Of course, acceptance was not an issue for the documents library set up at the start of the initiative. "People adopted that immediately," says Holleran, who explains that previously finding documents usually meant searching manually for paper copies or trying to decipher eight-character file names on a UNIX server to find the correct file. The Web-based repository cut the search process down to a few keystrokes and a matter of seconds.
Reducing Waste and Rework
The challenge moving forward from the time the repository debuted, then, was ensuring that Agfa employees fully accepted the new process for storing new documents and updating existing documents in the system. In part, the company handled this issue by simply doing away with the old paper system for preserving documents, but Holleran's team also adopted a proactive strategy to encourage acceptance of the new system.
"We sponsored a study group, bringing people together who were performing the jobs that were going to be rolled up into this system," he explains. "And we adopted the attitude right up front that we weren't trying to replace anybody or automate anybody's job. We were trying to consolidate the information so that the individuals involved could use their skills to do something other than maintain a spreadsheet or run around looking for a piece of paper."
Increased efficiency has been a primary benefit of the new system, Holleran says. "As soon as an engineer begins the process of making a change, everybody down the line is flagged that something is happening to this particular assembly or this particular part. That causes them to evaluate their own activities and how they might be affected by that."
In addition, the couple hundred users actively working with Agfa's engineering documents through the system now include dozens of outside suppliers who access the repository through the company's extranet. Now, instead of an army of Agfa employees making copies of blueprints and putting them in overnight pouches to send out to suppliers, the company's staff can communicate with the suppliers by e-mail, and the suppliers can log into the system and instantaneously get whatever document they might need. "People don't spend hours a day at the copy machine," Holleran says.
Agfa did not attempt to track a concrete ROI on the project, but Holleran is confident that the company's estimated quarter-million dollar investment in the initiative — covering software licensing, some customization work done by Stellent, and Agfa's own staff time — quickly paid for itself.
Asked what advice he might offer to another company looking to undertake a similar project, Holleran offers this: "The attitude that we adopted about enabling people rather than trying to automate their job was vitally important. People's biggest problem was timely access to correct information, and if you can solve that problem — and I think that you can solve it for a relatively modest fee — you'll be fine."