posted 28 Aug 2003 in Volume 7 Issue 1
Case study: Giving new life to KM at ARCBS
As part of its strategic plan, the Australian Red Cross Blood Service is implementing an intranet to improve communication, share information and knowledge, and encourage innovation. Having led the project into its second phase, Beverly Cummings is well placed to describe how the intranet’s objectives are being met and the challenges the organisation has faced along the way.
This case study has been prepared on the conclusion of phase one of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service (ARCBS) intranet project. It identifies the actual progress of the first phase and the future direction for phase two. The ARCBS intranet has adopted the name Connect, which was chosen through a staff vote.
As the knowledge and information manager for the organisation, I was asked to manage the intranet project and co-ordinate all related activities regarding its implementation. I adopted a multi-disciplinary approach to achieving organisational objectives by making the best use of knowledge. It involved the design, review and implementation of both social and technological processes to improve the application of knowledge in the collective interest of all stakeholders.
The ARCBS is an operating division of the Australian Red Cross Society (ARCS) and is the national organisation responsible for the provision of quality blood products, tissues and related services to the Australian community. There are around 450,000 dedicated voluntary blood donors (achieving approximately a million donations per annum), 2,200 skilled staff and 800 loyal volunteers who enable us to provide this vital service, which is an integral part of Australia’s health system.
ARCS has been involved in the collection, processing, screening and distribution of blood and blood products since 1929. Although many aspects of the blood service have changed, we have remained totally committed to the provision of a safe and adequate blood supply for the Australian community.
Until the 1990s, eight semi-autonomous services operated under the banner of the ARCS in all states and territories. In keeping with international practice, these services were united in 1996 to form a nationally managed organisation now known as the ARCBS, with a national office and five business units dispersed across the 3,000km breadth of Australia.
Aligning our activities with the ARCBS strategic plan, and in conjunction with our further consolidation of national operations, the ARCBS intranet project was seen as a necessity for staff to remain viable in a world of rapid change for community-service organisations.
For quite some time the ARCBS business units have shared computerised content on a limited scale for national activities. This limited information exchange often resulted in the duplication of effort and re-working of existing ideas and concepts.
Historically, ARCBS depended on paper-based information exchange between its locations across Australia. Even though electronic mechanisms for the delivery of information are considered standard in most organisations, ARCBS was well behind other government-funded organisations in its ability to deliver and share critical business information in this way. For ARCBS, the benefits of an intranet were seen as improving communication, ease of access to information and knowledge, and innovation within the organisation. This had been demonstrated in two successful pilot intranet projects in the Information Services Department and in the Research and Development Area.
The introduction of an ARCBS intranet will support diversity and facilitate the mixing of ideas, thus increasing the ability to learn and innovate. The most successful organisations value and encourage employees that contribute and share ideas. Creativity and learning are directly related to the number of new ideas tried. Mixing these ideas and experiences is an important ingredient in this process. The intranet therefore enables the learning organisation, identifies and acknowledges its intellectual capital, and promotes innovation.
Intranets have become an essential addition to organisational development, and the absence of an intranet represents a significant loss of opportunity to ARCBS. Intranets are mainstream technologies in today’s enterprise. The ubiquity of the web has driven the acceptance of the intranet as a tool that can provide mission-critical infrastructure for important information and key collaborative and line-of-business applications.
The timing for this project is a result of the need to address the pain associated with this loss of opportunity. The word ‘intranet’ has been used widely and loosely throughout ARCBS as a tool that will resolve a number of organisational problems, ranging from easy document access to collaborative communities sharing information freely. We all have our own vision of what an intranet is and what it may achieve.
The challenge we face is creating an organisational vision for the intranet. This case study outlines how we plan to get there and achieve this vision.
While developing the intranet, there has been a perception that all we need to do is simply switch the intranet on to achieve the many benefits. Unfortunately it is not that simple, it must be carefully designed, implemented and managed in a balanced way to ensure it is successful in meeting organisational demands.
