by Rodney Gedda

John Holland streamlines projects with integrated portal

Jun 03, 2010
Development ApproachesE-commerce ServicesInnovation

Engineering giant, John Holland, has embarked on a unified enterprise application portal that is set to revolutionise the way it manages business processes and projects. From a business point of view, John Holland is a multidisciplined construction company that has many joint ventures and alliances, said CIO, Les Oats.

The complex environment continuously posed challenges to implementing business solutions for projects as information was not managed centrally. To overcome this, the company decided to move towards a Web interface, selecting Microsoft’s SharePoint as a Web front-end for all John Holland’s applications.

“And from that point it was put forward that we would use Microsoft Visio for process management and integrate it with the information management system for policies and procedures,” Oats said, adding the approach would make the core applications accessible from the same Web front-end.

Staff can use the new system to ‘drill down’ to business processes, including the project’s policies, and from there use Visio to launch an application or Web form to do their work.

“It was a bigger picture than just using Visio for process flow diagrams,” Oats said. “It is about full integration from the front end to the business process to the application itself.”

John Holland has about 6500 employees with more than 120 projects under development.

Oats is a 20-year veteran of the company and manages an IT team of just over 50 people. The strategy to move from rich clients to the Web for all IT users started 18 months ago and the term JEMS — John Holland Enterprise Management System — was coined to set the project’s direction.

“At the moment we are a big user of Lotus Notes for procedures and policies and we have Word documents without business processes. When new users start on projects that run from six to 18 months, they have to follow the procedures and it can be difficult to find out what to do,” Oats said. “It’s a better user interface and people will be able to find things more.”

New users with a specific role can use JEMS to look into SharePoint to the business process and then to the application.

Oats said the other significant benefit of the new system is when the company does joint ventures and alliances.

“When there is more than one party involved, and they have to bring policies and procedures, this allows them to copy them and use it for a specific project.”

Self-service is also greatly improved as non-technical staff can create a new image for policies and procedures without having to “reinvent the wheel” and without IT involvement.

“We want to use this for all policies and procedures, not the standalone ones in Lotus Notes, so it is a long-term roadmap,” Oats said.

JEMS has been a pilot project for about three months, limited to within the IT systems group, but Oats intends to roll it out company wide to a potential user base of 5000 people.

“Just about everybody who has a PC will get it,” Oats said. “And they won’t need a Notes client when going to remote construction sites.”

The project is still waiting final sign-off from the group, but Oats is confident it will go live in June as it has already been a “significant win” for those trialling it. “We have had Visio as a standalone product for a number of years so there shouldn’t be any training needed,” he said. “We will set up key users as ‘champions’ who will have the ability to configure Visio for the processes being developed.”

Oats said the ROI for the project is not about hard cost savings, but more about streamlining business processes and liberating IT resources.

“I don’t tend to put dollars on these things as often you save time and money elsewhere,” Oats said. “For example, we will move from IT having to develop processes to end users developing processes, which frees up our time and gives the end user more flexibility.”

With transactional systems running on Oracle and the non-transactional systems on Lotus Notes, the long-term vision for JEMS is to amalgamate all of John Holland’s non-transactional information systems over a period of five years.

The non-transactional applications include everything from tenders through to the delivery of a project and project history. It includes quality assurance, safety and contracts management. SharePoint itself was rolled out in February this year and business intelligence will go live in May.

“The first thing we had to do was get everyone trained. Now we are looking at processes and methodology and our core systems like content management and access control systems,” Oats said. “We expect to roll out applications quickly.”

Other applications that can be hosted by JEMS include financial management, project management and asset management. John Holland will buy some software and will design and develop others in-house.

“I’m a firm believer the business should get what it needs,” Oats said. “This will really allow the business to engage.”

JEMS at a glance

John Holland Enterprise Management System, or JEMS, is a radical change in the way the company manages its information.

  • Distributed client systems and office documents to move into integrated process management and an application portal for 5000 staff
  • Lotus Notes and other non-transactional apps to be retired in favour of a SharePoint portal over five years
  • JEMS can include financial management, project management and asset management apps
  • ROI not about a hard cost savings, but streamlining business processes and liberating IT resources
  • Non-technical staff can create policies and procedures without duplication or IT involvement
  • Process management (Visio) integrated with information management systems