The need to customize your social business environment is equivalent to moving your belongings into a new house and making it your own. We’re not truly comfortable in our home if it doesn’t express our tastes and preferences. So it is true of a system in which you will come to “live”. A successful social business solution will become your working home, and hence needs to be adapted to suit your organization’s tastes.
There are several areas you should consider when looking to customize your system:
- Emails and Other Notifications
- Living Social
The most basic customization most organizations perform is to tweak the basic branding of their system. This often starts with adding the company logo and changing the color scheme. Most systems, including IBM Connections make this relatively easy to achieve (v22.214.171.124 and v4.0). Provided you follow some basic guidelines about the size and quality of images and can make some small changes to cascading stylesheets then you will be all set. Granted, it is still perhaps the preserve of a web designer or other skilled IT person to effect these changes.
Many organizations have branding guidelines, such as the Pantone color, hex code for colors used, logo aspect ratios, etc. If you’re going to customize your system you should familiarize yourself with those first. Detailed instructions on customizing IBM Connections can be found in the Connections wiki.
Next on the list might be the terminology used in the system. Depending on the industry you work in it could make sense to rename some of the elements in the system to be more appropriate to your case.
For example, in the construction, manufacturing, oil & gas and other “manual” industries you might want to rename Activities to be Projects. In a customer service-oriented environment, such as a call center, you might want to call Activities Cases. Attorneys and other branches of the legal professions might also recognize Activities as being Cases or Matters.
Communities, which are essentially a logical grouping of many social elements might also make sense in some instances to be called Projects. Taking construction again, a large project might be recognized more as a Community, with individual work packages being considered Activities instead. In the legal profession, a Community might be used as a Suit or Action, with individual Activities being used as claims.
Whatever you choose to call your components, the key point is that it should be relevant to your organization. Expecting your users to mentally step into the terminology of the system is like putting on an off-the-shelf suit. A made-to-measure one just fits better and is more comfortable.
You should spend some time thinking about these things. Below I have presented the logical structure of social components in IBM Connections. I have also given some examples about how you would structure Connections for different industries in earlier blog postings.
Emails and other Notifications
Most systems will produce notifications, by email or other mechanisms. Sometimes these contain additional information you don’t want to appear on what arrives in the user’s inboxes. I recall many times being told by customers that they much preferred a Lotus Notes workflow solution over one built in Microsoft InfoPath (which relies on Outlook) because in Notes you had complete control over the content of notification emails. InfoPath sent a lot of extraneous information which often confused people. So it is true with your social intranet. Modify the email notifications to include terminology your users will understand. You might add your company logo (be mindful of the image size, however, as it will be an overhead on your email system).
IBM Connections uses a standard markup language to control the contents of the messages. You can find lots of information on customizing the email content here.
You should consider how users will access your social intranet. Will it be part of a bigger solution, such a company-wide portal, or will it become the core of your business itself?
If you are including it in a bigger portal, such as IBM WebSphere Portal, you will find that there are “portlets” available to allow you to present the Connections content in the context of other transactions which the portal is providing. For example, integrating a holiday-booking solution running in DB2 with profile information from Connections is relatively easy to achieve using a portal.
Where the social intranet is going to be *the* portal you will want to add links to other systems somewhere handy for your users. At Seric Systems, we use the menu bar of Connections to provide some simple links to other systems we use. Because we don’t currently use a portal as described above, we have implemented single-sign on across the other systems so that users once logged into any of the systems can move between the solutions without being challenged for credentials again. A little forethought and planning can reap enormous benefits.
If you use IBM Lotus Notes, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Windows, Sugar CRM and a range of other systems then you should find that Connections can integrate itself with these systems. Deploying these integrations allows you to help push Step 1 in our Social Business journey – integrating your processes; together with providing a seamless solution for your users to continue their work.
Whether you choose to embed your social platform inside an existing system or choose to build your intranet around your social platform you should consider the ease of use for your users. A recently-included part of Connections, for example, is Connections Mail which allows you to access, respond and create email messages directly within Connections. User no longer need to jump in and out of the social system to simply do their work.
I confess I was skeptical of the value of Connections Mail when I first saw it but, on rollout to a number of customers, can now see the value of it. Users immediately understand its purpose and largely accept that it is there to help them. Full-blown email is a click away still, but the functionality provided is enough to let you get your work done.
Customizing your social system is essential to give it that “lived in” feel. When you make it your own it feels comfortable and appropriate for your work. Consider changing the look and feel, terminology, email notifications and access patterns to suit your environment, and keep these areas under review so that it continues to measure-up through use.
The 10 Steps to Social Business is a concept developed by IBM. This article was written by me, Alan Hamilton, with the permission of IBM.