Recognising innovation: Using social media inside the enterprise

Fefie Dotsika and Keith Patrick

RPC with the Dachis Group London (formerly Headshift), and the University of Westminster; through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership. have been shortlisted in the Innovation in Enterprise category in the competition – called Innovation Nation – which is being run by The Guardian, in conjunction with Virgin Media Business.  

Voting for the award closes on 28 May.

Project Purpose

The project aims to develop an innovative social media intranet that serves RPC’s knowledge management requirements, leveraging its human and intellectual capital by means of applying social networking tools within the private professional services sector.

This has involved the creation of new ways of sharing knowledge within the operational, commercial and competitive demands of the company, as well as the application of innovative solutions for knowledge management by means of the ever-increasing range of social media. One of the challenges has been that the firm had neither existing capability in using social networking tools, nor systematic understanding of the behaviours these tools create. Akin to other firms in the legal sector, this weakness was further emphasised during the development of knowledge management capabilities and the creation of a proactive know-how culture.

Edge uses inexpensive open-source software (when compared to alternative off- the-shelf solutions) beneath a new flexible frontend. Making
use of some of the simple social media and content aggregation tools that have seen such success in the public domain (e.g. wikis, blogs, discussion forums, RSS feeds and activity streams), the project demonstrates that RPC isn’t afraid of innovating through thoughtful use of emergent technologies in a sector traditionally labelled conservative in its take-up of new IT.

In an area that is still so new, RPC is also working with The University of Westminster as part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) to formalise their methodologies and frameworks, make sure the firm is making the most of research taking place in the UK’s academic institutions. The project seeks to help bridge the gap between the worlds of academia and the private sector.

Despite all the talk about social media presenting a challenge to businesses, the biggest challenges in rolling out Edge were the normal change management ones: how do you get 500 people using a new piece of technology? Our answer wasn’t a heavy-duty training programme where the lawyers were pulled away from their matters and lectured on the importance of collaboration. Instead, we let them play; to discover Edge for themselves by encouraging their curiosity.

The innovation does not come from the individual pieces of technology themselves. In a sector where knowledge is traditionally seen as power for the individual, RPC is harnessing the ‘wisdom of the crowd’. The innovation therefore comes from the mash-up of different technologies, different core corporate systems, internal and external information, and insight from individuals, all placed in context and analysed by the lawyers to help stretch themselves as professionals and ultimately provide better service to the firm’s clients.

The next step is even more demanding. The system requires ad-hoc application development that supports knowledge management for a long list of information repositories such as precedents, snapshots of clients and markets, research for prospective clients, claims tracker, etc. Also, while the new system is now fully operational, the team has to continue working on integration issues concerning adoption challenges, service capabilities, training requirements and technical barriers.

About the authors

Fefie Dostika is a Senior Lecturer in Information Management at Westminster Business School, with expertise in Web information systems. Her research interests cover: information modelling, web information and knowledge management and emerging web technologies and has publications across a range of print mediums in these areas. This involvement in Social Media reflects her interest in the implications of emerging web technologies and is reflected in teaching, research and business engagement. She has been working with organisations seeking to apply Social Media technologies through Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.

Keith Patrick is a Senior Lecturer in Information Management at Westminster Business School; he is the Course Leader for the MA Management Programme. His research interests lie in the areas of Information and Knowledge Management, and Emergent Technologies, with a range of publications. His interest in Social Media pre-dates this label and reflects his interest in the implications and impacts of emerging technologies, working with organisations through Knowledge Transfer Partnerships applying Social Media technologies and associated activities and behaviours within organisations.

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