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Q&A: How Citi Staff Use Social Media to Collaborate

Bank Systems & Technology speaks to Paul Butcher, director of communications central for Citi to confirm a tip that bank's employees are uncommonly active at using social media tools for internal collaboration.

How are some of the other social media tools used?

Butcher: There's blogging, which we use a lot, and the message boards and document storage. Message boards tend to be used more when there's a longer-term discussion around a topic or initiative. Somebody might post an idea and get feedback within a community over time, whereas the Q&A tool is much more immediate.

Blogging is being used generally by subject matter experts or management, and people comment back and forth on those blog posts. It's one-to-many but with interaction. This provides an ability for feedback.

One adaptation of blogging has been video blogging, which we've been doing the past six to nine months. That's taken off a lot around the company, just because it's a much richer experience than just reading text. Our operations and technology group uses video blogging a lot for communicating messages about anything ranging from the organization, to best practices, to discussion on whatever initiatives we're looking to communicate and get feedback on. People are finding that the interaction is greater on a video blog than just a static text communication. It's more compelling and more human.

Is it difficult to get people to share comments?

Butcher: Some people are still hesitant -- they don't want to post something that might look silly to 150,000 people. But the interesting thing is, while there were initial concerns that people might post things they would regret, we haven't found many instances of that. People generally know how to behave and what to say and what not to say. You're not going to post something you wouldn't want your name associated with. You can't post anything in our environment anonymously; it's all attached to your name, so that makes a difference.

Are these tools breaking down cultural barriers that can arise in a large bank?

Butcher: It's definitely one of the ways in which we'll be changed over time. The fact that you can have a member of senior management blogging or posting video blogs and anybody can comment, that's already something that didn't exist before. We're already seeing an impact in terms of the openness and transparency around the organization.

What security steps have you taken to keep internal communications confidential?

Butcher: Because we're a bank, security is a major factor, and all of the tools we've been talking about went through the same rigorous information security review that everything we do goes through. In terms of the information, the same policies apply to information that flows through these tools as apply to information that flows through email and our other channels. We haven't had to reinvent any rules for how we handle privacy and the data internally. It's applying the same principles.

About 10 years ago, there was a somewhat failed push toward knowledge management software that was going to allow people within companies to better identify experts and collaborate. Why are those concepts more successful today?

Butcher: First of all, to get to a point where all the information around the company is indexed and searchable in a neat, organized way -- we're still a long way from that dream. But from the user standpoint, I'm not sitting here thinking, "I've got to update a knowledge management application today." I'm just posting a blog and adding to the overall knowledge base of the company. I think that's the main difference. It's happening, but each individual user doesn't have to understand that it's happening.

From an IT perspective, has it been difficult to deploy these tools across hundreds of thousands of users?

Butcher: I wouldn't want to understate the difficulty. A lot of different technology groups have been involved in this -- the development group, the operations group, the engineering group. We're a complex environment anyway from our global IT infrastructure standpoint. You're asking a tool to operate within that infrastructure in a way that previous tools have not done. It's had a lot of challenges in terms of the technology rollout, particularly related to performance of the platform around the world. It's all very well if it works in New York, but if it doesn't work in Asia as fast and as well, then you're not achieving the collaboration goal you're setting out to reach.

Where is Citi's social media initiative headed next?

Butcher: Our original goal was collaboration among employees. We've made good progress in that regard with the Citi 2.0 platform. The next frontier is transitioning to be able to collaborate using these types of tools with our clients, making the shift from internal collaboration to still private collaboration among private clients, pulling together people on our side and the client side so everybody can communicate around a particular topic or project and share the same types of tools we use internally with a client.

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