posted 26 Oct 2007 in Volume 11 Issue 3
Share and share alike
O2 is a leading provider of mobile services to consumers and businesses in the
A large proportion of O2 employees can be classified as information workers. Many of these employees come from a new generation and join with high expectations, having grown up with SMS messaging, instant messaging and e-mail.
Projects, meanwhile, frequently require collaboration in fluid groups across business areas or between teams in the
In contrast, the information held within O2 was becoming increasingly unstructured. It was difficult to find or to share effectively. O2 recognised that to counter the ‘information explosion’, the workplace had to evolve to support the efficient sharing of knowledge across the workforce. The work environment needed to support the seamless delivery of information to employees.
A collaborative community
The nature of the telecoms business also means that, as a company, O2 collaborates closely with its major suppliers and partners. Accordingly, the need to maximise the benefit from its external business relationships was important to its vision of its future information workspace. There were a number of areas where collaboration with external partners had already been achieved. However, these solutions only covered individual business areas. Also, the solution was not O2-owned, being provided by one of the external parties involved.
There were a number of stand-alone collaboration tools already in use across O2. These had been implemented in response to very specific and immediate needs within particular areas. It was clear that, without a strategic solution, the number of ‘point’ implementations of collaboration tools was likely to mushroom. This gave rise to the risk of increasing information silos and an inability to audit and track documents.
The main objectives of the collaboration tool could be summarised as follows:
To make it simpler for people to share documents – O2 employees, other parts of the international business, as well as third parties need easy and secure access to documents;
To increase the productivity of teams working across locations, speeding up the delivery of projects;
To reduce the dependence on email for circulating documents, because e-mailing large documents quickly fills up e-mail in-boxes, requires substantial server storage space and potentially introduces security vulnerabilities;
To reduce duplicated effort, allowing existing information and research to be shared amongst larger audiences;
To allow greater control of knowledge; for example, sales information was highly confidential and access had to be restricted to a handful of employees.
Initial feasibility study
The team kicked off this project by undertaking a four-week feasibility study. This covered a number of areas:
Gathering initial, high-level requirements based on interviews with senior stakeholders;
Identifying the likely costs and benefits and preparing a business case;
Undertaking a paper-based package analysis, based on an investigation of a number of software packages;
Detailed analysis of options and recommendations on the preferred way forward.
The recommended solution was Microsoft SharePoint Portal, for a number of reasons including easy integration with Microsoft applications such as Office, Exchange and Active Directory. These applications were already in use across a majority of business areas. In addition, O2 had experience of implementing SharePoint Portal within its legal team.
Following the initial project approval, one of the first steps was to identify a cross-section of business areas to pilot the project. Five key business areas were chosen comprising 500 users. These included HR, business solutions and multi-national sales. These areas comprised a diverse range of users with an urgent need for collaboration tools and were regarded by managers as being receptive to change.
Having a mix of users who had different processes, it was decided, would enable the team to learn the lessons from each group’s experience and to apply the results to the next group. Further, since each group was relatively small, it enabled the team to deliver quick wins throughout the project to maintain support from employees and business leaders.
The complexity of the project required four broad streams of workshops to be held:
Requirements-gathering workshops to identify the requirements;
Infrastructure workshops to agree on technical architecture issues and on the best way to resolve a number of technical issues;
User adoption workshops involving marketing, communications and training to ensure the successful implementation of the project;
Service management workshops to put in place a robust structure to support of the application once it had gone live.
In terms of the requirements-gathering workshops, key users from the five core business areas were involved. It quickly became apparent that most of the requirements were common across all business areas. These became the basis for a framework solution. In future, new business areas requiring a collaboration tool would be able to speedily adopt the framework solution as a template.
The team also identified specific requirements for individual areas which were not catered for by the framework solution. For example, HR was looking to engage a range of staff within the HR department as well as outside O2. In addition to storing documents, HR wanted to be able to gather comments on HR policies from a variety of sources, including internal departments and trade unions; build an interactive news facility on events within HR, rather than having to send out bulletins by e-mail; and simplify the process of maintaining the HR intranet, while maintaining the current O2 look and feel, among other tasks.
In terms of the infrastructure workshops, it was found that some of the previous collaboration projects had eroded user confidence for a variety of reasons. These included very slow response times caused by insufficient hardware and poor network configuration. Another issue was that cost and time pressures had lead to the product not being fully integrated at launch leading to a low quality interface. To ensure that the infrastructure was in place to support the application, the project team worked closely with a wide range of O2’s technical teams including the intranet, network and service delivery teams.
Project design and roll-out
O2 adopted a rapid development process which involved much prototyping. A number of user scenarios were created for each area to identify the main tasks users performed. The team set up a basic prototype and worked through business processes with discussion groups using actual documents. A simple but robust taxonomy was developed to provide easy access to documents, meeting schedules and contact details. Procedures were also set up for storing documents and for checking them in and out. The system was then configured and rolled out to each of the five business areas.
While it is possible to attribute financial benefits to the project, the key driver for this project was the realisation of a large number of soft benefits which are difficult to measure financially. The application has now become the principal means of sharing information and O2 has seen many improvements:
Better collaboration: with central ‘check in/check out’ of documents, users are confident that they have access to the most up-to-date versions. This has saved time previously spent tracing document versions or duplicating efforts.
