Through Jean-Paul Taravella (Thanks !), my colleague at AREVA, I had the privilege to meet Lamis Zolhof of SNCF today. Lamis, an architect by training, has implemented one of the very few successful intranet applications I have seen so far to share best practices. Many companies present similar concepts at conventions and trade shows, usually along with the software company who developed the application, but actually very few go beyond a vague proof of concept.
The platform, nick named ISIBOL (don’t ask why – only SNCF insiders can understand) is actually used! Several new good practices have been posted each day for the last three years, and some of them have been downloaded for reuse hundreds and even thousands of time.
To me this was an eye opener, because I have always had serious doubts about the general concept of sharing “best practices”. The whole idea of transferring a collective way of doing things from one business location to another regardless of the context appears to me like a daunting task even if it it mandated by the CEO, which is seldom the case, if ever. It’s like transplanting a full grown tree. But ISIBOL is different. Here it’s not about collective best practices such as a new business process, but about personal ones such as excel macros or survey templates. It’s about sharing reusable methods and tools for personal productivity. Not only are these much easier to transfer, but the benefit is primarily for the users themselves. The benefit for the company is not an objective but an outcome.
Aside from this sensible starting point, Lamis has managed to focus her attention on something that most intranet program managers tend to take for granted, i.e. the user experience. Since the beginning, Lamis wanted the platform to be user-friendly and straightforward, with zero training need. She copied some of the features of the successful internet applications, both in the e-business and collaborative fields, and went into extreme details, never compromising on clarity, simplicity and ease-of-use, raising hell if the developer did not meet her expectations. She ended up with a lively collaborative platform that everyone could understand and relate to. It is also fun to use because contributions and downloads are rewarded by a point system that can be redeemed with token gifts.
But this was still not enough. Lamis had to put a lot of energy in the first 18 months of roll-out to actively sell the platform to key users, making sure that all people she met actually subscribed to the service. She put professionally designed posters on the wall, sent flyers, e-mailed reminders, etc. never giving up. And it finally paid off.
But in the end, the key achievement of this ISIBOL platform is the initiation of a deep behavioral change whereby employees have been provided with a way to present to their colleagues what they are proud of, which is a good step towards presenting what they are currently doing, which is the essence of social networks. And that is the next step.