Feature

Accenture harnesses web mashups to bring workforce together

IT services firm Accenture has been ramping up its internal usage of Web 2.0 technologies, as part of its "Collaboration 2.0" initiative.

The initiative calls for the extensive use of "web mashup" technology. This is behind Accenture's social networking community site, internal wiki website, YouTube-style content sharing site and a number of unified communications applications.

Frank Modruson, CIO of Accenture, said, "For any organisation that works together in teams, collaboration is inherently part of what they do.

"Anything we can do to help the collaboration process is important, and our clients are also very interested in what we are doing."

The service firm's goal is for each of the new web-based applications it brings online to be accessed as soon as possible by all of its 186,000 employees in 52 countries.

By doing this, it aims to drive efficiencies through communication and collaboration, and reduce travel costs.

Accenture's software engineers develop the firm's web mashup, and Web 2.0 applications, in Microsoft dot.net, making extensive use of SharePoint Server, Microsoft's portal and enterprise content management product.

It integrates these applications into Office Communicator, Microsoft's unified communications platform, so that they can be accessed over the Internet Protocol (IP)/Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) network from around the world.

Web mashup is a term used to describe how data from more than one source is combined into a single integrated tool, and delivered via an individual web page.

The Google Maps web service is, perhaps, one of the best known examples of a web mashup, mixing cartographic and directory data to create and present dynamic, and personalised web pages for an individual users.

One of the ways Accenture is using web mashup is in its social networking application, Accenture People, which it deployed in early 2007.

The firm's development team wanted to combine features from popular consumer websites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Wikipedia and YouTube, to enable the 186,000 employees to share interests and knowledge online.

They wanted the tools to be familiar, easy to use, and require minimal training.

The resulting Accenture People web application puts the end-users in control of what information they choose to share - both professional and personal - in a protected environment, said Modruson.

He added that some of the benefits this has brought include speeding up the search process for finding relevant experts within the firm.

As part of Accenture People, the firm also developed a Wikipedia-style site called Accenture Encyclopedia, to catalogue Accenture business and technical terminology.

It recently went live with its YouTube-style site, Accenture Media Exchange, for content management and knowledge exchange.

The idea is to give staff at work the mixture of interactive sites and user collaboration that they enjoy in their spare time, explained Modruson.

"Users create and share the content, and by being IP-based, and having a common infrastructure, it makes creating web-based collaboration tools easier [for the IT team] to do. By making everything browser-based, it is very easy to add in new features, such as Media Exchange, which lets users post things on the web," said Modruson.

"Once you introduce any of these web-based components, such as new People Pages, they are instantly available to 186,000 people, and that is the beauty of this technology."

The limitations of web mashup, and Web 2.0 technology in general, is firstly security, said Modruson, but he argued that this is "a given" whether the platform is client, server or web browsers.

"That is always going to be there - the bar just goes up. The not so nice people have also become more sophisticated," said Modruson.

Secondly, encouraging users to adopt the new tools is an issue, as Accenture frequently adds new collaboration tools and browser plugins.

The firm uses a special internal site called beta.accenture.com, which showcases and publicises new tools and utilities, using web mashup to continually mix and update the content.

It also uses old fashioned peer pressure to encourage employees to use the new tools. The firm's main portal.accenture.com intranet, encourages employees, for example, to update their directory profiles, add new personal content, or use the latest tools, said Modruson.

An example of this is Media Exchange, which initially had 318 video items posted on it when it launched in the autumn.

By the end of October 2008, it had 1200 items, and by December, there were more than 1600. These included executive interviews, project team presentations, and humorous snippets, and came from users around the world.

However, Modruson added that as sites become popular, the IT team must be ready with the back-end infrastructure in place to support them.

"With successful applications, their adoption scales quickly - up to 186,000 people in 52 countries - and that is 10,000 client sites as well as our own sites.

"When you are that distributed, yesterday's new application is yesterday's legacy application that has got to run all the time. Preparing for that rapid scale-up is key," said Modruson.


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This was first published in December 2008

 

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