Social software and a troubled bank

Wachovia Bank is in the process of being largely gobbled up by Citigroup(Update 6 Oct: or completely consumed by Wells Fargo). It was losing money hand over fist already this year and the more recent firestorm in the financial world brought it to its knees. It will take a while to sort things out and, then, who knows what will happen in terms of consolidation and job losses?

Earlier this month, I was listening to the company’s eBusiness Director extolling the virtues of its internal collaborative software suite, called Pulse. At the time, I wanted to write about it but, having checked the bank’s financials, decided it could have disappeared within hours or days of the story being published. Slightly bad news for me, terrible news for the company. Anyway, here we are at a new beginning, and here’s the tale…

Pete Fields is a grey-haired, smart (in both senses), business professional, the last sort of person you’d expect to see presenting at the Office 2.0 conference. He talked enthusiastically of the underpinning reasons for Pulse and surprised many at the conference by explaining that it was built atop Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS). Like GE, mentioned in a recent post, Wachovia had decided on a DIY approach.

The primary drivers for Pulse were: 1) to enable staff to work more effectively across time and distance; 2) to better connect and engage employees; 3) to mitigate the impact of a maturing workforce; and, 4) to engage the generation Y worker. I bet there’s a lot of 2) going on at the moment. And, I’d also guess that thoughts are currently quite far away from 4).

But, regardless of the current state of the company, Fields’ insights are still interesting, not least the graph that showed the consequences of an ageing work population over the years 2000 to 2010. It showed clearly how the working population is increasing from the age of 45 and decreasing in the 35-44 bracket. The 55-64 age group is rising over 50 percent. And these people, plus the over 65s, will be leaving and taking their knowledge with them. (Assuming they can afford to.)


The diminuation of collective knowledge is one of the reasons so-called knowledge management (KM) became so popular, before people realised that the two words contradicted each other. Organisations thought they could use software to systematically squeeze knowledge out of people and file it away for future use. After many false starts, no-one would claim success. Lots of success with information but the stuff between people’s ears was altogether more difficult. However, the advent of social computing (choose your own term) has brought the KM dream closer than it ever was when the knowledge managers were strutting their stuff.

Nowadays, if your organisation supports them, you can tap into wikis, blogs, bulletin boards, Q&A databases and the like. And if you’re not happy, you can dive into the people pages and ping an expert. Within a short time you can get authoritative answers, in context and, because it’s done electronically, the trail is saved for others. We all know there’s a lot of nonsense ’out there’ in the wider web but, in a corporate context, people don’t file anonymously and they generally avoid posting inaccurate stuff that would reflect badly on them.

So, given the demographics, what did Wachovia do to capture knowledge without making people feel they were being exploited? It created an internal Wikipedia. Called Wachovia Wisdom and subtitled ’the encyclopedia by employees for employees’, it struck the right note. It started, innocuously enough, as an acronym wiki. This wasn’t the corporation squeezing you, it was you sharing what you knew with your colleagues. Smart move.

The project as a whole was never a skunk works. It was driven by business requirements and implemented in three phases. The first was establishing the platform, the second was about supporting team working and social capital and the third was about individuals.

To give a flavour of what’s going on: the system supports 6000 web conferences a month, each one saving the company an estimated $214; several executives gave up five percent of their travel budget to the project; and, around 100,000 instant messaging sessions take place daily.

Of course, there’s much more to the Wachovia implementation than this. You can watch Fields’ Office 2.0 presentation online and you can download a slide deck (from an earlier conference)  that shows quite a bit of the system in action. You can even follow his personal progress on Twitter where he’s, not surprisingly, petefields.

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