STAYING IN TOUCH – Far-flung employees still part of the “family”

EDMONTON - For some industries the need for a sudden and massive influx of skilled workers in a remote area is the ...
EDMONTON - For some industries the need for a sudden and massive influx of skilled workers in a remote area is the norm, not the exception. For 30 years the PTI GROUP has specialized in building, transporting and maintaining remote site services, particularly in Alberta's oil sands region. At times this involves building full-fledged "mini-cities" for up to 5,000 workers, providing everything from housing, communications, utilities and an array of other support services.

To do this, PTI relies on temporary labourers. Its employee base constantly fluctuates; at any one time the company will oversee 1,500 to 2,500 workers, most of whom are field staff working far from the seven PTI offices across Canada and the United States. Making these workers feel like a part of the PTI family was always a challenge, and the company tried to address this by issuing a quarterly employee newsletter outlining recent company developments. But five back-to-back years of rapid growth and subsequent rounds of hiring made it even more difficult to build the kind of collaborative company culture PTI wanted.

Information access was another challenge. The company prides itself on building and fostering close customer relationships, which means employees have to work efficiently and as a single unit in order to complete projects on time, on budget and that meet client specifications. With PTI's constantly fluctuating workforce, easy access to data is critical. For years PTI relied on a static shared network drive to store critical information - an aging solution that no longer met the growing company's demands.

Data consistency was another concern. PTI had no way to verify that the information people found on the shared network was the most current, nor did it have an easy way to assign information managers to keep that content up-to-date.

SOLUTION

With the help of IOMER INTERNET SOLUTIONS, PTI implemented the first phase of a new portal solution based on Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2007. SharePoint 2007 is designed to provide a single location where employees can collaborate with team members, find resources, search for corporate information and leverage business insight to make better-informed decisions. It's also designed to be easily customizable to meet specific business objectives.

However, just as important, the portal had to support the company's unique administrative processes. For example, employees regularly fill out expense forms and follow certain accounting procedures in order to submit them. Those procedures - along with other accounting and human resource policies that govern how internal documents are used and filed - also had to be supported in SharePoint. This required extensive custom development, which Iomer completed using Visual Studio 2005 development system and specialized form templates created with the InfoPath 2007 information-gathering program.

BENEFITS

The first phase of the solution is now live, and the company has scheduled a series of subsequent phased rollouts that will eventually make SharePoint the key information hub for the entire company. However, PTI is already realizing several key benefits of the SharePoint-based solution, including lower overhead costs and a new sense of corporate culture.

Because the portal was customized and refined with the help of Visual Studio 2005, it has a rich and dynamic interface that PTI staff can easily navigate, regardless of specific role or level of experience. Employees no longer spend valuable time searching for a piece of information on the shared network drive or determining if a particular document is the most current.

Providing more consistent information is another important benefit. For example, new business pitches are no longer done on an ad hoc basis. Now when team members put together a bid it's easy for them to leverage information housed on the SharePoint portal. Successful marketing documents are also archived for future use, marking another step on the road to a truly collaborative organization.

PTI has built a more effective team communications approach anchored by the new SharePoint portal. People are already taking advantage of FAQ pages as a way to encourage self-service and address their own needs. Company news and updates are also posted to the Intranet, making it easy for even the most remote employees to feel a part of the PTI culture.

In the second implementation phase, PTI will expand upon this community-building effort by adding message boards and other pages designed to host informal staff discussion.

FLEXIBLE, SCALABLE PLATFORM

The new Intranet also makes it easy for developers at Iomer to continue to add new features as PTI's needs evolve. Taking advantage of the SharePoint SDK in Visual Studio 2005 means they can quickly deliver changes and ensure they always map back to the unique demands and processes found in PTI's environment.

The PTI website is accessible at www.PTIindustries.com.

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