solution from NewsGator, a Microsoft partner.
Together, these technologies delivered a fully integrated solution that has fostered a new level of collaboration across the company.
||Our NewsGator Social Sites solution built on SharePoint Server provides the advanced social networking capabilities we need to share knowledge and expertise on a global scale.
| David Francis
Global Portal Manager
As a business that serves more than 20 international markets, Aegon has long been interested in technologies that foster sharing of knowledge and expertise across its vast network.
Three years ago, the company began looking at ways to enhance its content management system. It was already using SharePoint Team Sites, but only at the local level. There was no global intranet. In fact, there were more than 5,000 separate team sites running
within the Aegon network. This made it difficult to search for data and people outside a specific office or division. “Information was not getting transferred across businesses,” says David Francis, Global Portal Manager at Aegon. What’s more, governing all
of these sites was becoming increasingly difficult. This was particularly problematic for a highly regulated financial services company like Aegon.
At the same time, Aegon was looking for a solution that went beyond content management to one that facilitated social collaboration and real-time sharing of a wide variety of data. “We were interested in seeing how we could create new connections in the
company and get people communicating with other business units outside their division,” says Francis. “Transferring knowledge across the organization is a key component of our strategy. For instance, the ability to develop a product in one market and then
effectively share that knowledge and experience with another market is increasingly important.”
In March 2012, the company made a dramatic step forward with the launch of a global intranet using Microsoft SharePoint Server.
The decision to deploy SharePoint was relatively straightforward. “We could have chosen any platform,” says Francis. “But we chose SharePoint because it is the business standard.” As the company’s own research revealed, SharePoint was quickly becoming the
preferred intranet choice of more and more organizations like Aegon. He says, “You could see that businesses were choosing a recognized solution like SharePoint instead of choosing lots of different intranet solutions.”
Another important reason for choosing SharePoint was the familiarity of the platform—thousands of Aegon employees were already using it. Also, Microsoft Office and platform products such as Microsoft SQL Server were standard at Aegon.
After the launch of its global intranet on SharePoint, Aegon began looking at specialized solutions that could enhance the basic social networking capabilities of SharePoint and help deliver on the company’s long-term social networking strategy.
That’s when the team looked at the Social Sites enterprise networking solution from NewsGator, a Microsoft partner with Gold competencies in Application Development as well as Collaboration and Content—and a specialist in enterprise social computing solutions.
Unlike other solutions, Social Sites is tightly integrated with SharePoint technologies. This dramatically simplified the deployment process for Aegon. In fact, the company went from reviewing the product internally to a full deployment in less than eight
weeks. This meant that more than 24,000 employees had instant access to a rich social network that extended across the organization.
The integration of SharePoint and Social Sites also provided a streamlined experience for users. Social Sites provides single sign-on as well as a single store for metadata, data, and profiles. This makes it possible for users to get work done while also
simplifying administration. “Our NewsGator Social Sites solution built on SharePoint Server provides the advanced social networking capabilities we need to share knowledge and expertise on a global scale,” says Francis.
||We could have chosen any platform. But we chose SharePoint because it is the business standard.
| David Francis
Global Portal Manager
With the NewsGator Social Sites solution, Aegon employees have easier, more specific access to subject matter experts. They are able to share experiences and best practices more effectively, both on their PC and mobile devices, in text and video formats.
Meanwhile, the company can recognize and reward top contributors to the network while also maintaining effective control for governance and regulatory purposes.
More Effective Search
SharePoint provided people with search capabilities not previously available to Aegon employees. As Francis explains, “Before SharePoint Server, there was no efficient way of finding people, let alone experts.” With the People Search feature, all employees
connected to the intranet are fully indexed and searchable. This helps to refine a profile search and route info to experts based on a wide range of criteria, such as team, business unit and location as well as specific skills, projects, interests, and behaviors.
Fully Integrated SocialCollaborationFeatures
Microblogging is another feature that builds on core SharePoint Server features. With the new microblogging capabilities, employees have an easy-to-use tool for spontaneous knowledge sharing and real-time brainstorming with each other. Users can upload videos,
links, files, and images and take advantage of email, mobile, and desktop technologies for additional sharing. They can also send private messages to counterparts and flag events/items for later follow-up. And through integrated Q&A functionality, the best
answers to questions posed on the network are tagged for easy reference.
Meanwhile, the activity stream provides an aggregated flow of events, content, and activities. Users can filter their activity stream based on author, published date, hashtag, community, activity type, and contributors. A Top News filter prioritizes events
and microblogs by automatically learning users' preferences based on their behavior.
As Francis explains, “The ability to target and retrieve information based on what employees have added to their profiles is quite powerful for us. That’s where we see the future. For example, we put a lot of energy into internal corporate news articles.
