Social intranet using Salesforce Communities: lessons learned - Part 1

Social intranet using Salesforce Communities: lessons learned - Part 1

Why would you read this blog?

Hello there. As a business/IT manager, did you ever have to choose between great design OR good content OR functionality as you didn’t have enough time or money? I have seen many business/IT managers also wrestling with these buzzwords: “digital transformation”, “Agile Delivery”, “Mobile first”. So I decided to tell you a true story from my last 2 years, that is closely related to all of these... and how we solved a few problems with a social intranet.


Why did we start that project?


After spending several years on ERP (SAP) implementation programs, 3 years ago I realised that businesses needed more. Not just automating and accelerating core business processes with transactional systems, but taking care of the customer interactions also as they are critical to good business. After many supply chain and finance projects, I felt that the real productivity and profitability challenges are not solved. With waterfall projects focusing on the back-end processes, the kindness and flexibility to serve external and internal customers was still missing.

This is how I ended up gravitating to lean business, agile delivery and Salesforce CRM. First, it seemed just a popular Customer Relationship Management system, that can trace interactions with your customers. But after digging into the Salesforce platform and ecosystem, I realised that it was much more. It is like Lotus Notes was in the 90’s. The answer to many of your business challenges outside of transactional systems and websites. It is a business/technology hub to connect your systems into a flow.



So I turned 90 degrees and started working on Salesforce programs. I soon realised these unanswered questions:

  • Why basic information is not available inside an organisation when it is conveniently accessible on the public internet?
  • Why is it so hard to discover knowledgeable people, relevant experience and proven solutions inside medium and large companies?
  • Why is employee engagement so low, despite of the new way of working (including hot desking in design offices)?
  • Why simple services and processes are so difficult and frustrating to execute that everyone needs to chase many people to get things done?
  • Why there are no real discussions on topics people are interested in, just one-way information broadcasting to the mass?

I saw these ongoing issues depleting the energy of our employees, customers and suppliers. It made them pessimistic, risk-avoider and sceptical.



Our client realised that as well, and the Communication and IS stakeholders defined a new project with a few success criteria. These seemed absolutely practical and achievable.

  • Improve employee engagement by listening to them
  • Facilitate two-way communication with employees
  • Support easy discovery and access to people, content and applications
  • Be mobile friendly and responsive on all devices


How did we do it?


Our team was asked to evaluate if Salesforce Communities could achieve these goals and satisfy a few high-level requirements of a social intranet. In a few weeks time, we validated and concluded with a 16 focus areas fit-gap-analysis. The same evaluation was used for Facebook for Work. The new Product Owner had experience also with Yammer. They fit was overall lower. Our evaluation suggested that the current static intranet and Salesforce Chatter were easy to be replaced with the new Salesforce Lightning Communities.


Start and Initial Plans

The initial plan was a 3 months project starting in the summer holidays. Soon it was clear that decisions and work were slower than expected, especially with the high dependency on the local infrastructure and the UI design. We were too optimistic in a few areas of the project around design, migration and the mobile app.



A basic design was agreed during the evaluation period as a minimum viable product. But with the new Product Owner, it quickly turned into a best-possible design, not just a good enough one. We selected a design agency, who turned out to be absolutely professional. They conducted user interviews and defined UX wireframes with some radical improvements. After realising some technical limitations - and the Product Owner preference to keep the standard functionality - we removed a lot of features from the UX vision. Still, the remaining concept was a huge improvement to the current state. After a few painful weeks, the UI design was finally accepted by the stakeholders.

The migration of existing chatter discussions and web pages didn’t seem too complicated, also. But after digging into the old content, we realised that the chatter posts could have large attachments and the likes/comments/views could be on any level of a nested structure, making migration complex. We had to copy the posts first, then its’ attachments and comments, likes, views. Once it was done, we migrated the related comments and their attachments, etc. The development took 3 times longer, but the migration was possible in a short 8 hours cutover period at the end.

Our client wanted to build a Mobile App that was lightweight, not like the standard Salesforce-1 app. It was only needed to automatically log the user in and display the responsive website. Salesforce Lightning Communities pages were responsive by default. So the Android and iOS version of the app was really just a shell. The development was not complicated as we only needed some additional hidden features to optimise the reading space. The real challenges were encountered in the IT processes and approvals, when we deployed to 5000+ mobile devices with the AirWatch tool.



During these challenges, we had to explain to our stakeholders, why the project needed twice the money and time we projected. After several analysis and heated executive meetings, we and the client understood that there was no room for further delays. We must go live in June. So we had to focus on core functionality and cut the nice-to-have features. But still needed optimise the UI by fixing hundreds of design and usability issues.


What have we achieved?


The complex big bang go-live went smoothly, compared to the risk disrupting the daily work of 22,000 global employees. We migrated 6000+ chatter posts in 25 groups including most of the large attachments. We did a 6 weeks pilot for some trusted and supportive user groups. We switched to the new site coordinating 5 vendors on the cutover weekend. We enrolled 22,000 users from HR with their correct profiles. We migrated all the web pages, and created a few initial news items. It was tiring...



Fast forward 12 months, we have a social intranet with 350+ user groups, based on location, department, specialisation or personal interest. The Comms team publishes news multiple times a day with hashtags making them relevant to users. The number of links to quickly access internal and external websites, applications tripled and to around 120+. There is monthly reporting based on Google Analytics and the Salesforce reports. Users are happy in general, but some heavy users are unhappy, no matter what we do. Human nature. Early adopters pushed us to improve every 2 weeks with a new release. This Social Intranet became not just a starting point but helping 22,000 people’s daily work.


Conclusion of Part-1

  • Why did we do it?: To create value. User-Driven Design, Design Thinking and Lean Startup/UX are the best answer to focus on value. They clarify what is needed in a constraint budget/people/technology situation. With constant prioritisation and end-user feedback we developed just enough of what was needed.
  • How did we do it?: Team. A well run Agile Scrum Team can achieve enormous results. We have proven that with a 4 people mini squad (Product Owner, Scrum Master/BA, Developer, Quality Analyst) a roadmap can be delivered and scaled later.
  • What did we need?: Platform. Salesforce is a great application platform (business/IS hub) as it has all the layers needed in an enterprise or small business to connect people, processes, content and systems. It is not just a CRM solution.
  • What have we learned?: Digital Experience Matters. Salesforce Communities is a great option when you want to enable extended enterprise and reach out to your customers, employees or partners/suppliers.



Laszlo Csite is a freelance project/product manager and scrum master, who enjoys working on lean-agile projects to deliver flow user experiences and productivity using digital experience platforms.

He does this by helping businesses to identify opportunities, plan and implement Salesforce Communities or other solutions to improve your customer/employee/partner experiences. Laszlo has a good understanding of ERP, CRM and Web/Mobile solutions and they best integration. He can help you finding answers and getting people to agree on a roadmap and best next steps. Feel free to ask him about lean product management, agile delivery and innovation/interaction/integration solutions and their measurement.

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