With 170 employees scattered across 21 states, aeSolutions needed a web-based software platform that could act as a central information site for all of its employees. After three unsuccessful attempts with other software development firms to implement Microsoft’s SharePoint, aeSolutions found its partner with ProActive Technology, an application development firm located right at home in Greenville, SC.
Ken O’Malley, Executive Vice President of Engineering Technology at aeSolutions, saw Microsoft’s SharePoint as the means by which to keep his team informed and connected. “It was really the remoteness of our people spread over multiple time zones that drove us to want to leverage SharePoint,” says O’Malley.
A process safety engineering and automation solution firm headquartered in Greenville, SC, aeSolutions has expanded over the past 15 years from its Greenville home to as far away as Anchorage Alaska. It also employs a number of remote employees who work from home offices across the country.
O’Malley describes what aeSolutions provides as “things that protect people, the environment, and equipment.” Often asked to come into work processes that are already designed and operating, aeSolutions provides safety protections against a wide range of industrial hazards, designing automated systems for mostly chemical, oil, and petrochemical companies. As the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) upgrades its safety regulations through its Process Safety Management (PSM) program—and companies inevitably alter and improve their processes over time—aeSolutions engineers ensure that the processes are in compliance with current safety standards.
“The BP oil spill incident in the Gulf of Mexico is the kind of hazard that our systems are designed to help prevent,” O’Malley says.
For O’Malley, running such a far-flung firm became a challenge. His goal to design a web-based information solution required careful thinking about the nature of the internal corporate information and communication that his employees needed about the company, its best work practices, methods of sharing information between employees, and ways to leverage his employees’ expertise into effective marketing and branding. SharePoint’s wide range of capabilities fit the bill.
“Coming from my myopic point of view, I needed to engage a partner like ProActive that has seen the software employed at many sites,” O’Malley says. “They can tell you what works and what is time tested. It’s eye opening. I wanted to jump to the solution. But with ProActive, I could spend more time on the problem.”
The first issue was that the original SharePoint-based site wasn’t working. The site was unwieldy and difficult to navigate, produced massive lists in response to searches, and virtually required users to already know where their desired information was located. Based on discussions with ProActive project managers, the site was redesigned and developed using organized categories, links and icons which added to the functional depth.
The home page of the new site features tabs that include location information, a news page for local office and corporate-wide news, a My Event page for local offices, and a My Performance tab with key performance indicators for each job.
The corporate portal contains human resources information such as the employee handbook and policy book, a range of forms needed by employees, day-to-day instructions for administration, and information technology (IT) content.
The help desk function leverages SharePoint’s workflow capabilities to automatically route any query – from how to fill out a time sheet, to vacation and sick leave policies – to the appropriate person.
The projects portal holds all the technical information associated with the firm’s work. Although the company’s business is roughly divided into the front end and back end of the process safety life cycle, there is great overlap. To allow access to all this information, one tab is a document library. An aeSolutions’ Wiki site is ready for content such as power supply sizing calculations, or best industry practices for a power supply, to name but a few examples.
A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) library lists all of the firm’s deliverables and tasks grouped together in deliverable packages. Detailing each step in any given work process, the WBS library also includes the competencies needed and links to Wiki pages and other relevant documents. The WBS library provides valuable parameters for experienced engineers who can pick and choose what deliverables and tasks to access for each unique project, and excellent training tool for new employees.
Engineers at aeSolutions are encouraged to write white papers. O’Malley explains: “The white paper tab allows anyone to post an idea, an engineer to develop the idea, and the posting of the final paper.” The marketing coordinator can then pull those white papers for use in public relations and trade shows.
In fact, O’Malley sees great potential in the site for employees to contribute to the branding of the firm. The aeTV icon appears regularly on the site where relevant video content is available. O’Malley envisions a place for engineers to share their knowledge and problem solutions, as well as for executives to communicate directly with employees, through video. In the works now is investigation into video creating software technology. The video component, expected to roll out in the second quarter of 2014, will include counters, likes, and comments. For O’Malley, this is a measurable way to mark the contributions of employees.
“I have learned that it is not only difficult, but really impossible to influence people by telling them what I expect. But if I can provide them the information regarding how well they’re doing via measurements, it’s much more effective,” O’Malley says.
Far from done, aeSolutions and ProActive Technology will team up to work on a project management portal, and to transfer of all the firm’s technical content to the SharePoint site.