Harrods has to be one of the most famous retail brands in the world. So who would have thought that until very recently the company did not have its own intranet to help management communicate with staff or the myriad stores that use its Knightsbridge premises?
The 4.5-acre store employs 8,000 staff from 50 countries, serving 100,000 customers a day via 330 different departments spread across seven floors, so it is not surprising that communicating with everyone can be complex and time-consuming. In addition to this, many are not direct employees of Harrods itself but of other brands, such as Hermès or Alexander McQueen, which may also employ large numbers of temporary and seasonal staff to keep things covered.
“People might come in for a week, or a day,” says Symon Garfield, chief technology officer at ICS Solutions. “And then they’re not connected to Active Directory accounts. So it’s a very complicated workforce. They also do internal staff surveys once a year, and the KPIs about the system around engagement [with staff] just weren’t satisfactory. So those were the main drivers for bringing us in.”
Hampshire-based Microsoft Gold partner ICS was approached to build an intranet for Harrods that was based on SharePoint 2010. According to Kieron Bissett, people management applications manager at Harrods, the retailer plumped for SharePoint because of its feature set.
“[Also] ICS Solutions was right for the project due to its proven expertise and wealth of SharePoint knowledge,” says Bissett.
ICS’s Garfield says the project was the brainchild of Harrods’ HR and retail director, who oversees the three internal communications managers. The business case for an intranet revolved around the reduction of costs and materials used by the comms team, particularly printing and distribution costs. UK legislation coming into force at the time also stipulated that certain information must be available to all workers in a company, regardless of whether they are contractors, part-time or something else.
“Approximately 50 per cent of the Harrods workforce is not employed by Harrods,” he says. “That was defining the business requirement.”
Garfield says that the implementation took four months and was spearheaded by a team of ICS Solutions consultants. Read-only, Harrods-branded intranet functionality is now available to all staff, which improves communication and means that information is available to all employees, making Harrods compliant with current UK legislation. Wiki pages allow users to publish content using standard HTML wiki templates.
The retailer expects to save about £75,000 a year, as fewer documents and information updates now need to be printed and distributed to staff, says Garfield.
The set-up includes a custom site map, breadcrumbs, RSS aggregator and web parts such as a telephone directory with contact information for all 8,000 employees - using Business Connectivity Services to allow them to update their own details. There is a sliding news centrepiece on the home page, and custom navigation bars, and there is also a secure extranet for concession staff working off-site, he adds.
The company opted for SharePoint Foundation 2010, combined with Search Server Express 2010, Visual Studio 2010, and SQL Server 2008.
“To be honest, the internal comms people don’t care about the technical detail of it. It’s just, ‘We want an intranet’,” says Garfield. “Meanwhile, the IT people would usually be aware of what information and management requirements, not to mention document management requirements, are coming from the other parts of the business. For example, Harrods had 8TB of information on its full server, but only a small percentage of that information has been used in the past five years.”
What the retailer really wanted, he insists, is full SharePoint Server capability, but it was much harder to build the business case for that. But starting with SharePoint Foundation means the building blocks are there to move on as time progresses and need intensifies. Applications relating to collaboration and improving time management are likely to become more pressing needs, especially as the business begins to see the advantages of additional IT capability.
“I use the maturity model for intranet projects. The early stage is the communications intranet. Then you move through to collaboration and enterprise portals and things like that,” says Garfield. “They were looking for maturity at the level of the communications platform. And they may need to have a plan on moving across that maturity model in a short time. But the IT people knew that.”
Garfield says one of the challenges that they faced was making the business case match up with the strategic aims and departmental costs, a common concern. Harrods did want to deploy a more a strategic platform, but the cost of the platform should be shared out across multiple projects across a period of time. Coupling that with the technical requirements was not easy to get right, he says.
ICS worked with Harrods to find the right approach for them, and the benefit of spending time on that relationship is that the company is at the head of the queue for future related deployments, some of which are already under discussion.
“Once you put it in and show it to people, and they start using it and experiencing the benefits, that should make it easier to roll in phase two, which we are now talking to them about,” says Garfield. “Phase two will be the document management.”
Ninety-nine per cent of organisations with which ICS works are at the same place conceptually, he says: “We have got the business to know there may be a better way of working, and they know because we all use iPhones and Facebook and things like that.”
Garfield points out that there is still a real shortage in the industry for people who can be truly interdisciplinary, bridging the IT and business requirements gap. Most companies do not have on board a content and collaboration professional and an information management professional - a person who can translate their technical problem into a business solution. That is where ICS comes in.
For ICS, success is not just about SharePoint: the solution provider also recently completed a cloud project for financial assets management firm Caliburn Capital. Caliburn has migrated systems to the cloud using Microsoft Office 365, with a view to cutting costs in server hardware, software licensing, maintenance, disaster recovery and back-up.
Darren Hodges, IT director at Caliburn, which was already a Microsoft Exchange site, says: “It allows access from our international offices, and it is easy to use when we are on the move.”
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