Collaboration key to business growth

The collaboration space is a tool enabling new staff to begin working effectively more quickly by connecting with their peers

For Leighton Contractors CIO, Diane Fernley-Jones, the introduction of collaboration tools and self-service portals in the workplace is key to driving business growth and maximising the work of employees.

Speaking at the recent IBM Global CIO Study Roundtable held in Sydney, Fernley-Jones said the collaboration space had become a major tool for her business to enable new staff to begin working effectively more quickly by connecting with their peers.

The contracting firm recently tried a proof of concept in the collaboration space within its construction division, which Fernley-Jones says, has left employees thirsty for more.

“It was interesting because that was one area senior management didn’t necessarily see the need for, but lower down the stack the guys really needed to be interfacing in simple ways especially when you look at how spread our business is, we’re operating all over Australia in some quite remote places,” she said.

While working on the three to five year portal strategy and talking to the business, the desire for a collaboration capability became clear, despite the senior level management seeing no need for it.

“I quietly did it in the background with the proof of concept and it was amazing the groundswell that quickly jumped on it and we got up to 80 users in that space very quickly, Fernley-Jones said.

“It’s ‘how do we grow our business without adding a lot more people into it?’ and with the self service portal it’s things like being able to go and get your payslip online without having to bother people, being able to check and recheck quickly what the annual leave, parental leave, or sick leave for a member of my team without having to go to HR,” she said.

“It’s taking that human step out of it and giving us instant access to the information, just giving people the information they need without having going through a third party streamlines our business and makes it easier.”

Citing an experience with an older manager when the business turned on Instant Messenger, it became apparent that age can often be a barrier to new collaborative technologies, Fernley-Jones said.

“It was interesting because they were a different generation so while the youngsters were using it predominantly for work, her feeling was I don’t like this turn it off… it was the lack of understand of the technology,” she said.

The IBM study, which surveyed more than 3000 CIOs (over 100 of which were from Australia and New Zealand), reported an increase in mobility with 84 per cent of A/NZ CIOs identifying mobility as the next best way to boost competitiveness, compared with 74 per cent globally.

With safety the number one priority for Leighton Contractors, Fernley-Jones said it was the first space they invested in mobility solutions for.

”By actually giving the guys the tools to go and complete the safety inspections out in the field and not have to come back to the mobile sheds it really freed them up which means we can do far more with the same number of people,” she said.

“It’s is about working smarter not harder but it also improves the speed with which we’re consolidating that data and improving our safety and that to us is absolutely fundamental.”

The company also recently moved into the business intelligence (BI) space following a slow start resulting from unintegrated legacy systems. Having the same data – often unreliable – in many locations was the driver behind moving to a single source of truth, which Fernley-Jones said, turned the data into valuable business information.

The study also found CEOs and CIOs are starting to align in their thinking around the future challenges for the business for which IT plays a critical and supportive role.

“For many years, IT was seen as the guys at the back who turned the handle and did the general ledger,” Fernley-Jones said. “We were not really seen as integral to the business.

“I think you can do a very interesting piece of work with IT if you’re working at all levels of the business and I think that’s one of the key things we’re doing, it’s not just about the CEO and the CIO being behind it but right through the business having touchpoints between the sharp end of our business and IT.”

Follow Chloe Herrick on Twitter: @chloe_CW

Follow CIO Australia on Twitter: @CIO_Australia

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