Collaboration Tools Offer Visibility Into Projects
By Samuel Greengard
In today's 24x7 business world, there's a growing need for organizations to react immediately and avoid delays. For SafeGuard World International, a company that manages payroll for companies around the globe, it's a mission-critical issue.
"We have complicated rules and regulations we must follow -- and they vary by country," explains Cynthia Foster, vice president of organizational excellence. The company has approximately 200 employees in offices located in Sandbach, U.K.; Mexico City; Gurgaon, India; and Raleigh, N.C., which serves as its headquarters.
In the past, the company relied primarily on spreadsheets, email and phone calls to exchange information and keep projects running effectively. However, the fast-growing firm, which has a presence in 165 countries, found it hard to keep up, and the chaos could sometimes be overwhelming.
"We had difficulty with time-zone differences and location differences," Foster explains. "And we faced challenges in keeping communications real time and relevant, especially when we started a project with a new client."
In fact, it's not unusual for as many as 40 people to work on a project, which can span different geographic regions. "We lacked the transparency that we needed," she says. "Too often, we couldn't quickly and easily determine the exact status of a project."
This problem prompted the firm to look for a more collaborative approach that would provide instant visibility into project status, as well as better client accountability through real-time project status, reporting and analytics capabilities.
SafeGuard World turned to IBM Social Business and SmartCloud software to provide a more agile and flexible collaboration and communication environment. The solution, which the company began implementing in January 2013, ties into a ProjExec project management solution.
"Instead of emails being sent from silo to silo, they're placed in a project wall," Foster says. "Team members and others who are authorized receive immediate alerts and can view the status of a project at any time."
The firm is now expanding the functionality to include forums, wikis, blogs and other tools.
The social collaboration tools paid immediate dividends. Foster says that better communication led to a 20 percent speed bump in getting client projects online. In the past, new clients required an average of five months to complete, but SafeGuard is now taking four months or less.
This is critical to the company because, as Foster explains, "We do not become profitable until we actually begin processing payroll. So, reducing the implementation period has a direct impact on our time to revenue."
In addition, teams now work together more smoothly, and there are fewer conflicts and problems. And with better visibility into the portfolio of projects, executives can make more informed decisions and identify teams that are facing problems.
"If one team averages eight hours to complete a task and another requires 16 hours, we're able to identify the problem and assess the root cause," Foster says. "We are a company that's extremely dependent on productivity and standards, and we now have the tools to address our business needs."