Flight Centre has taken full advantage of Salesforce.com’s decision to offer its Chatter collaboration software free of charge, rolling the software out across its entire global business operations.
The ASX-listed travel agent chain has been an aggressive adopter of software-as-a-service, ditching Microsoft’s Exchange for Google Apps late last year and using Salesforce.com for CRM.
The company first experimented with Salesforce.com’s Chatter collaboration software in the third quarter of 2010 among a few trial users.
Chatter’s interface looks and feels much like a Facebook or Twitter feed, but can be locked down to enterprise groups and used to “follow” objects as well as people – to allow for better collaboration around documents, for example.
Jean Chaney, global CRM leader at Flight Centre’s corporate division, said the company had already agreed to deploy Chatter to a group of 800 users (among the 8000 employees working for the company and its affiliates. But in December, Salesforce.com announced that it would offer a free version of Chatter – and the scope of Chaney’s project was widened considerably.
“When Chatter free was released, I got incredibly excited,” Chaney told iTnews. “One frustration we have had with partners is collaboration.”
The company decided to roll-out Chatter to its global operations – including 70 of its closest business partners.
Before Chatter, staff collaborated with fellow workers and partners across the globe using the company’s extranet, email, LinkedIn accounts, and any other means necessary. But there was no uniform way to collaborate that could be controlled or managed, nor did any of these means allow for an intuitive and personal experience for the users.
Chaney found Chatter the opposite. The company has found the application useful for a wide number of business processes.
Users interact by "following" groups from as granular as their own office team or a project a group of staff are working on, to groups involving the same type of work regardless of location, to company-wide groups for important announcements.
A BDM (business development) group within sales, for example, has enabled managers in one region to ask for best practice advice from their peers in other regions. Flight Centre’s training group, meanwhile, uses Chatter to share and collaborate on training documents.
Team meetings are held with Chatter on to record minutes. And it is also used to share notes and prepare an agenda before executives come together for conferences.
The platform also ensures that Flight Centre’s various divisions and partners don’t sell over each other.
Within the next few weeks, Chaney expects “every last partner” of Flight Centre to have implemented Chatter – a fairly remarkable achievement.
This strong adoption will allow the company to decommission some older collaboration efforts – including its extranet, pending its content being imported into Chatter.
The ‘free’ version of Chatter made it much easier for the company to convince its partners to use the tool, Chaney said.
“To try to sell-in something amongst partners, you’ve usually got to go to each country and tell them they need to use this,” she said. “And it’s not one license to manage but lots of licenses. It’s a lot harder sell when the software comes at a cost.”
But whilst the software might be free, Chaney isn’t letting it become a “free for all” in terms of deployment. Chaney has hired a part-time worker specifically to both champion and control use of the software.
The software allows for users to invite their peers onto the network, but Chaney’s team is instead rolling the software out progressively, locking down the IP ranges of partner sites to ensure corporate data remains protected.
The company has also provided very clear direction on use of Chatter.
“It might look like Facebook but we advertised internally that it’s not to be used like Facebook,” she said. “We don’t care what you had for breakfast.”
Staff are advised to follow “leadership” (to take direction from superiors) and “content” (those groups or objects relevant to their business).
They are also asked to use pictures of them in company uniform rather than avatars, to reinforce that the tool was made available for work rather than play.
Read on to learn how Flight Centre integrated Salesforce.com with Google Apps/Gmail.
Integrating Gmail into Salesforce.com
Alongside the Chatter rollout, Flight Centre has been working to integrate some of the other software applications it consumes as a service.
Flight Centre’s Australian operations team has been using Google Apps’ Gmail in place of Microsoft Exchange for some eight weeks, and within a month Chaney hoped to bring staff in New Zealand and the UK onto the platform.
Whilst Chaney described Google Apps as “excellent” with no complaints recorded from staff to date, the company’s IT team sought to improve its effectiveness.
Flight Centre staff stumbled onto integration tools from Appirio during the last Dreamforce event in San Francisco, and is now in the process of using these tools to integrate Google Apps/Gmail with its Salesforce CRM suite.