Intrawest Placemaking – an Enterprise 2.0 case study

Intrawest Placemaking – the “real estate development” division of a huge company called Intrawest – is an excellent example of Enterprise 2.0 techniques and principles applied in such a way that the organisation achieves almost all benefits and avoids almost all risks. In a clever and daring move in 2006, Placemaking introduced ThoughtFamer an “wiki intranet platform” and so began a dramatic transformation that shifted to the company from an Enterprise 1.0 model to an Enterprise 2.0 one. There are many benefits to be gained by embracing an Enterprise 2.0 approach and Placemaking’s success story demonstrates nearly all of them.

Benefits as exemplified by Placemaking case study

  • Productivity and efficiency ~ Placemaking found a number of improvements in this area – firstly, the dissemination and updating of information was streamlined by employees posting their content in the wiki intranet instead of using email. This  reduced the multiple copies and versions of information sent out to different sets of people and replaced it with a single, central, easily updated source of information. Efficiency was also increased by the implementation of the key principle ‘turn all users into authors’. This removed the need for a dedicated content maintenance team, meaning those resources could be reallocated elsewhere.
  • Knowledge ~ The ‘knowledge’ benefits to Placemaking can be loosely sorted into three categories – the ‘increase’ in knowledge published within the organisation, the ‘ease’ with which it is accessible and the quality/accuracy of that shared knowledge. ThoughtFarmer made the content submission process quick and simple and this made employees more likely to share their knowledge. It also provided a single, accurate repository for that knowledge that was open to all employees.
  • Reputation ~ Embracing this Web 2.0 technology helped Placemaking’s reputation and appearance, particularly in the eyes of Gen Y potential employees and so gives then “a strategic hiring advantage over their competition”. When recruiting or retaining employees, the presence and benefits of current, highly effective technologies act as a powerful attraction.
  • Staff engagement ~ Before the introduction of ThoughtFarmer, Placemaking predicted “users that could add and edit content would feel a sense of ownership over their intranet. Because the leadership of Placemaking would be putting considerable trust in employees, employees would, in turn, be more likely to trust the company and its leaders.” (Placemaking, 2010).  In addition to this, Placemaking found that allowing employees to maintain personalised profiles and communicate with each other on topics other than work led to employee satisfaction and the forming of strong social relationships. These relationships in particular encouraged employees to share more of their knowledge to help each other out.

In addition to the benefits of Enterprise 2.0 technologies and principles, companies need to be aware of the risks they bring. These are addressed below with regard to the Placemaking case study.

  • Security ~ When adopting the principles and practices of ‘openness’, companies open themselves to the risk of employees seeing and sharing sensitive information that should have remained private. If broadcast on an internal or external network, information can be amazingly rapidly spread and may even end up published in public spaces such as blogs or newspapers. So far, Placemaking seems to have avoided that kind of crisis, perhaps due to the accountability brought about by prohibiting anonymous posting – content can be traced back to the person who published and that person can expect to face the consequences of their actions. It should be noted that whilst a disgruntled employee intending to resign anyway may not be so easily deterred by disciplinary measures, this method of control has apparently worked so far.
  • Loss of control ~ When the principles of openness are fully embraced, it opens organisations up to the loss of control of information set loose and unbound by the established heirarchy. This is another event Placemaking has so far avoided and this could again be due to not allowing anonymous posting and generating good will amongst employees.
  • Reputation ~ Although the strategic use of Web 2.0 tool can improve an organisations’ reputation, they can also harm it. Employees leaking sensitive or damaging information or broadcasting inappropriate comments on external and internal networks can quickly spread bad news and make the organisation appear to be unprofessional and unappealing. Perhaps due to happy employees and being ‘clean’, Placemaking seems to be avoiding this risk so far. It is also important to note that Placemaking’s network is an internal one – if ‘bad’ information was to be released on it, it would be contained within the organisation and presumably not reach the public – and so this is an option for damage control.
  • Reliability ~ When entrusting everyone in the organisation with the ability to submit and edit content, the question arises of whether that content will be reliable and error-free. This can be a bit of a paradox, because allowing everyone to edit content can in itself reduce errors by letting those people who do spot errors fix them immediately. The risk remains (what happens if nobody spots a mistake or maliciously makes false/misleading comments) but it should be recognised as belonging to projects with only one author as well. It seems that in Placemaking’s experience, employees have worked together to generate reliable content.
  • Productivity ~ Another scary issue for managers and employers involves the hijacking of the network for non-work purposes. Whilst some play and light-heartedness is recognised to be health, the risk remains of employees turning the tool from a work-helper to a work-hinderer through the publishing and absorbing of purely fun content to the extent that their productivity suffers. Placemaking has certainly found that employees used the intranet for non-work purposes but that this created stronger relationships and a sense of community that combined to urge those same employees to share information because they cared about their peers.
  • Resources ~ An additional concern is that excessive company resources (bandwidth, time) will be spent on play and socialising. Again, in Placemaking’s experience, workers seem to self-moderate to the effect that the resources expended on entertainment and interacting with others were beneficial to the employees and prompted willingness to work and share.

After examining these benefits and risks with respect to Placemaking, what occurs to me is that an organisation’s success when making the shift from Enterprise 1.0 to Enterprise 2.0 depends largely on managing the people involved. Placemaking’s brilliant results could have been very different if they had introduced the technologies but done it in a way that forced employees to contribute ‘or else’ or allowed them to publish anonymously. Keeping goodwill amongst workers (allowing them a reasonable degree of freedom and fun), generating relationships between them and making them responsible for their own reactions are, in my mind, key elements that need to be carefully addressed for a company to succeed as an  Enterprise 2.0 company.

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