Monitoring Change With An Intranet

Timely monitoring of critical information is key to a company's success. Dashboards offer one approach.

Communicating what is going on within an organization has always been difficult, but today's modern technology promises to change all that. Rather than being used as a simple electronic library, intranet technology holds the promise of being an effective tool to monitor and manage change. It can be part of a system to provide rapid, relevant and understandable feedback on what is going on and how we are doing. It can access the current state of affairs, evaluating core competencies and current capabilities to achieve key strategies. It can be used to show what is expected and where we are.

At every step in the work process, it is necessary to inform people and show them what’s going on, what needs changing, and (whenever possible) how to make these changes. Historically, this has proved to be a difficult task. However, today’s intranet can be used to better inform and manage key concerns. The intranet, when used with supporting software, can aid in this process by monitoring concerns and rapidly providing timely information about what needs changing and why.

Timely Information is Essential

An essential component of any successful change management is to be able to show the condition of critical issues that might require action. Dynamic information flow is essential to good management. 20th Century Fox's intranet tracks the millions of records associated with box-office receipts. It provides a good example the capabilities of the intranet waiting to be unleashed. The intranet payoff for Fox’s managers is collection of real-time information that lets the studio spot regional and competitive trends and act quickly to exploit them, implementing changes on the fly. Justin Yaros, CIO and senior vice president at Fox notes, "This application allows us to manage our business more intelligently by giving us actual information on what's happening in the theaters, whereas before we relied on intuition and gut feel ”.

Before their intranet, it would have been impossible to make strategic changes because of the lack of real-time information needed to make informed decisions. "Our executives and branch managers would call me or another person in IT, and we had to query box-office returns at different theaters one at a time. Now they are able to put the information at their manager’s fingertips so they can understand what is going on and make changes as is needed. Such information is long overdue."

"This kind of aggregation of internal and external information to make executive decisions affecting the business is a good idea and, if anything, it moves the movie industry out of 1900s technology," says analyst Joe Butt of Forrester Research.

Fox's intranet application also sets the stage for the future so they can match supply and demand on a daily basis. For now, instant statistical analysis could translate into big savings. Using this type of information means films could be selectively extended in markets or individual theaters where they are doing well. Change could occur in real time and films could also be pulled from theaters where they are slumping to cut losses. Fox officials also have the capability of instantly measuring the impact of promotional dollars spent on new films and adjust their campaigns accordingly [Gireshankar, 1999]. Such accessibility and aggregation of information also makes it possible to make better decisions. Changes in promotional dollars or campaigns can be immediately assessed to see how expectations compare to actual results.

The Compumotor division of Parker Hannifin in Rohnert Park, Calif. provides another example of how an intranet was used to get information quickly into the hands of decision makers. The company, a manufacturer of circuit boards using robotic motion-control systems, used their intranet to show the condition of critical issues.

David Krauthamer, the information systems manager at Parker Hannifin is primarily responsible for deploying the company's intranet, which he says has had the most immediate effect on real-time manufacturing processes. "Our SQL server has a front-end mechanism that captures and reports on manufacturing defects in process. This provides feedback to the floor, where they can respond to the problem immediately. It also helps us notice patterns and make remedial changes—real-time corrections. In the past, we'd generate all this info, and at the end of the month we'd do something about it. Now we can get the feedback loop as close to the person doing the work as possible." [Baven, 1997]

Employee Benefit News reported in their March issue that intranets are being used to make meaningful changes in company benefits programs.” It’s a very efficient data collection tool," says Bill Rau, director of compensation and benefits at Xantera Parks and Resorts, in Aurora, Colo. The company uses their intranet to improve the performance of over 2500 employees. Rau says, "We're a hospitality company, and a lot of employees don't have access to computers, so we have to make arrangements to get employees to computers if we want them to take a survey."

Even under these conditions, the company believes providing computer access is much easier than attempting to distribute and then collect paper forms with data that must be manually entered the data. Rau emphasizes,” You know how things are going in real-time. In less than 30 seconds, I can go onto the Web and find out how many people have responded and what the responses are. I can give feedback on a survey to managers in 30 minutes."

The company took advantage of the findings of this first-ever survey to make meaningful changes to benefit programs, including an expansion of the company health care benefits for employees in rural areas.

KeyCorp uses its intranet to improve their survey process. The corporation is a Cleveland-based bank with some 22,000 employees located throughout the U.S. They routinely survey new hires after their orientation and 45 days after employment to make sure they understand benefits and HR policies.

"We spend a lot of time on the front end designing the questions so that the managers get the data they're looking for," notes Catherine Bucher, a senior market research analyst for the company. Ann Hornsby, KeyCorp's manager of health management and wellness, took advantage of their intranet survey tools to conduct a series of six surveys to evaluate the effectiveness of her program's communications campaign and gather information from program participants.

Creating a Change Monitor

Good management includes communication and feedback. Look at your own work and ask, "How do I regularly communicate key concerns to responsible areas?” Having a strategy, vision, mission is not enough. Atrophy will occur unless there is continual communication and feedback about where you are and how you are doing. Getting feedback on what happened three months (or even a year) ago is not useful feedback. Likewise, having critical information buried in a mass of data isn’t really helpful.

Procter & Gamble wanted to personalize critical information for each employee and provide rapid feedback when that information changed. Dan Gerbus, project manager for the personalized portal project in the Cincinnati company's IT division, says, "A business manager always needs to track some key pieces of information. We'll build a dashboard for that.” Procter & Gamble employees' dashboards deliver a preset view into various information sources. Employees find all the up-to-date information they need to make decisions about new products or find the status of other initiatives.

Dashboards combine the intranet’s ability to deliver real-time feedback with easy-to-digest information, making it easier to monitor and manage organizations. Executive dashboards can be used to monitor essential information related to a specific manager or employee. The monitor can use a series of status lights that change shape and color reflecting different conditions. When unusual changes occur, the user can drill down through a series of other graphics to see what has happened. For example, a series of status lights can monitor morale or attitudes using surveys. The dashboard's status lights would alert users whenever a statistical condition is triggered. If you want to know when a customer or employee survey score reaches a critical numerical value or your standard deviation or variation in scores exceeds normal conditions, the dashboard can communicate those changes to you.

Such a dashboard, which runs on the company’s Intranet and is displayed on individual desktop screens, can continually and instantly show the status of changes occurring within the organization. Dashboard like those employed by Procter & Gamble can be customized and personalized so employees can keep updated about changes they specifically want to track. It lets every individual within the change process monitor changes within their personal responsibility.

Conclusion

The inherent capability of the intranet to provide this information accessible in real-time makes it an idea tool in the fast paced 21st century. The Intranet flexibility and ability of modern software, like CIVID3's Quick Status, Cognos' Visualization, and etc. to aggregate information and display this information can be a powerful management tool. It can be used to communicate critical changes occurring within the organization in real-time and in an easy to understand format.

References

Gireshankar, Saroja. “Real-Time Analysis Is A Hit At Fox", Internetweek, August 9, 1999 Issue 776, p. 10

Baven, Mark. "Compumotor integrates shop-floor data", Computerworld, July 28, 1997 v31 n30, p. SA3

Rosencrance, Linda. “E-Commerce Speeds Business at U.S. Ports”, Dec. 4, 2000 p. 46