Nationwide Insurance hits the ‘spot’ with enterprise collaboration platform


Simple tasks made complex, too many applications, poor navigation – common intranet pain points many communicators face.

Those were the main reasons behind the launch of Nationwide Insurance’s internal collaboration platform called SPOT.

I recently chatted with Jeff Schumann, one of Nationwide’s collaboration leaders at the large Columbus, Ohio-based insurance company. Schumann took me through his quest for enhanced collaboration for 35,000 Nationwide employees.

“We came up with the idea on a whim back in December 2011. We were looking for ways to be more productive at work so we examined associates’ complaints and wish lists about what they wanted and needed. So our vision was to find ways to introduce tools to raise the pride and productivity of the organization,” Schumann explains.

With employee complaints ranging from poor timesheet accessibility to complex booking forms, it quickly became apparent that better functionality was a necessity for Nationwide associates.

Schumann remembers, “We wanted to create something that would touch everyone and be awe inspiring; a resource where associates could tackle daily problems and find a better way to get their work done.

“So we thought, ‘what if we leverage SharePoint and build something along the lines of what is happening in the consumer space? What if we build our own apps using our developers’ existing skills to create tools alleviating difficult tasks while building a mobile experience? Instead of an employee submitting time off requests in three different places on the intranet, why not design a time saving, single application and duplicate that same experience on an iPhone or tablet?”

A spot-on idea

While Nationwide’s intranet, InSide, would still remain a hub for leaders to disseminate company information, Nationwide’s IT team went to work to create a social site to facilitate work tasks and knowledge sharing inside the enterprise – and most importantly – to connect associates with subject matter experts inside the organization.

Put in simple terms, SPOT is Yammer integrated with SharePoint. Nationwide took the social conversations happening on Yammer and brought them into SPOT.

Nationwide has been using Yammer since the ESN tool’s inception in 2008 and used the community to promote the launch of SPOT. A contest was held to name the new site and was promoted on Yammer. This helped to engage non-IT associates and make them feel involved with the launch.

“We wanted people to be a part of building SPOT even if they weren’t part of the technical team. Hundreds of ideas were submitted in just a few weeks. My team was seeking a name/logo that would match our vision: to be ‘brandable’, easily made into a noun or a verb, contain a minimal amount of letters and easily stick in your head. So we went with SPOT,” Schumann recalls.

Within days of the July 2012 launch, T-shirts and laptop stickers were created to build excitement about Nationwide’s new internal brand. There was also a Nationwide radio show to raise awareness about SPOT in addition to a brand video played at November’s SharePoint conference in Las Vegas.

“Coming from a start-up background, I was used to launches like this but to see such a connection in an enterprise culture was really amazing,” Schumann says.

Biggest success factor: leadership buy-in

Helping executives understand the benefits of implementing internal social media has been critical at Nationwide. To sway leadership about the power of ESN, the SPOT team, in partnership with Nationwide’s communications, came up with an innovative way to explain the business benefits.

“Leadership adoption is a challenge that every organization faces. One of the things we did was establish a reverse mentoring session with senior leaders. We reached out to executives and said ‘give us the opportunity in one hour sessions with Gen Y’ers to listen to their different perspectives on how they get their work done. Then you can provide your own perspectives.’

“So we set up these meetings three years ago and they’re still ongoing because leadership really sees the value in them. It’s opened their eyes to what’s life is like outside of Nationwide and what new employees expect when they come to work,” Schumann points out.

Among the feedback learned from executives is that they viewed the sessions to be open and honest, even quipping about change of pace from “the hot air at their level.” Leaders have also enjoyed getting to know the different personalities of Nationwide associates while learning the different ways work can be accomplished in a modern day workforce. They’re also enjoying their iPads, which they use during these reverse mentoring sessions.

A different kind of measurement

Nationwide CEO Stephen Rasmussen and his staff use SPOT and Yammer to monitor trends at the company to get a pulse of what’s going on inside the organization and the state of employee sentiment.

“We hired interns in the summer of 2012 to build a sentiment analysis engine in real time to monitor our Yammer network and produce reports on sentiment analysis. We study positive and negative comments to see what they’re about.

“How do you communicate the value of a social network? Sure, it’s easy to say that you’re wasting money or it’s killing productivity; but by us producing sentiment analysis reports and seeing the connections made on social networks, executives can quickly see the value of the tool,” Schumann says. He continues,

“Yammer and SPOT enable the lonely guy in IT, for example, to connect with colleagues and share customer stories. Associates can look to each other for help resulting in faster problem solving. We are challenged to be better thanks to these faster internal communication channels.”

In terms numbers, Nationwide currently has 30,000 associates (including senior leaders) who still Yammer voluntarily and take part in 400,000 conversations.

Embedding of team sites, work groups and employee profiles flow seamlessly from Yammer onto SPOT which now houses thousands of groups. Collaboration takes part on hundreds of projects each day.

Providing calm after the storm

In no place was collaboration more evident than on Yammer in the recent aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Nationwide associates looked toward each other to get fast, accurate, relevant information for storm victims on the East Coast inquiring about property and casualty coverage.

Schumann recalls, “During Hurricane Sandy, we were taking so many calls from policy holders that it got to the point where associates were working around the clock. Yammer stepped up when our email system wasn’t working fast enough. Nationwide used Yammer to help schedule call center reps to assist customers and to make sure our agents were updated on the latest information.”

Associates created a brand new Yammer group dedicated to Sandy so agents could connect and share customer testimonials to paint a strong picture of what storm victims were going through in stricken regions. Providing greater visibility about the work agents and claims field reps were doing made associates “feel proud about being a Nationwider,” Schumann says. He credits Yammer for contributing to rising engagement figures in the last four years – the very same time the tool was employed inside the company.

Going mobile

SPOT’s mobile platform was created to accommodate large tablet use at Nationwide. The goal: to offer the same functionality employees would expect on a mobile device such as people finders.

Developers have the ability to create an app in any language; many of the apps connect to data and business systems at Nationwide. There’s also a Yammer app; even a local weather app.

Through gamification, Nationwiders have the opportunity to access information about company history. A Classifieds app was also created enabling Nationwide associates to buy and sell different items if they choose.

Others innovative apps include a conference room locator and a news app which integrates external media sources with internal corporate news.

Plans for 2013

Schumann and his team are aiming to integrate SPOT and InSide. “Our long term vision is to unite them since right now they’re operating in a dual world. In 2013, we plan to continue to evolve our collaborative and social platforms.” That includes additional ways to leverage Yammer and keep internal conversations flowing between leaders and associates.

So does Schumann have any advice to other companies wishing to embark on enterprise social networking?

“You need adoption at leadership level. It’s important to communicate the value and make sure they understand it rather than simply saying, ‘I don’t have the time to monitor Yammer.

“During one of our mentoring sessions, a Gen Y’er at Nationwide put it to leaders this way, ‘If you have time to text your kids during the day, you have time to Yammer on your phone. It’s just another app on your mobile device.’”

And understanding the need for a greater employee voice is also essential.

“What makes SPOT special is that it’s entirely built by our associates. It was created to provide an experience uniform to how people work outside the office. It’s built by staff the way they want to build it,” Schumann points out.