Finding information easily: finding information is simpler and quicker. Staff save time by not having to resend lost documents.
Faster document availability: with documents available from anywhere, large documents can be accessed without e-mail inbox size constraints or e-mail delivery speed presenting obstacles. Users are now able to share files greater than 5Mb in size, which is the current e-mail limit.
Security: the project has helped to improve the security of documents. Information is a key company asset and the application supports the storage of information on a company network rather than hard drives or laptops. By adjusting the settings for different groups, specific documents are accessible only to their intended audiences. This has brought better control of who has access to which documents. These roles and responsibilities can be easily maintained, maintaining up to date access rights to relevant information.
Improved compliance: Improved security will also enable O2 to demonstrate better compliance with any current or future legislation on information retention, by showing the company has introduced levels of control in access and circulation of information. This is particularly important if the company becomes subject to the Sarbanes Oxley legislation at some future point.
The collaboration service is seen as first step to promoting further development of cross-business strategic projects and a more radical standardisation across the business.
Experience demonstrates that there are a number of areas where collaboration projects commonly encounter problems. Time spent addressing these areas will greatly improve the likelihood of the system being used to its full potential. In terms of the lessons learnt, these were as follows:
Define the project scope tightly
The initial project scope was an ambitious one. There was a desire to use a wide range of cutting-edge functionality. This included instant messaging facilities, “whiteboards” which would allow users to present information remotely and video conferencing. As the project developed, it became apparent that the scope would have a significant impact in terms of delivery timescales and substantially increased costs. Some functionality would have had a detrimental impact on network performance. Other functionality raised security and regulatory issues. For example, if an instant message formed part of a contractual discussion, users would need to be able to save, search and retrieve saved messages. All these considerations resulted in a significant pulling back of the project scope.
Some requirements requiring extensive customisation of the application would be available as out-of-the box functionality with the next version of SharePoint. This made it all the easier to de-scope requirements for the first phase despite pressure from some users. Keeping the project scope tightly defined ensured that the team was able to deliver a solution which met 80 per cent of user requirements.
Keep the project delivery time short
Successful collaboration projects are those which deliver low-cost solutions in a short space of time. Generally this should aim to be no more than three to six months. A short delivery time scale also helps with gaining user buy-in. In contrast, a project with a one or two year project plan is destined for failure and should have alarm bells ringing. The scope is likely to be too ambitious and by the time any solution is implemented, the needs of the business are likely to have changed significantly.
Senior stakeholder support
One is frequently reminded of the importance of senior management backing to ensure the success of a project. Often, their full and enthusiastic involvement is lacking. In contrast, this project was an excellent demonstration of senior stakeholder involvement with senior managers virtually driving this project from start to finish.
Identify the main requirements
The system must support the way people work. If it does not, employees are unlikely to use it. Critical to a project’s success is identifying all key requirements and issues well before undertaking any supplier evaluation or implementation. Are you clear about the top five capabilities required from the system? For example, a key requirement may be integration of the application with internal systems without which staff will not use the system. Another common concern is security: users working with confidential material will want to be reassured about security before storing documents in the application. Solutions imposed by IT without early user involvement have a poor take-up rate. Ensure you involve users from a very early stage so that they can take ownership of the exercise.
Minimise migration of documents
If an organisation decides to migrate its current documents to the new solution, this will normally form a major part of the project. Therefore, such a decision needs very careful consideration. There were good arguments for and against migrating existing content to the new application. However, it became apparent that separating the small number of important documents from a vast library of documents would be a time-consuming exercise which would impose a huge administrative burden. A policy decision was taken that current documents would not be migrated. Instead, they would become read-only and would be archived. Users would still be able to access them and where necessary, transfer them to the collaboration tool. This proved a neat solution to a potentially tricky problem.
Create a user-friendly experience
Users will find every way to get around using a new tool. To help with adoption of the application, the user experience should be simple, elegant and fast. How did the team tackle this? Usability was approached on several fronts. From user interface perspective, the team worked closely with different business areas to understand how they used documents. The application was structured to mirror the way users worked. Rapid prototyping was undertaken to get feedback from users. A key focus was to ensure that users had a high quality and intuitive interface (eg good branding, clear, simple guidance, intuitive navigation).
Another usability issue was network performance. At O2, the speed of previous collaboration solutions was one of the biggest blocks to adoption. Therefore, an essential part of this project was to restore confidence by ensuring that network bandwidths and performance were good. This ensured that retrieving or storing a document in the repository was as easy as storing things locally.
Enforce use of the application
The project adopted a carrot and stick approach to help drive adoption. Part of the enforcement measures included closing down personal drives and shared drives. This forced users to migrate to the collaboration tool. Each user was given some personal space to store non-work related documents. Another step taken was to limit e-mail box limits. This encouraged a culture in which staff sent a link to a document rather than e-mailed large documents. Steps taken on other projects to enforce use include:
Closing down intranets where they are the primary means of sharing information
Only allowing access to key applications via the collaboration tool so that the tool becomes a natural way of accessing information.
This was a complex project involving disparate business areas. It was important to resolve both business and technical issues prior to implementation of the solution. A focus on a vanilla implementation with a narrow scope and a short timescale were important factors in helping the project reap the full benefits from the collaboration tool.
Yousef Bassa is a principal consultant at Celosys Consulting which is a specialist document management and CRM consultancy. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org