Hawthorn Football Club is the youngest and one of the most successful Victorian clubs to participate in the Australian Football League (AFL).  Since inception in 1902, the club has won twelve Victorian Football League and AFL premierships.  It is the only club to have won in each decade between the 1960s and 2010s. 

Geographically, the club is most active in the south and east of Victoria, but its supporters can be found right across Australia.  In 2013, club membership sat at around 63,000.  Two years later this had increased to in excess of 72,000 and the organisation is consistently among the top five crowd-drawing clubs within the league.

The quest for better document management

In early 2014, there was push from the General Manager - Finance, Tim Silvers, to find a more efficient way for Hawthorn to manage documents and communicate with staff. With Silvers as the project sponsor, Michael Nelson, Hawthorn’s IT Manager started investigating options and Melanie Fisher, Senior Manager of People and Culture was engaged as the project manager.

Although the club already had an intranet, Fisher says, “It was old and clunky, and wasn't being utilised.  The content was old and it wasn't an effective way of communicating to people across the business.  Within the past six years, we've grown significantly and now have 85 staff, so good communication is very important to us.  We wanted people to be accountable within their own department, to provide something they could use themselves for communication rather than having to go to the IT area.”

What Fisher envisaged was a communications hub for staff, one that would become home to the organisation's shared documents such as forms, manuals, policies and procedures.  A central document repository would ensure all staff had easy access to the most up-to-date, standardised forms and information, thus removing the many different versions of forms and documents saved in departmental files and drives across the club.

“A few things were highest on our agenda.  We'd done a review of our policies and procedures manuals and we wanted a way to effectively give people access to the new information.  We could see the platform would be useful for forms from a finance perspective and it would provide a way for IT to receive requests for maintenance or service,” she adds.

A combined HR and IT initiative

Together, Fisher, Nelson and Scott McGowan, IT and Facility Officer, kicked off the project.  The IT team had booked themselves onto a SharePoint course, to learn more about the capabilities of the software and to determine how it could be used to create the intranet.

Nelson says, “We'd done a lot of research and for what we use, we knew SharePoint was the best product to integrate with our mobiles, tablets, computers and servers.  We are very Microsoft oriented, especially in the administration area.”

“Initially, I wanted to get a feel for what was possible. Scott and I locked ourselves away for a couple of hours per week, went through the training and built the base infrastructure in terms of database server and SharePoint server.  But we knew we would struggle with some of our more advanced and customised requirements, so we decided to get a consultant to finish the project,” Nelson states.

After meeting with a number of consulting organisations the team selected Professional Advantage, as their intranet partner.

Fisher says, “One thing that appealed to us about Professional Advantage was the consultant was there in the initial presentations, so we always knew who we'd be dealing with.  The other plus about their offering was we didn't have to reinvent the wheel.”

Nelson adds, “Some of the other companies wanted to start the whole thing over again and deliver a fully customised solution, whereas Professional Advantage had their Intranet-in-a-Box package that was perfect for us. With their offering, they didn't need to make any server changes or modifications.”

The process

In January 2015 activity on the intranet picked up speed.   Fisher took the project lead, pulling together the business plan while Nelson worked with Professional Advantage on design and development.

A SharePoint project committee involving representatives from every department, came together to discuss needs after which Professional Advantage prepared designs for Fisher and Nelson to review. Feedback helped to evolve the designs, ensuring the end result met everyone's expectations.

Setting expectations

Fisher says, “Change management was a big part of this project.  There were meetings with the committee to get their buy-in. Having someone credible to present to them was essential.  It helped that Professional Advantage was really clear what we needed to achieve from those meetings.  They were a strong lead for the project.”

Nelson agrees. “They have the experience with SharePoint.  They've done it many times before so could give us the advice and the examples we need to guide us through.”

Within three months the project was complete and the intranet ready to go live. Training was carried out among department heads and they, in turn, trained their staff. In addition, a number of competitions were announced.

Fisher says, “We had a competition for the best profile page for individual profiles and another for the best departmental page.  People had the opportunity to win vouchers and passes, and they became really creative.  It gave them an incentive to start using the site. 

This strategy for early involvement proved to be a huge success.  “Because people became engaged right from the beginning, the intranet has really taken off.  People use it every day as a news feed. Departments are using it for their own internal communications and to communicate out to the business,” Fisher continues.

Building a sense of community

After almost six months of use, it's clear Hawthorn's intranet has helped the rapidly growing club to develop a closer sense of community.  Information is continually being shared via the news feed, so everyone is kept informed about what's happening within the business.   It's an especially valuable resource for new employees and has become a key part of the induction process.

With all information available from a central location, staff are also finding they have less emails to deal with and the reduction in email traffic has freed up space on the club's servers.

At present, the SharePoint platform is only being used for shared documents but Nelson plans to eventually bring all club documents onto the platform.   In addition to reducing the number of shared drives used within the organisation, such a move will ultimately make it easier for staff to find and share information.

Nelson says, “It's much easier to maintain files in SharePoint and we're in a good position because a lot of our employees are used to social media. They are used to having files available wherever they happen to be.  For the majority of employees, this concept is not a huge change.”

Other improvements already under way include development of a portal for Hawthorn's board members.   “Professional Advantage is helping us to build this. They are also going to work with us to get one of the department drives across to SharePoint.  This will show us how to do it, so we can gradually migrate other departments over time,” Nelson states.

Further down the track, Nelson also hopes to use the platform to automate some of the club's basic processes, such as expense claims.

“The intranet is something that we'll continue to work on.  We need to keep the momentum happening.  We'll also definitely be keeping Professional Advantage on hand. It helps to have them there to help resolve issues, to learn from and it's good just to be able to shoot through an email or pick up the phone and ask questions,” Nelson concludes.