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Shell plans to save 100s of millions with 'semantic' search

Royal Dutch Shell aims to cut training time for engineers with technology to identify and deliver information from databases, blogs and social media

Energy group Royal Dutch Shell aims to cut the training time for young engineers by rolling out technology to automatically identify and deliver the information they need, from databases, blogs and social media.

The project, which is expected to save the energy company hundreds of millions of pounds a year in training costs, aims to cut the time taken for a young engineer to become fully up to speed from nine to eight years.

“Our engineers have to deal with 400 different technical standards. We need to get the up to speed so they know where to find the information,” said Andy Boyd, project and knowledge management lead.

The energy company is working with Accenture and IBM to evaluate semantic search technologies that will identify each engineer’s interests, and send them tailor-made summaries of relevant information posted by 100,000 employees worldwide.

The system will analyse a huge range of specialist engineering forums and online discussion groups, including Shell’s internal version of Wikipedia and match the posts to each engineer’s specialisms.

“We are looking at ways of profiling information and profiling people. If we label our information in the same way, if there is a new post on Wiki, or a new expert nominated, we can push that out to people,” said Boyd, speaking in advance of an HR technology conference.

Shell has produced a short list of three suppliers for the system and aims to go out to tender before going live with the project in mid 2013.

The company is looking at how best to profile the interests of its staff and is assessing the privacy implications of different alternatives.

Options include scanning emails and blog posts for key words, and creating a profile page that will allow employees to define their own interests.

Boyd calculates that Shell has so far saved 400m to 500m  a year by rolling out social media tools to make it easier for employees to communicate and share ideas.

The company introduced its version of Wikipedia in 2004 following a groundswell of support from members of Shell’s online discussion forums.

The system allows staff operating in remote areas of the world, where bandwidth is at a premium, to access detailed company information says Boyd.

Employees are required to sign-in, which allows Shell to keep an audit trail of every change made to an article.

“We have been told that it’s the largest corporate Wiki system in the world, as big as the Polish language Wikipedia,” he said.

“Our lawyers love it because they can see who said what, and all the changes. It’s a perfect record system.”

Some 60,000 of Shell's 100,000 employees are active on the Wiki.

And around 50,000 are active on Yammer and web discussion forums. Yammer is particularly useful for creating discussion groups between Shell employees and external partners, said Boyd.

“It is very easy to bring a third party into the conversation, whether it’s a government or a company,” he said.

Surveys show that the young engineers that join Shell are studious types, rather than natural users of social media, said Boyd.

“We have an instant messaging system in Shell and many don’t like it because it interrupts them while they are working,” he said.

Andy Boyd is speaking at the HR Tech Europe conference in Amsterdam on 25-26 October


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