When I comment on an article, it gets captured in my activity feed. By linking that whole experience, what we’re doing is not just creating a social network alongside the intranet. We’re developing a social intranet that really links the world of publishing
with the more social aspect of enabling everyone to contribute.”
Integration of internal communications is also important for Aegon. “What we are looking at now is how we can incorporate announcements, messages from leadership and other corporate communications directly into people’s central social stream,” says Francis.
Aegon plans to extend the scope of the activity stream, giving users the option to subscribe to news interests or news subscriptions such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and third-party business applications.
Compliance Control and Management
||NewsGator puts the core of the application into a mobile version. This is great for us because, with our small development team, creating a customized mobile version was challenging. We were simply able to take the NewsGator version
and deploy it.
| David Francis
Global Portal Manager
Although the top priority of launching the social network was to facilitate the flow of information, better management of this network was important to meet internal and regulatory requirements. For instance, for branding and overall consistency, a template
was developed for creation of communities.
Social Sites also provides additional management features for enhanced control. For example, administrators can control the privacy levels of all content within the SharePoint environment, including communities. They can choose to configure public or private
communities and make them either publicly discoverable or restricted with access rights.
With Social Sites, administrators can specify terms and conditions to which employees must agree before using an activity stream. A list of blocked terms can be added to prevent unwanted words from showing up in the stream, and the system provides reporting
of potentially sensitive items across the whole activity stream. Inappropriate items can easily be flagged, reviewed, and kept or removed. Social Sites also has legal audit capabilities to place end users on “legal hold.” This allows a company to retain all
of its event activity for an extended period of time to address legal and regulatory requirements.
Preconfigured Mobile Capabilities
Mobile integration is another aspect of the solution that Francis and his team like. With Social Sites Mobile Web, users get direct access to the social network from any mobile device, including the ability to both view and interact with data. The mobile
web client supports multiple authentication options.
As Francis explains, “NewsGator puts the core of the application into a mobile version. This is great for us because, with our small development team, creating a customized mobile version was challenging. We were able to simply take the NewsGator version
and deploy it.”
The mobile version of Social Sites has been particularly useful for employees leading complex projects with multiple stakeholders across the organization. For these people, continuous feedback and dialogue is essential and the Social Sites Mobile Web supports
Based on the success of the mobile version, the company is planning a full deployment later this year.
Real Business Value
Since launch, participation in the Aegon social network has grown steadily. The network has grown to more than 70 different communities. “We are adding several new communities every week and we see usage growing representatively as well,” says Francis. As
the value of the data shared within these communities also grows, it is being referenced more and more within the company’s mainstream print media and email communications. Even CEOs from the company’s many divisions have begun actively participating because
they recognize the value of the network. “Our CEOs are using the platform to engage employees in discussions around particular topics — for instance, a new business direction or specific input on a project. They often pose questions to groups as a means of
starting open dialogue.”
A recent brand launch provided an interesting example of how the social network is delivering business benefits. What the branding team discovered was that employees were far more likely to share their experiences and best practices related to the launch
across the network than they were via email. As Francis explains, “Rather than build up email distribution groups of everyone who may or may not be interested in a topic like branding, using communities has allowed us to assemble people who are actively interested
and therefore more likely to participate in the conversation.”
What’s more, smaller, more remote offices that didn’t typically interact frequently with other divisions were now sharing feedback and other insights. “They are sharing anecdotes, pictures, and other content about the new brand,” says Francis. “Before the
network was implemented, we would typically have to come together at a conference to gather these types of insights and experiences.” The data has proven particularly valuable to the global brand team, resulting in the development of “a more consistent user
brand—with a lot less work.”
Another example is related to the company’s development of mobile apps for its clients. “Many parts of the company are placing a high priority on marketing and actually delivering products on mobile devices through mobile applications,” says Francis. “There
is a lot of experience across the company in this fast-moving space and groups are using the social network to quickly share ideas and best practices. This is really helping the organization build a strong virtual competency in this area using resources across
As for the future, Aegon is looking at implementing a feature of Social Sites which directly supports innovation. Idea campaigns can be set up to submit, review, approve, and implement new ideas as well as enable users to follow, vote, share, and comment
on idea campaigns through their My Newsfeed page or their mobile client. Each campaign site can be customized, and for even more focused brainstorming, authorized users can set up private campaigns within communities to capture, nurture, and refine new ideas
in a discrete setting. The system can also be set up to recognize and reward contributors.
Rewards & Recognition is yet another feature that interests the Aegon team. It enables the company to recognize and reward active social networking participants and top contributors. Leaderboards and peer-to-peer recognition can also be configured to further
encourage participation and SharePoint adoption.
Francis points out that the combined SharePoint and Social Sites solution offers a vast choice of social networking possibilities. “We have a long list of things we want to do next.”
NewsGator improves productivity and employee engagement through advanced social computing capabilities. The company’s solutions enable world-class organizations to meet the growing demands for social tools within the enterprise.
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