Phase one of Connect
The establishment of the intranet came about from a recommendation paper, which noted that the majority of medium-to-large organisations, at least those that attempt to stay more or less up to date with technology, have deployed an intranet of some size. The intranet was considered the obvious solution for knowledge management, information sharing, staff collaboration and application deployment, as it utilises internet standards, a common-practice tool in most organisations and homes.
The intranet project group (IPG) was established to take ownership of the first phase of the intranet’s development and implementation. The group consisted of a project sponsor, project leader and 11 staff representing cross-functional teams within ARCBS. An external consultant was also employed to assist with the development of the intranet’s functionality.
The purpose of the team was to develop an intranet site that would allow ARCBS staff to share knowledge and information. The site should allow staff to publish relevant information and view information of interest.
The scope of the project was to take ownership in the development and implementation of the intranet by determining short and long-term goals based on organisational needs. A review of resources and costs required to deliver the intranet’s objectives was completed so that we could identify what was needed to more effectively manage content in the future. To help determine its structure and design, consideration was given to information flows within the organisation, the functional and geographical divisions of ARCBS, and the cognitive processes involved in using an intranet. Additionally, documentation was created for the initial preparation of policy, procedures, standards and guidelines regarding the intranet.
The IPG agreed that the intranet should be developed using a phased approach:
- Intranet design and functionality;
- - Search for and appoint a design consultant;
- - Understand short and long-term goals;
- - Identify target applications;
- - Identify who will access the intranet;
- - Develop policies, procedures, standards and guidelines.
- Build and experiment three trial cases for a specific audience;
- Review and release;
- Commence roll-out of nine implementation-phase modules across all ARCBS functional groups.
The information tools that the IPG identified were divided into three environments. ‘Post it’ is an information-publishing phase, ie, ‘reading things’ on the intranet. ‘Use it’ is an interactive, functionality-building phase, ie, ‘doing things’ on the intranet. ‘Sell it’ is an integration of the intranet/internet (extranet) functionality-building phase, ie, tying together our users, suppliers, donors, the government, etc. This last environment, however, was not available for implementation during the project’s initial phase.
Realising our objectives
The implementation of the ARCBS intranet supported current organisational initiatives so at the conclusion of project’s first phase we had realised the objectives and expected benefits we had identified.
One of the first objectives was to establish a standard platform from which to deliver web-enabling applications that would clarify the organisation’s expectations of the intranet’s role within ARCBS.
We also aimed to improve the ARCBS process for information and knowledge sharing throughout the organisation, using the intranet as a tool to enable collaboration. The increase in awareness of knowledge management has assisted in capturing and distributing re-usable knowledge to increase the effectiveness of decision making and problem solving. We can now strive for balance between a platform to retrieve ARCBS knowledge and share information, and an active working environment. Examples of information provided on the intranet include library services, knowledge and innovation, an ARCBS glossary, and corporate-page sites.
The intranet has achieved staff empowerment by providing self-service facilities in a timely, up-to-date manner. The establishment of policies and guidelines for intranet usage and development of user access, through authorisation levels and a group-assignment process, has ensured the suitability and security of the system. The development of a staff directory has improved current staff contact information as a support tool for geographically isolated employees. The enhanced dissemination of news assists in the transparency of decision making as staff members are interested in hearing news about corporate directions, restructuring, new building works and other high-level organisational issues. Tools provided to staff include the discussion forum, staff notice board, relevant URL address links, functional group calendars and employment vacancies pages.
The introduction of workflow and application integration utilising appropriate systems and network-management tools has resulted in increased work-resource efficiency, reduced use of materials/supplies and increased information accuracy.
ARCBS’s business awareness has improved by increasing management’s ability to reduce errors and provide better accountability and audit trails.
The introduction of the intranet has improved the organisation’s trend analysis and the provision of early warnings by use of database links to graphical information.
