Intranet overhaul works wonders for BC Automobile Association

A user-focused overhaul has saved the British Columbia Automobile Association’s (BCAA) intranet from careening off the road.

The new online portal – appropriately dubbed OnRamp – replaced the previous department-centric system three months ago.

And it’s already producing some remarkable results.

More than 89 per cent of the Association’s 1,200 employees access the new system at least once each day and the vast majority – 69 per cent – say it’s helps them do their job more effectively.

By providing agents with access to relevant information the new system can help them address customer needs better, cross-sell more effectively, and keep up to date with company activities.

And that’s a far cry from the situation until very recently, when employees were increasingly frustrated with the earlier system’s inability to support even basic information searches and cross-selling.

These capabilities – along with online collaboration and data sharing –
are vital to the BCAA – the Vancouver-based affiliate of the Canadian Automobile Association.

Each day BCAA employees provide nearly 800,000 members and hundreds of thousands of customers, services such as insurance policies, travel and hotel bookings and roadside assistance.

While a great many customer transactions are carried out over the phone, agents access the intranet to obtain pertinent information.

In addition, agents also looked to the intranet for information that helps them sell promotional services.

But all this was a tall order with the earlier intranet, said a BCAA executive.

Data on that five-year-old intranet – developed on a RedDot Web content management system – wasn’t cohesively updated, according to Gary Carr, corporate communication and intranet manager at BCAA.

He said information on the site was organized by department, and individual departments developed and updated their own content.

“Content ownership structure was a major pain point,” he said. It prevented agents from getting up-to-date and comprehensive information that could support cross-selling.

Much of that’s changed since the system overhaul – based on what BCAA calls a “user-centric approach.”

The re-work was done by Habanero Consulting Group, a Vancouver-based IT integrator.

The content management travails of BCAA were “typical of companies with a homegrown intranet,” according to Mallory O’Connor, senior information architect at Habanero.

When content on an intranet updated separately by discrete company departments that have little guidance, outdated information is often the result.

And that’s what happened at BCAA before the intranet overhaul.

Agents interacting with clients complained they couldn’t access accurate information. When they needed information on a certain item and clicked to the concerned department, they would often find outdated data, Carr said.

For instance, he said, an agent seeking to sell other services to client booking a hotel would not find pertinent information from the promo department.

That the existing system required a complete overhaul was quite apparent – but as a precursor to that BCAA and Habanero carefully reviewed existing business process and intranet capabilities to determine the best approach to be adopted.

The idea was to very clearly link any technology changes to desired business benefits.

To that end, rather than organize information based on department conventions alone, data integration in the OnRamp system was to meet specific business needs of the agents accessing the system.

“Each department still published its own content, but we raised standards,” said Carr.

Regular meetings between publishers and user help co-ordinate efforts and deal with issues that crop up.

In addition to enhancing customer interaction, the new intranet also serves as the equivalent of a daily newspaper, providing employees with up-to-date reports of various company activities and announcements.

A section of the site called Road Signs provides employee relevant updates, organized by department. Users can receive news via their channels of choice and search for old items in a message archive.

Prior to the rollout, BCAA staff exchanged information on new product promotions and department news principally via e-mail. Adding a Web component and organizing updates by line-of-business reduced the company’s monthly mass e-mail broadcasts from 30 to five, said O’Connor.

The BCAA is now planning to add wikis and executive blogs to enhance OnRamp services.

Carr said three vital lessons he learned during the OnRamp rollout could help other companies in a similar situation:

Gather support – Obtain backing from key executives of departments that will benefit from the project. These people must be sold on the idea so they can support and fund the project.

Create a governance structure – Set up a consulting body to oversee input from all affected by or working on the intranet. Executives, publishers and users should set up a focus group to set project requirements.

Keep it user centered – It is important to the talk to end users and all stakeholders involved to determine which features need to be included in the Intranet. Conducting development in isolated departments will often result in systems that only fit or benefit a select group.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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