posted 20 Mar 2001 in Volume 4 Issue 6
A healthy approach to sharing: Intranet development at PPP Healthcare
PPP Healthcare initiated the development if its corporate intranet in early 2000. Elizabeth Harrin explains how the application has progressed and discusses the advocated publishing model the company has adopted.
PPP healthcare (a member of the global AXA group) always strives to improve the support it offers customers especially when they need to make a claim on their health insurance policy. Up-to-date information is key and ensuring that our 900 customer service personal advisers are aware of developments and changes is no easy task. The development of a new intranet over the last 12 months has made it considerably easier to maintain information and get it to the right people at the right time.
We had two separate aims when first designing our intranet in early 2000: the first was as a knowledge sharing tool; the second to build a stronger sense of community among our 2 300 employees who are scattered through a number of locations. We took a phased approach in design and implementation due to technical and business issues. “We have run the intranet project as a series of phases ” says Mike Tinsley e-enablement programme manager. “This means we’ve had time to plan deliver think about what we have learned re-plan and start the cycle again. It’s given us the flexibility to make significant technological and business advances in minimal time frames.” This means the intranet has been an evolving project.
This ‘walk before you can run’ philosophy gave PPP healthcare the opportunity to pilot the intranet in the customer service department – the area in which we expected it to deliver the most benefit – before rolling it out to the rest of the company. However the cross-functional project team was adamant that it should not be thought of as a ‘customer service intranet’ when it was launched as a pilot in May 2000. The work of the customer service department made it an ideal candidate to help achieve our first aim. The personal advisers use many manuals and directories on a daily basis and all this has been put on to the intranet in an easy to use format. We have included search facilities as well to speed up locating information.
Our second aim – building a stronger sense of community – was responsible for the principles we used in designing the layout of the intranet. We felt strongly that we did not want to organise the intranet in departmental sections. This would encourage people to only use their own department’s pages. The PPP healthcare intranet has been arranged with a cross-departmental menu system to help break down information barriers. The headings Knowledge How Do I? Our Customers and so on allow people to find what they want from a pool of company resources. It also stops sub-sections of the intranet becoming too department-focused so a ‘customer service intranet’ would never become reality.
The May launch gave us a fully functional intranet but with basic content. The challenge we faced next was to encourage employees to use the intranet. Previous to the launch much of the department’s knowledge was in paper form mainly manuals and members of staff were comfortable using these. The culture shift was tackled in two ways: firstly through cascaded training in which a member of each team was trained and given the skills to disseminate their learning to their colleagues; and secondly through the use of ‘seduction content’.
‘Seduction content’ is held in the Free Time section: the weather for all UK office locations a list of corporate staff discounts the staff restaurant menu horoscopes that are updated daily the National Lottery results and a random number generator for your lucky draw ticket. The objective of this section is to draw in the user and get them familiar with using the technology with the intent that it becomes a natural process. Some of the customer service staff members were not used to browser technology but the straightforward navigation aims to overcome this. The softer content also contributes to our initial objective of building our sense of community.
Following the success of the pilot the intranet was rolled out to the rest of the company and the remaining PPP healthcare UK sites; an exercise that was completed in September.
The initial content was suggested and sourced by the project team and more was added as the project went on. Once people started to use the intranet regularly however suggestions poured in for more content.
At this stage the project was deemed to be complete and the intranet moved under the auspices of the internal communications department with a dedicated team of two. To effectively manage the content a system of advocated publishing was adopted. This uses nominated representatives in each business unit as intranet ‘champions’. Their role is to search out information for the intranet from their area and feedback ideas to the intranet manager a central point of contact. They may write the content themselves say for example a page about their team. They may suggest converting what already exists on paper like a list of expense codes or a manual. Or they can pass on suggestions from colleagues that their team would find useful and which the intranet manager can then source and produce.
For most departments the role is balanced with someone’s existing day job but the volume of potential work in customer service has lead to a dedicated resource.
James Barker held the position in the customer service department until he was recently promoted to intranet manager. “I did the job on a full-time basis as it soon became evident there was so much knowledge in customer service that would benefit from electronic distribution and sharing. It has been very successful. Customer service staff knew that I was their point of contact for the intranet. As well as sourcing and writing new content I have provided consultancy on preparing team homepages and raised the profile of the intranet across the 900 staff in the customer service department.”
The advocated publishing model allows the management of knowledge to remain in the hands of the experts while the intranet is kept centralised. It encourages ownership – no document is published without an owner and date – and this in turn promotes a sense of ‘knowledge responsibility’. It is easy to see what is out of date; a valuable incentive for ensuring the content you are responsible for is up to date and accurate. It also makes it easy for the intranet team to ensure accuracy and quality by withdrawing obsolete files or chasing the owners for new versions. We have developed guidelines for pages to ensure there is some consistency but these do not prevent the innovative use of text and graphics.
PPP healthcare has discovered many budding web designers across the company keen to become more involved in the new technologies.
It is a very easy and quick process to post information that has been updated – much more so than reissuing a paper manual to 900 people. A scrolling ‘what’s new’ box on the intranet homepage highlights the most significant additions and staff know that they are using the most recent documentation information.
Clearly a significant benefit is the reduction in costs of replacing manuals. Devolving responsibility through the advocates also frees up our technical programmers for other work and allows them to use their specialist skills on other projects.
It’s difficult to predict where e-knowledge management is heading but it can only get bigger at PPP healthcare. We are investing in state of the art content management software that will work across the intranet extranet and internet. The intranet will provide a gateway for our staff to join the global community of our fellow AXA companies in the UK and abroad.
The intranet has revolutionised the way our staff work and will become more and more essential as it develops further. We’re looking forward to deciding what happens next and using the plan – do – plan method we won’t have to wait long.
Elizabeth Harrin can be contacted at: email@example.com