Functionality provided for intranet pages:
Standard functionality – provided as a standard on the intranet
- Forum (discussion/feedback) – page-specific open discussion;
- A direct link via e-mail to the IS helpdesk for access or other related problems;
- Search function;
- Staff directory – contacts, white pages (A-Z or departmental search).
Post it - for information publishing
- Descriptive paragraph on the page’s content;
- Staff noticeboard – community news selected by state or area;
- Frequently asked questions;
- What’s on each page – summary of what is available on the web page, latest news, interest information, etc;
- Coming soon – latest build developments on the intranet;
- Policies and guidelines;
- Organisational charts – specific to the functional group;
- Reports/key-performance indicators – specific to the functional group;
- Meeting minutes/agendas - specific to the functional group.
Use it – for interactive, functional building
- Option to log on;
- Hot links – links to associated URLs;
- Calendar – calendar of events (selected by state or area);
As the project concluded the first phase, the requirements for the second phase were identified. Phase two will move the project into the future with a new support structure, and further a process for the development of the intranet both in information available to ARCBS staff and greater intranet functionality.
Connect phase two: future direction
Phase one was driven by a project-team structure, but with the continuing pressure of other ARCBS activities, the participation of the IPG has been restricted. We don’t believe it is necessary to manage phase two of the project with the support of the IPG.
New project-support structure
The establishment of a partnership between National Information Services and the Knowledge and Innovation Business Unit will further develop the project’s second phase. The structure of the partnership is as shown in figure 1.
Further development of the intranet
Under the new project-support structure for phase two, the knowledge team and national information services (IS) applications team will be heavily involved in the intranet’s further development. The knowledge team will manage requests for new intranet pages and their promotion, and will liase with the various functional groups to provide templates for gathering module information and requests. Completed templates will be sent to the IS-applications team to commence building the site, it will add limited attachment items and prepare for testing on the development server.
Once the IS applications team has signed off the build of the site it will send the knowledge team a link to the development site. The knowledge team will then train content administrators within the functional groups, ie, the content manager and content editor, on the development server. The development site will be tested by the functional and knowledge teams and all changes will be documented and forwarded to the IS-applications team. Once completed the development server link will be moved to the production server to go live on Connect.
Phase two objectives
The identified objectives and goals to be achieved for phase two of the project are:
- Meeting management needs by supporting management processes, planning and decision making to improve organisational efficiency and reduce business costs;
- Improving communication and knowledge sharing by working towards best practice through successful deployment of the intranet. This will improve communication to and between staff, as well as increasing community involvement. Through knowledge management, the intranet will facilitate and support learning and teamwork, and encourage research and innovation activities to enhance partnerships with external organisations;
- Creating better internal processes and practices for timely, consistent, quality information and processes. This will in turn achieve more efficiency by providing a common platform for internal systems that will allow for transparent decision making;
- Supporting cultural change for improved staff morale.
So far so good
Phase one of the ARCBS intranet project was very successful. All planned activities were achieved without falling behind schedule or going over budget. The ARCBS response to Connect has been positive, with staff utilising the benefits and sharing information that was previously unavailable.
Phase two of the ARCBS intranet project can now move forward under the new project-support structure to achieve:
- Greater functionality for future integration of other systems - for example, electronic-quality-management system, national library database system, Oracle Financials and HR workflow-processing tools;
- Increased knowledge and information awareness via Connect to all ARCBS staff - the knowledge team will communicate with functional groups to develop modules on the intranet, provide training, and manage content and information currency.
The ARCBS intranet is a powerful internal-communications tool that has given our staff greater insight and access to the organisation and its information. This extension of communication and information sharing has not been achieved before and enables faster and enhanced decision making, a reduction in the number of errors made, improved analysis of trends, reduced usage of materials/supplies, and increased information accuracy. The development of Connect has numbed ARCBS’s pain and allows us to exploit all the opportunities now open to us.
Beverly Cummings is knowledge and information manager at the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org