An internal social network at GE is mimicking all the good things that people get outside in their social lives with Facebook, says GE’s Ron Utterbeck: quick responses, connections with people they know — and coordination with people they didn’t even know were out there.
How can a company as large and spread out as GE get its employees to quickly connect with who they need, find internal expertise and share knowledge? This process is, in fact, well underway through GE’s implementation of a social network it calls GE Colab. The platform was introduced to the company this past January and has already been utilized by 115,000 employees across the world. It attracts about 1,000 new users every few days. One of the key people vital in making this happen was Ron Utterbeck, the CIO for GE Corporate and the Advanced Manufacturing Software Technology Center in Michigan. Utterbeck began GE Colab by strategically introducing it to the firm’s already known “power users” as a way to speed word of mouth around the enterprise and encourage early high levels of activity. He and his team then found that the best way to further increase quick growth was to make it simple to get feedback and suggestions from the early users and add desired new functionality — this then spurred even more users and activity. In an interview with MIT Sloan Management Review contributing editor Robert Berkman, Utterbeck describes the key elements of how Colab works, including how it is breaking down corporate silos — functional, geographic and even generational — why the network gets such a high level of activity and his view on the contentious matter of measurement and ROI. Can you first briefly describe what your social network, the GE Colab, is and how it works? Yes. We're harnessing the power of about 115,000 brains right now. The way we built Colab is that we leveraged a base product, and then we extended the heck out of it. And we've done it via APIs, so we can swap stuff in and out pretty easily. At its core, we have is a section that's called Stream. It’s similar to Facebook in that when you first log in to Facebook you can see the activity from all your friends, and that's pretty much how Stream looks. You can see all the groups that you’ve joined. You can see the activity.