When General Motors Corporation (GM) announced its portal initiative in November 2000, Rick Wagoner, president and CEO, stated: “This is about offering our employees great technology options that will assist them in juggling the demands of work and home in the Internet Age.”
The creation of a globally-connected, intranet-based workforce was a transformational project, adds Mike Dessert, GM’s IT portal director. Still a new concept among companies in 1999, no one had built a portal of this scale and scope at that time. Tony Scott, GM’s chief technical officer, says they knew they needed a partner who would be flexible, innovative and responsive. “It was a business-changing challenge, and we needed a partner who would eliminate risks and ensure our success,” he says.
Speed to market was a major factor in provider selection. With the goal of deploying a portal with “all the bells and whistles” at initial launch in just 12 months, they couldn’t afford to start from scratch. They needed best-of-breed products and a platform that would integrate with GM’s existing HR and payroll systems.
The portal infrastructure had to allow 250,000 employees logging in from GM’s locations around the world. The provider had to index relevant content from hundreds of sources and consolidate hundreds of existing GM Web sites into a single point of access. The portal had to bring collaboration and productivity tools to one place on the desktop, provide a very large number of HR self-service and payroll applications, and allow employees to customize the portal for resources they need most.
There were more objectives. A large component of the automaker’s employee population had no Internet or intranet access at work; but 80 percent had PCs at home. So the provider had to design a solution that accommodated that accessibility option.
“It was about as complex as it can get for a provider to understand what we were looking for in terms of content and functionality, and then put the infrastructure in place,” states Dessert. “And it had to be done in a very, very aggressive timeframe.”
A Rare Portal Partner
Through a Request for Proposal issued to a dozen outsourcing providers, GM selected Workscape, Inc., headquartered in Framingham, Massachusetts. The provider had 30 years of HR domain expertise, was North America’s leading provider of HR self-service and human-capital management portal solutions at that time and had a client corral of more than 140 major corporations (and their seven million employees).
Workscape actually deployed the portal, known as “mySocrates,” in less than 12 months. Utilizing SunONE portal architecture, it is hosted in Workscape’s application service provider (ASP) environment, a scalable framework that facilitates connectivity to multiple disparate data sources; integration with PeopleSoft and SAP systems; and network security.
It averages 200,000 page hits per hour and experienced more than one million hits in Q3 of 2002.
Len Marsico, staff director, GM Communications, recalls the initial impact of Workscape working with the massive GM organization. “They had to be able to manage scope creep from literally hundreds of people, making sure that only something meaningful was done. It’s a real balancing act on a normal basis, because of our size and breadth. But, for this project, which touched every single area of our company, it was even worse.”
Workscape also had to work with lawyers and handle the hosting agreements with at least a dozen different vendors involved in provision of content or infrastructure for the portal project.
In addition to providing syndicated news, weather and stock information, a major portal objective was to improve corporate communications to employees. GM’s Communications team now produces a daily video-on-demand program featuring GM and industry news, which Workscape then publishes within the portal.
Workscape also worked with GM on an innovative communication functionality with its 100 automobile manufacturing facilities. As Marsico explains, this is very important because the assembly plants and other facilities are shut down for renovations during changeover from building one automobile model to another.
“We wanted a way to keep those employees informed as to what’s going on with a renovation and when they need to start coming in for training on the next model,” he explains. “We wanted to keep them engaged and feeling they are a part of the GM organization.”
Workscape developed a capability for the GM Communications staff to publish from their location directly into the portal, providing Internet-accessible information about a particular facility. Marsico continues, “We need people to know what’s going on in a plant even if they are off work on medical leave. Now they can now go online to the portal from home and read all the information that’s relevant to them about their local plant.”
Quoting Dessert, “The portal represents a new way of doing business at GM.” It’s an ongoing initiative, rather than a project with a beginning and an end. In fact, they add new content and new features every two weeks. That pace won’t change, he claims. “The way we look at it here at GM, the day the portal stops changing is the day that it starts to die.”
Yet, the GM Communications and IT staff, along with HR coordinators, are mindful of not pushing too much functionality too quickly. That could cause resistance, and employee utilization of the portal is key to the initiative’s success. Dessert and Marsico acknowledge the extremely good partnership among the three internal groups to communicate effectively with employees as to what’s happening and provide instructions for people who are not computer savvy.
Looking back on the project’s initial 12 months, Marsico comments that it was not an easy project for GM or Workscape. “We were both learning along the way. Most of the time, we were in unexplored territory because no one had done this as aggressively or rolled it out at the scale we did.” He says they would not have been surprised if Workscape had said ‘forget it.’
“But we didn’t see anything like that,” Marsico remembers. “What we saw was Workscape saying, ‘We are going to do this.’ They were really determined. And of course we were determined too. We supported each other on both ends, and that’s one of the big reasons we got there as successfully as we did.”
Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:
- In a business transformation project, it is wise to select an outsourcing partner who will be flexible, innovative and responsive. The partner must work to eliminate risks.
- When an outsourcing initiative changes business processes and adds new functionalities, a key to success is to communicate with employees every step of the way as to what is happening, what to expect and how the new functionalities or improved processes will work.
- Buyers considering outsourcing a portal initiative must ensure they have the time and resources for a significant amount of upfront internal infrastructure work and data clean-up that is not the responsibility of the outsourcer.