by George Nott

CIO50 2016 #26-50: Therese Chakour-West, Stihl

Nov 24, 2016
Collaboration SoftwareSmall and Medium Business

Stihl takes its name from the company’s founder Andreas Stihl, best known as the “father of the chain saw”. Starting his venture in 1924, Andreas is responsible for patenting the world’s first petrol powered chainsaw and the first that could be operated by one person. Innovation and making work easier has been central to the company’s missive from the start, something that is continuing today thanks to Stihl Australia’s IT manager, Therese Chakour-West.

For many years, the brand was only known by farmers and professional arborists, but over the last decade it has vastly expanded its product portfolio. Thanks to its growing catalogue of brushcutters, linetrimmers, blowers, hedgetrimmers, high pressure cleaners and more, a Stihl machine can be found in garden sheds across the world.

Still privately owned by Andreas Stihl’s descendants, the company operates in more than 160 countries. Stihl Australia was the first subsidiary company established outside of Europe and today is the sixth largest in annual turnover, employing one hundred staff.

However, employees struggled to share and access company information, collaboration was severely limited and communication between departments was often non-existent.

“Disparate systems meant that content was difficult to locate, and not made available to those that needed it in a timely manner,” explains Chakour-West. “Content was duplicated and there was no ownership of the information. Business critical processes were laborious and time consuming.

“Furthermore, with staff dispersed across the country, some in different time zones, we needed a way to bring them into the fold so to speak. Our ultimate goal was to have one single source of truth, with the philosophy that it be open and transparent to all.”

Meet me in The Shed

Last year Stihl launched its new digital workplace, based on a SharePoint platform, called The Shed.

Since go-live last April, customer service representative are saving 20 minutes a day responding to product queries now all product documentation is easily accessed online. Across the business, the time saving represents 78 days a year, freeing up time to sell more product.

Frequently used forms have been converted to online forms with built in workflows and approvals, saving huge amounts of time and paper compared with manual methods.

As well as the productivity gains, The Shed has had a huge impact on the culture of the company.

As one employee put it: “It has begun to breakdown our silos and allow us to work together and not against each other.”

“Our digital workplace is now part of the Stihl vernacular,” says Chakour-West. “We are on a journey of transformation. We have people, from members of the executive team to the warehouse staff using and contributing to the system, bridging any hierarchical gaps. They are collaborating and sharing information and knowledge. It has changed our culture. It is breaking down silos. It has given our people a hunger for more.”

The first Phase of the project has been such a huge success; it is likely The Shed will be adopted by Stihl globally and offered to its 14,245 employees at 36 other subsidiaries on 6 continents and 40,000 strong dealer network.

“This is an exciting initiative that is paving the way for Stihl globally,” says Chakour-West. “It’s a new initiative not seen anywhere else in the Stihl group, so for Stihl worldwide, it’s innovative.

“Our business model is virtually the same wherever you go. Therefore if we can achieve the business results that we have to date with our Phase I release, and can have the impact we have had to date, then the potential for the rest of the business globally with 14,245 employees is leading edge,” says Chakour-West.

She says following in the footsteps of the company’s founder 90 years ago, the local team wants to ‘ease peoples work.’

“We design our products by this guiding principle; therefore the tools we provide our workforce should be no different.”

George Nott