Food retail giant rolls out social network to boost collaboration, stop unauthorised access to info

Food production and retail firm Select Service Partner (SSP) has rolled out IBM’s social collaboration software across its organisation in a bid to up its security and prevent unauthorised users accessing confidential corporate information.

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Food production and retail firm Select Service Partner (SSP) has rolled out IBM’s social collaboration software across its organisation in a bid to up its security and prevent unauthorised users accessing confidential corporate information.

SSP owns a number of food outlets which operate in 140 airports and 250 train stations around the world, including Upper Crust and Le Grand Comptoir, as well as running franchises for the likes of Burger King and Starbucks. The company also has a presence in 30 countries, including the US and Asia, with 30,000 staff and a turnover of £1.7 billion in 2012.

For a company with a disparate workforce, communicating in an efficient manner has been a problem due to a reliance on an old intranet to engage with staff, from senior executives to the heads of its 2,000 branches. This has led to a lack of operational efficiency, such as the duplication of documents, hampered location of expertise between countries, and slowed the exchange of ideas across the firm.

“We are a federated company and so a lot of our challenges are around not doing the same thing 20 times over,” said SSP chief information officer (CIO), Matthew Rea.

“Information was being shared, but it wasn’t being done effectively.”

In order to get around these issues, “small pockets” of SSP staff, who tend to be relatively young ‘generation Y’ employees Rea said, began to use collaboration tools such as Yammer, Ning and Basecamp. This enabled better communication between staff and were then taken on board by the IT staff, which paid a subscription to use the services.

However this approach soon became problematic as senior staff realised that former employees were able to log in to the social tools and view information that should have been kept private.

“There was a concern around access. We were aware – and could see – that there were still people within Yammer who were no longer employed," Rea told ComputerworldUK at the IBM Connections event in Twickenham this week.

“Some of them had left but were still able to contribute to Yammer so there were issues there. It was seen to be an authorised means of SSP communication, so we had to act on that.”

Although there no cases of abuse of the system reported, SSP took Yammer offline, before choosing to implement IBM's enterprise social network, Connections. The company has now removed all other collaboration systems, and the group intranet has been switched off.  

SSP went live with Connections in June 2012, and has seen 178,000 files downloaded, according to Rea. The firm has witnessed good levels of adoption amongst its targeted staff community since the launch, with around 3,500 of its 4,200 of its executives and managers on the platform. Around 2,700 of these are logging in regularly, with around 1,000 regularly sending files.

“Everybody feels a lot more informed, and I think we have harnessed the collective brain – or that’s the theory,” Rea said.

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