A consulting group learns to exploit its information riches by weaving a sophisticated intranet into workers' lives.
The Fourth Annual Inc Web Awards: Transformations
Company: Peppers and Rogers Group, based in Norwalk, Conn. URL:www.1to1.com (the winning Web site, an intranet and extranet, is not publicly accessible) What we liked: A global network improves efficiency while helping far-flung employees leverage their collective expertise to service clients
Employees at the Peppers and Rogers Group divide the consulting firm's history into two time periods: "Before AskAlbert" and "Since AskAlbert."
Previous to AskAlbert -- the firm's feature-rich global intranet and extranet -- information needed for collaboration was as likely to be lost as it was shared. Important documents languished on people's hard drives. Some existed only in E-mail. Many simply disappeared into the black hole of a common file-storage area on the company's network.
That shared area -- amassed over nine years -- contained a vast assortment of folders, tucked one inside the other, up to 33 layers deep. No one supervised it. No one understood its cryptic abbreviated file names. Few could access it remotely. As for version control...well, there was no version control.
Confusion escalated as the company, founded in 1993 by one-to-one business gurus Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, grew from a few employees in Connecticut to 175 worldwide. By the late 1990s staffers routinely blasted out all-points E-mail messages seeking help in locating this report, that presentation, those team notes.
Then, in September 2000, a team of fed-up employees volunteered to find a fix. The group, headed by director of methodology and research practices Elizabeth Stewart, asked colleagues what they hated most about their current information-sharing system and what they wanted as a replacement. From their answers, AskAlbert was born. In December 2001, Peppers and Rogers launched the Web-based system, developed with Intraspect Software Inc., based in Brisbane, Calif., and thereby linked all its employees worldwide.
Since AskAlbert's debut, order reigns at Peppers and Rogers. Employees at the consulting firm, which had 2001 revenues of $30 million, now do all their work directly on the intranet; AskAlbert captures and catalogs documents as they are produced. Each new document iteration is automatically numbered, eliminating version confusion. Because AskAlbert is synchronized with the company's E-mail system, staffers can send messages that link to stored documents and, if they choose, can incorporate their E-mail messages into the trackable record. All databases -- new and old -- are easily searched through the AskAlbert interface. Employees even use the system during meetings to record information on the spot. "People are living in AskAlbert, and we love that," says information technology director Alex Zesch. "I don't know if we could even function the old way anymore."
Perhaps most important for a company with 11 offices on six continents, staffers now collaborate on-line -- geography be damned. Consultants in Connecticut, for instance, can work on projects with colleagues and clients in Sydney, Australia, and Sao Paulo, Brazil. Stewart tested the system while on vacation in Bora-Bora.
FAST TRACK: Elizabeth Stewart wanted Peppers and Rogers's staff to locate information quickly.
Because employees already used the Web, mastering the intranet took less than a month, and efficiency gains will pay for the system by early 2003, says communications director Kathryn Kavicky. Meanwhile, proponents say AskAlbert -- which is expanding to include Web conferencing, data mining, and other advanced tools -- does more than improve efficiency. "All our past and present learning is stored in one place," says Kavicky. "Our consultants are able to use the expertise of all our employees worldwide as a single, unified source. That provides exceptional value to our clients."