Minter Ellison, an Australian law firm specializing in mergers and acquisitions and telecommunications law, has been grappling with a question facing many enterprises.
How to get its worldwide staff to communicate and share knowledge more efficiently, and thereby better serve clients?
With 2,500 total staff, 290 partners and 1,000 lawyers working in Australia (six offices), Hong Kong, the People's Republic of China, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, Minter Ellison has a far-flung workforce.
The firm instills a strategy it calls "One Firm", a commitment that clients will get the best lawyers at hand with the appropriate expertise wherever in the world they may be. To that end, Minter Ellison has invested heavily in Cisco technologies -- including the new social networking site Quad -- so that its staff can form groups and quickly tap into each other's expertise across industries and time zones via Web teleconferences and social networking.
Cisco Quad, which merges Facebook-like profile pages and real-time communication features with business apps and document and content management systems, will be an adjustment for Minter Ellison's workforce, says CIO Peter Westerveld.
"Social networking in a business setting is fairly new for most employees," he says.
But it's a transition that will be aided by the fact that most people use Facebook, Twitter and Skype in their personal lives.
"People are familiar with these technologies and how they work. So the take-up is mostly seamless. There's not a need for much training or explanation of the concepts."
While Minter Ellison has been a Cisco VoIP (voice over IP) customer for many years, the firm has recently turned up the dial on its investment in Cisco's unified communications products to facilitate worldwide employee collaboration.
The UC technologies in Minter Ellison's stable include:
Cisco Telepresence for high-definition video and audio for virtual meetings.
Cisco WebEx meetings to connect employees and clients with live, interactive audio, data and video conferencing.
Cisco Unified Computing System data center platform for networking and storage access, where the firm has virtualized 85 percent of its business, legal and CRM applications and has also used it to roll out UC services such as Cisco WebEx live meetings.
Cisco Quad, Cisco's new "Facebook for the Enterprise", which Minter Ellison has pilot tested and is now deploying for all employees.
The last piece of the puzzle, Quad, is a major facet of Minter Ellison's "One Firm" initiative to keep lawyers collaborating on the Web, says Westerveld. He adds that Cisco Quad's business-grade security features that hide and protect sensitive information and control who can view certain docs as well as the ability to integrate other technologies are what sold him on the product over offerings from Microsoft (SharePoint) and IBM (Lotus Sametime).
"Quad complements social networking very well with Cisco telepresence and WebEx tools as well as Microsoft Office docs and Outlook e-mail," he says.
Minter Ellison is also replacing its core business development platform and ERP system and will integrate those applications into Quad. "Whether a post in Quad is related to legal expertise or ERP or CRM data, it's all still very useful for employees. We want that data in there."
Westerveld foresees a return on investment in Cisco Quad and other UC technologies through a reduced travel budget and having clients' needs addressed more efficiently by a larger pool of Minter Ellison experts using Quad in Asia, Australia and Europe.
When rolling out UC and social networking platforms for a global workforce, Westerveld has three bits of advice.
The first is: Have a management model in place before jumping in to a social networking site. "It's a good idea to assign trusted community leaders, or Web masters, who can create groups and monitor security settings," he says.
And second, do implementations group by group to let people get accustomed to workplace social media at their own pace, rather than doing a Big Bang implementation.
Lastly, Westerveld says to allow users to find their own way because most are already well-versed in social media.
In true Aussie fashion, he says: "You have to go with the flow."
Shane O'Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for CIO.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Shane at email@example.com