Initially begun as an unauthorised social media experiment at National Australia Bank in 2008, Yammer is now an active and mature network used by around one-third of the banking giant's 50,000 staff worldwide.
Living in the cloud and external to the company's SharePoint-based collaboration platform, Yammer is creating value for the financial institution through user-led innovation, according to Simon Terry, CEO of HICAPS, NAB's healthcare and government payments business.
"We think one of the biggest strengths of the whole social space is actually leveraging the creativity and the engagement of the user.
“It is driving engagement and enablement of our people, improving our customer experiences and winning new customers.
"Traditionally managing information across an organisation of our scale has been a major challenge. If we knew what we know we would be a much more effective and agile organisation.
"The speed of responsiveness we need to provide for our customers is not driven by our competitors, it’s driven by Google."
Terry provides a typical example where NAB staff will receive a customer inquiry on a certain product or service they are not familiar with. By posting the query to Yammer they will often receive instant responses from the network pointing them towards company policies and procedures that they might not otherwise have been able to locate in a speedy fashion.
The University of Sydney Business School examined the NAB Yammer network as part of a recent study of Emerging Social Networks. It analysed of two weeks of communication on NAB's company-wide Yammer network comprising almost 3000 messages and compared this with some other published studies. The comparison found NAB's usage "shows an elaborate and more pronounced idea-generation practice than we have observed in other networks.
"A closer look at the content of these conversations reveals the benefit for the corporation when viewed from an organisational learning perspective. For example, in more than a quarter of all instances employees brainstorm matters of corporate strategy, work philosophy, working conditions and sustainability. Furthermore, people engage in discussions about their immediate work processes, exchanging ideas that can be influenced and implemented by the employees themselves.
“Interestingly, there are also a number of conversations about improvements to or developments of new products and other customer-related issues. Finally, people discuss ideas for personal (skills) development and workplace learning," the study found
"NAB believes the future will be more digital," said Terry.
"And we believe that digital future is going to be much more collaborative. As an organisation we've committed heavily to social media externally and we are looking at how that changes the nature of how we interaction with our customers.
"In our view you can't commit to that external interaction with social without providing the same connectivity within your organisation. We are focussed on leveraging these technologies with a really clear strategic intent."
After four years of use there are now over 3000 users a week from 13,000 active users
"That translates to over 130,000 messages over the life of the Yammer network so we're starting to build an institutional base of knowledge. When you get to that scale then things like search become incredibly powerful because there's a good chance the question's been asked before and the answer is already there.
"Just as organisations have silos our experience is knowledge lives in silos, so there is information on your intranet sites and lots of SharePoint sites but how do you flow information back and forth and bring in external information?
"SharePoint and Yammer work in concert very well. If you have something posted to a SharePoint blog it might not get found but post it to Yammer and the community starts to get involved and being sharing and liking conversation and bringing it to a wider audience.
"As an organisation we believe we will be using both SharePoint and Yammer into the long term. We are very excited about the roadmaps that unite the two.
"Being a financial services organisation we have information that we will need to keep on-premise but the ability to have conversations in Yammer and link that to information in SharePoint is a powerful way to manage those privacy and security issues.”
The Yammer network at NAB was actually under threat of closure in 2010 when the IT organisation stepped in and demanded it move on premise to SharePoint .
"There was a massive debate and it was at that point the users got organised to prove it could drive additional value," said Terry.
The Yammer community at NAB was instrumental in creating a method to demonstrate the corporate benefits of Yammer via the hash tag #yammerwin.
"Whenever a senior executive in our organisation asks for a business case or an example of customer focus, we go straight to those tags and pull up examples
"When people ask about ROI, we can go to #yammerwin and find a simple process change that saves you in cost saving a multiple of your licence fee or your investment in managing the network. We've got many of those.”
NAB has found that social networking can create new flows of knowledge and also uncovered financial benefits that derive from that. Although a user-led model of deployment has been crucial to Yammer's success, claims Terry.
"There's a really important choice when implementing a social solution like this which comes down to a fundamental question. Do you trust your people?
"This leads you down two different paths. If you don't trust your people you better build a lot of governance and have massive moderation teams. You are going to have lots of issues. I would ask a broader strategic question. If you don't trust your people why do you have them in that role?
"If you go down the other path you need to embrace the community and work on culture and think about how does your organisation becoming more social change your culture? It’s going to have an effect on flattening your organisational structure and making leaders more accountable and transparent, and forcing debate and discussion."