John Wright, managing partner of San Antonio-based Padgett Stratemann, first learned there was a glitch in the firm's lines of communication while conducting annual employee assessments. "We consistently found that one of our weakest areas was communication," he said, explaining that lack of communication was a recurring theme in employee feedback. "The difficulty with communication is that the people being communicated to always assume that there was more to be communicated." This is generally the case when people miss a meeting due to other obligations, he explained.

Wright, who took on the role of managing partner in 2006, is happy to report that communication is no longer an issue thanks to the firm's newly remodeled intranet. He doesn't take full credit for the transformation - instead, he tips his hat to the firm's chief information officer, Richard Cole, who joined the firm in 2008. "[Cole] was one of my first hires as a managing partner. We feel like this role is one of the most important for a public accounting firm. It may sound strange coming from a public accounting firm, but we really feel like the most important department in our firm is the internal IT department," said Wright. "We placed a lot of investment in there, but under [Cole's] leadership and guidance."

 

MAKING THE SWITCH

When Cole joined the firm as CIO nearly five years ago, he spearheaded the communication element of the firm's key strategic initiatives. "When we started the communication initiative, about four years ago, we started at the simplest level of what we call e-mail fatigue," he shared. The operational team started to map out all of the ways to minimize multiple firm announcements that were clogging up employees' e-mail in-boxes throughout the day.

[IMGCAP(1)]"That is when iConnect was born," said Cole, referring to the internal term for the firm's intranet. It's not an Apple product, though -- the firm came up with the name by holding an internal branding contest during the rollout.

But before tackling the firm's intranet connection, Padgett Stratemann wanted to revamp its Web site. Two years ago, the firm restructured its site through the software development platform Drupal, which Cole said went extremely well. "We wanted to utilize the same look, feel and spirit of the Web site," expressed Cole. "If our clients like what we produced, we could probably do something similar for our employees."

Padgett Stratemann moved forward and made the switch from its old intranet platform, Microsoft's SharePoint. "It linked to documents to pretty much all of the content that an employee would need. The problem was that it was static in nature," Cole explained.

Although SharePoint had the ability to stream a wealth of information through the firm's intranet, Wright said it came up short on interactive capabilities. "We needed something that would create more flexibility for the user and for us as the content managers." Coming on the heels of its newly transformed Web site, the firm stuck with what Drupal had to offer and chose to use it to host iConnect.

 

UTILIZING THE CONNECTION

The firm describes its intranet as a "one-stop communication resource that is customizable based on each team member's role in the firm."

When Padgett Stratemann employees access iConnect, they can find a range of general information and topics. "The Today section has key announcements, birthday celebrations, employee anniversary celebrations and events that are going on that day. The other really nice feature, you see what the firm wants to communicate to you," said Cole. "On the main page are the announcements that are going on in the firm, here are some stories you might find interesting, here are some community involvement activities we recently engaged in, plus some fun events."

Team members also have the flexibility to customize what they'd like to see by bookmarking their favorite pages and create shortcuts on their navigation page.

To take things a step further, iConnect breaks down information for specific groups within the firm, so they are able to stay up to date with recent business wins, upcoming training sessions that group staff are expected to attend, and external client events that are scheduled, including conferences or value-added seminars.

One of the groups that benefits most from iConnect is the audit team, in no small part because they are a largely remote workforce, said Wright. "Audits are not done in the office and team members are not in the office on a regular basis, so they tend to miss out on regular communication that happens naturally just by being here."

According to Cole, remote employees are usually the ones who are faced with communication hurdles. To help them overcome those hurdles, the firm has tools in place that allow them to access announcements anytime throughout the day. "Having a tool that compliments that information makes it easier for them, and that is the focus of what we are trying to address," said Cole.

Padgett Stratemann has 200 or so employees to funnel all of its information to. To help get the word out, the firm has a handful of key personnel from the audit, tax and operation sides who are responsible for keeping firm announcements current.

"We are posting content up every day," said Cole. When iConnect first went live, the operational team monitored the flow and quality of the content that was being shared. "We thought, if we were going to do this, we had to make sure we had the workforce and resources allocated to make it successful. Otherwise it will become static and stale," he explained.

 

LONG-TERM COMMUNICATION

So far, Padgett Stratemann's iConnect content managers have kept everything running smoothly. The team continues to contribute fresh data into the communication portal, which is seen pretty much on every monitor throughout the firm.

The employee feedback on communication nowadays is positive, and even the clients have taken notice. "We've had partners tell me about certain clients who asked, 'How does iConnect work?''' recalled Wright, who noted that many clients would like to see the same concept implemented in their own companies.

It's a process that requires a long-term effort. "You can't resolve it all at once," Wright shared. "People need to recognize the importance of communicating with their team. They need to recognize the difference and the communication styles in both operating and receiving. ... It does not happen quickly and I wouldn't tell anybody to flip this magic switch and expect the team to be happy with their communication in the changes that are made. It's a very long-term commitment and long-term strategic focus."

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