Stihl Australia IT manager Therese Chakour-West
Stihl Australia IT manager Therese Chakour-West sits in front of the company's first intranet: The Shed PHOTO: Stihl Australia

Intranets don’t only improve internal communications and collaboration at large enterprises, they can also work some productivity magic at a small to midsize business like Stihl Australia.

A subsidiary of a German global power tools manufacturer, Stihl Australia is primarily a sales operation, with its 100 employees distributed between a head office in Melbourne, in distribution centers in Brisbane and Perth, or working remotely. CMSWire recently talked to the company’s head of IT Therese Chakour-West about the daily “ongoing journey” that is The Shed, Stihl Australia’s intranet.

“We decided we really needed an intranet for business,” Chakour-West said. “We had done some surveys on what our people wanted. Improved communication was a big one and they also wanted to hear more from our MD (Managing Director Chris Radin).”

The Push to a First Intranet

What Stihl Australia previously had couldn’t really be described as an intranet, it was more a collection of HTML pages which were home to occupational health and safety policies. 

“There was no real thought given to the old system,” Chakour-West said. “It wasn’t a communications or a collaboration tool. It was a very slow and clunky system and not aesthetically pleasing either. No one used it.”

Stihl Australia’s vision for its first real intranet was to create a central place for communications, document management and knowledge management. 

“At the time, 20 to 30 percent of our workforce were retiring,” Chakour-West said. “We wanted to have a system to try to capture as much of that tacit knowledge as possible.” Email was effectively the only form of collaboration Stihl Australia had and it wasn’t conducive to facilitating good collaboration between its distributed staff.

Getting Underway: First Bump in the Road

In 2013, work on the planned intranet began. Stihl Australia brought together representatives from across the organization to decide on key requirements. One major need was to display up-to-minute sales information fed from the company’s back-end ERP software. 

“We definitely tried to involve business every way we could,” Chakour-West said. “There was lots of engagement with people to help alleviate their pain points.”

The company also engaged consultants to help build the business intranet. As an existing Microsoft shop, Stihl Australia decided to use on-premises SharePoint 2013.

The project hit an obstacle partway through. “We realized that we were going to have a shell of an intranet developed but we’d not addressed the content,” Chakour-West said. So Stihl Australia paused the overall project to work on developing an information management strategy in conjunction with some consultants. Once the company was happy with the strategy, it got back on the intranet project and went live in April 2015.

Building Awareness with Support From Leadership

In the run-up to going live, Chakour-West traveled to all Stihl Australia locations to introduce the concept of the intranet. She also sent out regular companywide emails on how the project was progressing. As the intranet was formally launched in a phased rollout, she revisited the company branches to run training sessions, accompanied by managing director Chris Radin. He introduced each session, stressing why the new intranet was important to the company’s business.

Having a managing director's support throughout the project was vital, Chakour-West noted. “He’d worked in an organization which had had an intranet before so he could see the value and he backed me in driving acceptance and adoption.”

In order to build awareness and excitement about the new intranet, Stihl Australia ran an election campaign to name it including T-shirts, campaign posters and texts to encourage staff to vote. Employees had a choice of three names — The Shed, InfoBahn or Project Beat. 

“The Shed won hands down,” Chakour-West said. “The look of the intranet for us was super-important. We wanted it to have its own identity.”

The Shed homepage
The Shed homepagePHOTO: Stihl Australia

Seeding Adoption

It’s all very well building something but will people actually use it? 

Chakour-West said some “nudging” was needed, particularly for those staff whose go-to technology was email. So post-launch, Stihl Australia set up employees’ PCs so The Shed intranet would launch at startup when they logged in and redirected content links to The Shed. “We’re almost forcing people’s hand in a gentle way,” Chakour-West said.

Stihl Australia also had some fun adoption building campaigns up its sleeve. For instance, when it launched The Shed, the company ran a treasure hunt hiding chainsaws and other items throughout the intranet for staff to find. The winner’s prize was an iPad Mini. Another awareness move was running a quiz for employees to guess who was the biggest user of The Shed for a given week.

Measuring Success

Prior to The Shed, Stihl Australia customer service staff relied on paper-based information, data held in file shares, and phoning their colleagues in sales. At the heart of The Shed is a new central product catalog where staff can access the information they need to quickly and effectively support customer queries. Each customer service person estimated the move to The Shed has saved them 15 minutes per day. Adding that up for the team over a year, the savings amount to 78 days annually, said Chakour-West.

The Shed is also home to a number of automated workflows including employee of the month, the company’s Sparks employee ideas forum, and its staff equipment borrowing program. In each case, moving from paper-based to electronic forms has speeded up the workflows and made each program more efficient.

paper forms and eforms
Like many companies, Stihl Australia still had processes bound up in paper. They hope to change that with The ShedPHOTO: Stihl Australia

What’s Next?

Now live for over two years, The Shed is “an ongoing journey every day,” according to Chakour-West. Stihl Australia is working with K2 Software on developing more workflows to automate companywide processes and make them more transparent.

Stihl Australia is considering how it might extend The Shed as an extranet for its over 440-strong dealer network. The company is also assessing mobility for The Shed within the context of the very strict security requirements of its parent company. Stihl Australia’s success with The Shed, including the Intranet Innovation gold award it won in 2016, is making its parent company pay attention and meaning the small subsidiary may end up having an influence on the parent company's future intranet strategy.

Lessons Learned

The Shed was the first project of its kind for Stihl Australia. “We didn’t have the expertise and we learned a lot along the way,” Chakour-West said. In hindsight, she would’ve worked with different consultants and engaged full-time staff on the ground from the project get-go. “We were just a client to them, they wanted to get to the finish and onto the next client,” Chakour-West said. “It was not the type of relationship we needed.” She would also have worked on the information management strategy at the start of the project rather than partway through.

Summing up the entire experience, Chakour-West said, “Ultimately it boils down to a system designed by our people for our people, it’s not something IT handed over to the employees.”