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Jumping Into Tibbr Social Collaboration With Both Feet

IT services firm CGI skipped the pilot project and launched Tibco's Tibbr to 31,000 users at once.

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When the IT services firm CGI introduced Tibbr for social collaboration in October, it skipped the phase of having a pilot project or departmental rollout and launched the internal social network to 31,000 members of the organization at the same time.

"If you want to build a social network, it takes people in the social network," explained Eric Lebel, vice-president of knowledge management at CGI, an IT services firm based in Montreal. He provided an overview of the social collaboration initiative earlier this month in an interview along with Lorne Gorber, senior vice-president of global communications and investor relations. While Lebel is reinventing CGI's knowledge management infrastructure, Gorber wants to use the social network to replace the portal CGI uses for internal communication and collaboration.

"Of course, we knew there would be challenges trying to communicate with 31,000 people and explain to those 31,000 people why this made sense," Lebel said. "You don't have the typical lessons learned of some pilot project when you do it that way, but still it was a way to learn. We just sized the experiment bigger."

[ Does your social software get the job done? See Sparqlight Bets Social Workflow Beats 'Social Voyeurism'. ]

Rather than trying to create the perfect implementation from the start, CGI took an approach of "evolution, but with a clear vision," Leber said. In the agile development world, there's the concept of having "just enough organized process, or just enough discipline, and we wanted to bring some of that into this initiative," he said.

By launching the technology without any rigorous process, CGI allowed its people to experiment with the social environment and figure out what it was good for. There were also consequences, like the creation of new subjects for discussion without any formal taxonomy, leading to "a bit of a chaotic structure," Leber said. As things progressed, he appointed "gardeners" to prune dead-end discussion branches and "gradually consolidate topics," he said.

The enterprise social software product CGI chose, Tibbr, was created by Tibco and builds on Tibco's integration middleware strengths. For CGI, part of the attraction was that Tibco is a known and trusted enterprise software vendor. Also, CGI liked the approach of delivering social collaboration as a layer of functionality meant to be integrated with many other systems--and it saw the product's potential as a tool CGI could take into client engagements.

Gorber said it would be "quite presumptuous" for CGI to put the tool out to its clients as the perfect tool for their collaboration needs without having first proven the value itself.

CGI also had its own reasons for a systems revamp. "We've grown through a lot of acquisitions, a lot of integrations, and we've wound up with several different systems, several different approaches to collaboration," Gorber said. "We decided we'd like to have one common communication or collaboration platform and we'd pull in some of the best practices from around the world to make that happen."

Previously, CGI's primary collaboration platforms included the PeopleSoft portal and custom applications built on an early version of the open source framework now known as SocialEngine.

With the custom applications, built to support practice area communities within the consulting organization, Lebel said, "We did something interesting, but at that time the enterprise wasn't ready to embrace social collaboration. There was still a feeling that we could win business without collaborating globally." Now the business has changed, and staying competitive means getting everyone working together across boundaries of time, geography, and organizations.

CGI also uses SharePoint, primarily for "structured records management," Lebel said.

In CGI's new environment, Tibbr is replacing the SocialEngine applications and is also likely to replace the PeopleSoft portal over time. SharePoint will stay in the mix as a document management system that can be used in conjunction with Tibbr.

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