Our customer is one of the top 10 largest Federal Government Contractors. Being so big you’d think that they would act it. But, when it comes to contracts, performance, and customer value they have found a way to act small, local and drive very tangible customer value. They are accomplishing this by creating dedicated Program Workplaces using CorasWorks on SharePoint. In this article, I’ll tell the story of one $150M contract/program and how this has become a successful model that is spreading. By the end of 2012 this approach will cover 5 contracts/programs worth more than $1 Billion dollars. And, as you’ll see, it is a story of organic innovation at the edge of the business, where the customer value is created.
Our customer won a contract worth $150 million over 5 years. The contract is for services for a program for a Civilian Agency that involves delivering on a schedule of similar yet differing “projects”. The user base is about 500 people with 200 of them being employees from our customer and the rest being customer and partner employees. Our customer believed that the best results could be achieved by enabling their employees, partners, and Agency customer participants to work together in a dedicated, seamless, program work environment.
A year ago the contract started. Our customers’ Program Manager decided to invest in their Program Workplace out of their own pocket. They deployed an extranet infrastructure based upon “vanilla” SharePoint. They then used CorasWorks to build out their Program Workplace. It took just a month to get the environment up, built and being actively used.
Now, this is not some passive intranet or a skinny extranet portal. It is a dynamic, integrated, seamless, interactive, role-based workplace for everyone involved with the mission of the program. Here is what this means:
- it is a dedicated environment for employees, partners, and customers working on the program
- it is role based – the Agency customer people have their work consoles, the functional managers have their work consoles, and the contributors have their consoles and places to go to get the work done. They are enabled to see, act and contribute from wherever they work. They see only the information and activities that they have rights to see.
- everything is there – it is a self-contained environment. All of the information, reporting, processes, collaboration that relates to the program are there.
- it is about the mission and the work – it is a workplace dedicated to delivering the projects on schedule. Effectively, the projects are managed through a structured set of stages with a final result. All of the users have their roles and participate in the work. Any supporting processes are part of the environment
- it evolves – effectively, the workplace gets better every month. They learn with each project, they make changes in their work processes and the workplace, they get better.
Each project of this program is mission critical. A project either succeeds or fails. Everyone is accountable. By having this workplace, the users share accountability. And, in the last year they have succeeded with each project.
What makes this Workplace Different from an Extranet
Most SharePoint extranets are designed and built as appendages of an Intranet. They are skinny – a place customers can go to maybe see reports and access information. What happens is that the extranet is separate from the intranet where the internal people work. Thus, the work and information environment have lots of seams (holes, gaps, barriers, cracks). Lots of information, productivity and accountability thus gets lost – it is a seamy way to work with others.
With their dedicated Program Workplace, our customer has changed the game. They designed it top down from the perspective of the whole team to accomplish the mission of the program. Thus, everyone works equally together. The result is that the work and information flow from person to person and task to task instantly and seamlessly.
Technically, the environment has more than 200 SharePoint sites. But, unlike most SharePoint environments this fact is transparent and irrelevant to the users. They do not have to navigate to the sites to see what is going on, contribute or act. The majority of the sites just store information and establish security barriers. Instead, the users see, contribute and act from their role-based consoles. The information, work to be done, and results come to them. You don’t prepare reports, you just do your work – the system takes care of the rest. It is role-based and seamless. Imagine, a workplace that makes it easy and convenient to be productive.
What is truly unique here is that this customer invested from their own budget to bring up a dedicated environment, that they own, and that has become part of their service offering for this contract. Plain and simply, it is a better solution for driving customer value and achieving contract success – breakthrough stuff.
A Cost Neutral Solution
Federal Contractors, particularly with service driven contracts, have to worry about costs – margins are tight. Initially, this contractor made the investment up front – a minor miracle. They were clear in their objective and how to get there. They had planned that they would get change requests from their users. They did. So, in addition to the normal contract task orders, the Agency customer has been issuing change requests as task orders to enhance and extend the workplace. In this first year they received more revenue in change request task orders then they had projected for the 5 year period. This revenue has enabled the original team to stay on the project to maintain and enhance the environment and has made the environment a cost neutral part of their offering.
The Solution Becomes a Business Model – Organically
This Program Workplace has been very successful. The approach is being adopted for other contracts/programs across our customer…
For instance, our customer has another contract with the same agency. They are also a user of CorasWorks but have been supporting the customer via their internal Division Intranet. The agency has now “guided” the Program Manager to move out of the Intranet and into an extranet workplace – to provide them the benefits that their other agency comrades have on the other contract. In fact, they are consolidating the workplace of that program into the infrastructure of the first program.
In a new contract with a different Agency to be awarded this year, our customer is including a CorasWorks-based Program Workplace as part of their bid. This contract will be about 3 times larger than the other two mentioned above. They intend to leverage the same Program Workplace overall design with the primary difference being the workstreams and processes.
And there is more… There are two other contracts/programs within the same customer, with different Federal Agencies, that are also following a customer-intimate, dedicated, Program Workplace model based upon CorasWorks on SharePoint. They have been running for years. The fascinating part is that until a couple of months ago these different programs and their managers did not know what the other groups were doing. CorasWorks has now connected them up.
Innovation Happening at the Edge of the Company
The miracle of it all…
This approach was not explicitly driven by Corporate or even the Divisions. It emerged at the edge of the company. This very large Federal Contractor has somehow magically created a culture that has enabled the drive towards customer intimacy on these contracts. It empowered the local program managers to truly do what is best for the customer and the mission of their contract. It delegated accountability. Now that they know about each other, they are starting to share their designs, approaches, practices, even application templates. So, without explicit corporate guidance, funds, or systems, there is an evolving common approach, to drive their customers’ success, that is driving the delivery of more than $1 Billion of business. This is pure goodness.
In our increasingly hyper-competitive world, customer intimacy that delivers exceptional results, is a (if not the) key differentiator – particularly in services based sectors. The fact that this is happening organically in a very big company, sets a new bar for competition in Federal Contracting – one that other organizations large and small should take notice of.