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Web Business 50 Awards - Profiles in Customer Service

Web Business 50 Awards - Profiles in Customer Service

Developing a successful intranet was Ford's first move on the road to e-commerce. When Ford's former CIO Jim Yost took the first steps toward creating a new intranet called My-ford.com, he had the full support and encouragement of former CEO Jacques Nasser. That support was crucial in shaping the company's internal website. Today, the site supports more than 175,000 employees who visit more than 500,000 times a day for anything from checking their benefits to getting the latest competitive information or signing up for company-run training classes. "The portal would not have happened without senior management support," says Martin Davis, program manager for what Ford calls its ePortal project.

Ford's intranet began as a way to give employees a personalised online environment and grew into an enterprisewide strategy to replace disparate desktop applications with standardised Web programs and access. The company has come a long way since it first provided an intranet to employees in 1996. "That was really just access to a search engine," Davis says.

The IT department started to revamp the site in 1999 when Nasser embarked on a business-to-employee initiative designed to bring every Ford staffer into the digital age. Nasser emphasised the importance of integrating Web capabilities into each of the company's business units in meetings and in Let's Chat, his weekly e-mail to every Ford employee. He also added e-commerce-related positions to all departments. Davis says Nasser wanted to create a corporate culture that embraced e-commerce.

"He didn't want to just spawn millions of websites, he wanted to have a rational approach to e-business," says Bipin Patel, director of management systems at Ford.

With Nasser's encouragement, Yost created the ePortal plan, which aimed to cut costs and increase efficiency by putting learning and collaboration tools online, and giving employees desktop access to HR and job-related information. Considering the large scope of the project -- the new intranet needed to reach almost 200,000 people at 950 locations worldwide -- funding and resources to support a network of that scale were imperative. Nasser made sure Yost had all the funding he needed, a move that entailed a big leap of faith, Davis says, because any return on the cost of the project was extremely difficult to measure in terms of tangible dollar savings.

"With a project like this, it's easy to demonstrate savings through an increase in efficiency, but it's very hard to translate that to ROI," he says. "They had the vision to see how the intranet would benefit the company."

The result was the May 2001 launch of Myford.com. The site gives Ford staff access to personal information, links to benefits and HR forms, demographics, salary history and general company news. In addition, each business unit posts employee-specific job information. For example, a project manager in the engineering division can access engineering project information through his view of the intranet page.

"We wanted to help people increase their business acumen by being able to read about company performance and what's new with the business, because that will help them make more informed decisions," Davis says.

Before the intranet launched, employees got information through time-consuming, paper-based manual processes, Davis says. Now, Ford employees can personalise their view of the intranet homepage by selecting what they want to see on the page and prioritising the links they use most. Sensitive information can be shielded. Managers can view financial data on company performance, while other employees can access only general performance information.

The portal has saved Ford millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours by putting applications and documents at employee's fingertips, Davis says. Future plans call for deploying Microsoft Net-Meeting and eRoom applications. Under current CIO Marv Adams, Patel and Davis are looking at creating business unit-specific portals within the central infrastructure.

For Ford, the intranet is not just a tool for employees to manage their benefits efficiently, it's a foundation for the company to become a digital business. In order for Ford to run a successful e-business with customers, suppliers and partners, its employees first had to be adept at using e-business technologies themselves, Davis says. "You're not properly doing e-business unless you're doing it inside the company as well," he says. "It starts on the inside."

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