Saumit Dey, 24, is a software engineer at Wipro Technologies, one of India's largest computer services providers. Dey was hired from the campus of an engineering college close to Bangalore a year ago.
Buffering his transition from campus to the real world is the company's social network, myWipro World (mWW), a Facebook-like tool that allows employees to create interest groups, post pictures and share comments.
Dey created an alumni group on mWW for the 70 co-joinees from his college scattered in offices and customer sites across the globe. He regularly posts on the Java Enthusiasts group, asking for solutions to particular coding challenges. Recently, he formed a group for colleagues from Assam, a state in the north-eastern corner of India, nearly 2,000 miles away.
Inhouse social networks
Inhouse social networks are the big thing in India's outsourcing industry, where large companies have created their own private social media to beat the security and customer confidentiality challenges of sites such as Facebook and Orkut.
Wipro, Infosys, HCL and Cognizant all have dynamic and thriving online communities, which they are exploiting for business operations. These companies believe inhouse social networks are one of the best ways to enliven workplaces where working long and late is the norm.
Many new industry hires are fresh off campus. At Wipro, for instance, two-thirds of new recruits are aged 25 years or younger. At Infosys, where the headcount is 145,000, the average age of staff is 27 years. A large chunk of those employees are from a generation that eats, breathes and lives social networking, says Nandita Gurjar, Infosys senior VP for human resources.
Ravishanker B, senior vice president of human resources at HCL Technologies, echoes that observation. "These youngsters have a strong desire to stay connected with both their social and professional network wherever they go," Ravishanker B says. They have a vivid imagination, resistance to archaic systems and a hunger for instant gratification, he adds.
Staff profile pages, photo-sharing, blogs
New Delhi-headquartered HCL Technologies' MEME was launched less than a year ago and offers standard features such as employee profile pages, photo-sharing, blogs and events, and the creation of exclusive and private pages for departments and teams. From a total headcount of 83,000, there are 60,000 users, who have already uploaded some 50,000 photos.
At Bangalore-based Wipro with 130,000 employees, mWW buzzes with 116,000 registered users, 3,264 communities and 300 million hits each month.
Inhouse social networks have become not just a place for staff to hang out, but also platforms for collaboration between geographically diverse, time-zone dispersed, project teams.
Wipro's mWW was launched in 2010 and has fast become the company's online tool for generating ideas and innovating. "It has become the melting pot for employee engagement and information sharing," says Wipro Technologies' CIO Ramesh Nagarajan.
Collaboration with customers
Outsourcers' use of inhouse social networks shows they understand that work is no longer a place where employees perform tasks in isolation from each other, as well as from partners and customers.
InfyBubble, Infosys' network launched in mid-2011 averages over a 100,000 page views a day.
India's third largest outsourcer, Cognizant, with an employee headcount of 137,000, launched an early version of inhouse social network Cognizant 2.0 (C2) in 2007. The firm describes C2, which has 100,000 users, as a "fluid, intimate collaboration" between employees, customers and suppliers who can use the network for the rapid exchange of information.
C2 provides real-time quality control over delivery at the most atomic level, says Rajashree Natarajan, vice president of knowledge management at Cognizant. Users can create and control multiple projects at any given time, getting access to knowledge in the context of a particular work process.
"C2 provides a consolidated view of key activities and measures across all projects," she says. It is a virtual town square where users can collaborate, adds Natarajan.
Tangible yields in productivity
Companies say inhouse social networks are delivering tangible yields. At Cognizant, projects that have used C2 effectively have performed better than those that did not, measured against productivity, punctual delivery and costs.
In using the network to communicate, collaborate and share, mWW has cut down email volume, Wipro says. At HCL, MEME has a repository of 2,400 Q&As on HR-related subjects alone.
Infosys says InfyBubble has helped improve employee satisfaction and connection. Even more critically, "Closed groups facilitate ideating on the cloud," says Nandita Gurjar, senior vice president of HR at Infosys. Gobble, a group that leads strategy in the company uses the forum to test ideas, assign tasks and share documents.
On the other hand, a recent homage page to Charles Dickens on mWW grew to 109 users within days. Saumit Dey is not one of them. He is very active on the forum that discusses where to get ranna in Bangalore, the authentic cuisine from his region.
Stepping out of technical work boundaries and gathering around the virtual office water cooler offers an energising break, he says.
Saritha Rai is an India-based journalist and commentator who covers technology, business and society from her ringside seat in Bangalore.