At a glance: Volvo

The Computer Weekly/Buy IT case studies offer an in-depth analysis of a successful IT project, with expert comment from a panel....

The Computer Weekly/Buy IT case studies offer an in-depth analysis of a successful IT project, with expert comment from a panel. BuyIT was launched in 1995 by the DTI and an alliance of top industry bodies. BuyIT has selected best practice examples on a range of projects. Each case study is scrutinised by the BuyIT team of experts who make their recommendations and comments. The BuyIT Computer Weekly Best Practice Series is endorsed by Fit for the Future, a CBI-led, government-backed campaign to get business learning from business.

The Organisation:
The Volvo Cars Monitoring and Concept Center (VMCC) is a think-tank based in Southern California which tests new technologies and assesses their potential value to other companies within the Volvo Group. If these concepts are adopted by the rest of the business, the VMCC then works with production divisions in Sweden and sales offices around the world to translate the vision into practice.

The Challenge:
VMCC had identified that accessing and sharing information was a major bottleneck in projects - especially for non-technical staff not using existing product data management systems - while meetings were often spent imparting information rather than tackling and resolving issues. With offices around the world, it was also looking for tools which could support long-distance relationships for dispersed teams.

The Solution:
Centric Software's Web-based collaborative solution allows team members to store and access a wide range of project information and to access a repository of data about past projects. However, VMCC sees the Centric solution as not the only medium for communication especially as it has found that it is appropriate to use Centric to store only information which is of value to more than one person in the project team.

Secrets of success
  • See collaborative software as just one of a complementary suite of tools which can be used to help teams work more effectively

  • Be selective about what information you store in each system and which tool is used for each form of communication

  • Do not assume that the software will work straight out of the box

  • Find a software partner that can support the full mix of systems in your infrastructure

  • User expectations need to be managed carefully because some staff will see a lot of benefit immediately and some will not

  • Be aware that users' workload will increase when the system is first installed

  • Some standards for data and processes need to be imposed

  • Educate staff about collaborative software.

Source: Peter Duschinsky, director, BuyIT Best Practice Network

What the BuyIT experts say

Alistair Fulton, chairman, BuyIT, and president, Computing Services and Software Association

The Volvo case study is a good example of how a technology-aware global organisation has introduced a pragmatic solution in its move towards becoming a truly networked enterprise.

E-collaboration - working together within global companies and across supply chains - is a relatively new skill area for most organisations but one which is at the heart of exploiting the benefits of the Internet.

Making the interactive and innovative processes work in this new environment requires fundamental changes to attitudes and culture that are hard to grasp and even harder to bring about in practice. This has been identified by BuyIT members as one of the key challenges facing organisations.

The potential benefits are huge. Using the power of the Internet, it becomes possible to share key data - in this case forecasts, production information, promotional information, changes and so on - accurately, instantaneously and globally.

E-collaborators are able to share best practice; they can apply new ideas and concepts before others discover their value, and speed up the time from concept to commercial acceptance.

As Volvo has clearly recognised, the way they will develop products in the future will be radically different as a result of the introduction of

Bud Strandquest, principal consultant B2B supply chain strategy, workrooms programme director, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young

Internet-enabled collaboration is best defined in terms of its output - accelerated, higher-quality collective decision making. Used strategically, traditional barriers between enterprises are removed enabling expertise to be applied real time to decision-making across the value chain.

The challenge for the Volvo team is to rapidly extend their collaborative tools and processes beyond their firewalls. This should act as a catalyst for efforts to fundamentally improve end-to-end value chain processes. In doing so the tools become strategic, capable of delivering step change improvement.

To optimally deliver, several technology enablers need to be considered;

  • Creating a comprehensive on-line collaborative environment, aggregating more content, tools and applications and serving purposes beyond new product development

  • Networking disparate systems across collaborative enterprises so that accurate content is visible real time

  • Striking the right balance with natural ways of working and legacy collaborative technologies

  • Constructing an interface that drives rapid user adoption and reduces the need for training.

It is important to anticipate and not underestimate major human and enterprise behaviour issues. For example, while transparency of information is powerful, it is threatening.

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