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InformationWeek 500: Monsanto's Collaborative Growth Plan

For the 19,000 Monsanto scientists and employees spread across 63 countries, the watchword is collaboration: Getting a biotech product to market requires plenty of cross-functional skills. Company top execs long ago established "relationships and networks" as key competencies and made a concerted shift from being deeply hierarchical to focusing on teams. So unified communications, instant messaging, and Enterprise 2.0-rich collaboration tools like SharePoint and Office Communications Server are natural fits for the company.

"We're trying to take a relationship-rich culture and turbocharge it via technology," says CIO Mark Showers. The imminent closing of the major access route to Monsanto's main headquarters for a two-year reconstruction project made it all the more urgent to get people digitally connected, since employees would soon be forced to endure longer commutes or work from home.

However, when your company's lifeblood is intellectual property, the collaborative spirit must coexist with governance. That meant IT spearheading a program to set criteria for records retention and access control before the project could move forward. The Web 2.0 era has "brought the intellectual property group and the IT group closer together than ever," Showers says. "The trick is being able to describe how you're going to be able to do proper governance of information."

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Once satisfactory controls were in place, Monsanto created a working group and brainstormed for about eight months on collaboration best practices and emerging technologies. Keeping it simple was a guiding philosophy that led to adoption of Microsoft SharePoint and Office Communications Server.

Part of the overall strategy was to use suites to give users a single experience "without having to go to different tools for everything," says Lou Clark, Monsanto's master architect.

The company then turned its collaboration vision into a formal initiative and handed it to a strategy group led by top IT managers who would be in charge of different parts of the effort, from architecture to app support. A collaboration team was formed under that group, comprising leaders of projects like voice-over-IP and SharePoint deployment. This team meets weekly to share progress of the more than 12 projects in place at any given time.

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Showers downplays the number of moving pieces. "We're taking a walk-before-you-run approach," he says. Before Monsanto puts technology in place, it sets expectations with employees. The company often uses IT and R&D as pilot groups.

Since taking the first steps with SharePoint, Monsanto has consolidated hundreds of document databases while implementing new access and retention controls and integrating options such as "save to SharePoint" within Office. With the new company-wide portal in place, IT is beginning to roll out custom SharePoint portals for business units.

On the unified communications front, Monsanto began with a progressive VoIP implementation featuring unified messaging, a migration from conventional teleconferences to the use of MeetingPlace for Web conferencing with audio, and instant messaging with Microsoft Office Communicator.

Though IM was just introduced in November, the technology has become mission-critical: Monsanto already sees 400,000 daily messages among 16,000 users, and when IM went down two weeks after being deployed, within hours business leads in the Asia-Pacific region were sending urgent messages to IT saying that the outage was impacting business. IM recently has been recognized by Monsanto as a key tool in upgrading its SAP implementation.

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