Governing EVA – Merck’s digital workspace

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by Marc Wright

How do you create a digital workspace for the world’s oldest pharmaceutical and chemical company and bring your colleagues along with you? It’s all in the strategy and the governance claims Frank Sielaff head of Digital Media at Merck.

Every year Merck hold a Group Executive Conference for top 300 managers. One year delegates were entertained with a stage play – a living demonstration about how a junior executive is putting together the presentation he is about to give at the conference. But instead of toiling alone at a solitary desktop (not exactly the most thrilling of dramas) the delegates saw him co-creating with other team members, working in real-time on shared documents and building his killer presentation concurrently using O365 tools brought together by the promise of a new digital platform EVA.

EVA is the digital workplace that was launched the following year: a SharePoint based social intranet.

EVA stands for Expertise, Virtual teams and Access to information. And there in the name you have the very purpose of the platform. Launched by Frank and a team of 6 internal comms and IT staff, it is designed to connect colleagues in a network where the promise is that the free flow of information fosters collaboration and innovation.

“We decided to go away from a conventional name like SharePoint and go for a more emotional name. Eva expertise is everywhere, flowing through virtual teams with access to information to help them work in the most effective and efficient way.”

Race against time

The clock was ticking as the platform needed to be ready and feel lived in to enable another major change. This was because Merck was – and still is – going through a major transformation. The most visible aspect of the change is the company identity. Go Live for EVA was September 1st 2015, and the rebranding went public October 15th 2015. The Rebranding heavily depended on EVA being the global communication platform.

“EVA was needed to push the new brand simultaneously in our 66 countries. Only through EVA all employees have received the same messages at the same time and we received their feedback (from all over the world) and could answer in real-time.”

Feedback was inevitable as Merck was changing dramatically from its roots. Established in 1668 by Friedrich Jacob Merck, an apothecary, in Darmstadt, Germany, where he established a family-run business that led to scientific discoveries in their own pharmacy lab, Merck has developed into a science and technology company specializing in healthcare, life science, and performance materials. Over 50,000 employees work to develop everything from prescription medicines for serious diseases through lab equipment and materials for use in consumer electronics and printing technology.

Merck has grown considerably in the last ten years evolving from a classic supplier of pharmaceuticals and chemicals into a global science and technology company. The difference in the new identity is, to the say the least, radical and it reflects the change in culture that the new CEO Stefan Oschmann wants to instil since he took over the helm in April 2016.

Building the EVA house

Frank did not want to build another technology platform; he and his team wanted to build a house where the new culture could thrive.

“The idea was that we wanted to introduce a new language for the intranet, so we used the analogy of building a house. And when you build a house you need to furnish it. In every room there will be people who will work out loud in a public space. But there also need to be corners that are private. So the governance of the site was all expressed in terms of ‘rooms’ and it is this vocabulary that is used right up to C Suite.”

Governance first

What is particularly interesting about EVA is that Frank and the team thought very carefully about the governance of these rooms before launching. In too many cases these technologies are just released into the workplace without any deep thought about who can set up Groups and how they might be regulated. Without governance you can soon have a couple of thousand groups, many of which are never used. This leads to duplication and groups becoming orphaned when the person who set them up loses interest or leaves the company.

Frank explains that governance cannot be a strait-jacket:

“We have made lots of adjustment throughout the process to evolve our original idea of how rooms should work. But we still do specify a lot. There is a life cycle attached to a room. We approve specific groups and size limitations.”

At Merck they have recruited Virtual Team Members and got the intranet authors together. There is an All About EVA forum which is used by the 600 room managers or room publishers. The total population is 60.000 of which 45,000 have access to EVA.

“We tried to convince the managers to nominate people capable of publishing for their part of the business. We did on-boarding sessions with them; 1-2 hour slots that explain their role. How they can get information, training and support. We undertook intense 3 day training workshops on-site in Latin America, the US and Asia as well as Europe. We also hold monthly virtual meetings using Skype for business.”

The big launch

‘You cannot escape a big launch’, maintains Frank. The majority of staff were going to come to work on launch day to a forced landing page so there was no way that could happen without an intensive comms campaign beforehand. Frank co-ordinated with the separate country communications network so that everybody had the launch materials in good time.

On the lead up to the big launch there were posters in the canteens and reception areas. The old intranet had a 5 days before the launch countdown, so no one could be in any doubt that EVA was coming. It helped that the majority of the country MDs were highly supportive of the new launch.

One of the big learnings in the run up to the launch is that the team had plenty of delays and too high expectations of what the platform would do. Part of the problem was that Frank’s team went through 4 different sets of IT partners during the planning process, which meant lots of on-boarding and a reduction in scope. Only now are they addressing the issue of single log-on for mobile devices.

EVA is built based on a “one vendor” Microsoft strategy, e.g. by using SharePoint and Yammer. Frank is well aware that other companies are using bespoke packages for specific tasks such as ideation. Novozymes for instance use Nosco for their R&D function. But these things do tend to go in cycles and he does not rule out the use of other apps and platforms for specific purposes.

Not the usual suspects

Adoption is measured through simple access rates and how much interaction there is on the microblogs:

“After 6 months we have good adoption (according to a recent employee survey, EVA became the most important communication channel after face 2 face and Email). Adoption varies round Merck depending on how the managers have promoted EVA in their area and how motivated they are. It is not the usual suspects who are leading in adoption. Procurement, for example, is very advanced.

Controversy drives activity

One subject that generated a lot of activity in the forums was the radical redesign of the company’s brand identity. The start of the project of rebranding and EVA were very inter-dependent. The new brand is designed to reflect and promote the idea of a vibrant science and technology company that Merck wants to be perceived as.

“The good thing was that EVA and the rebrand made it high visibility of how we are changing and how we needed to work together. The most active EVA room was about the brand change. Some initially complained that the new branding made us look like Toys’R’Us but the vast majority were positive comments.

“The most controversial issue was that there were not enough give-away packages and lanyards in the new branding to meet demand on launch day.”

For the future Frank is interested in opening up EVA to external collaboration.

“The majority of our products need to be developed closely with our customers. Our intellectual property needs to be made more available to our partners many of which are much smaller than us such as start-ups and others are much bigger – like Pfizer.”