Canadian Tire gets rolling with SharePoint

Canadian Tire is rolling into the Web 2.0 age through their implementation of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, a move that will drastically reduce their paper use and boost collaboration productivity.

General manager for the SharePoint platform Derek Burney from Microsoft headquarters spoke about the growing need for collaboration software. “You’re dealing with different cultures, timezones, and languages, and it makes it easier to work over these dimensions,” he said.

Canadian Tire has definitely been dealing with a dispersed workforce—there are 473 locations in Canada, each run independently. They should be better-united come early 2009, when the new SharePoint-based portal will offer them improved document management, less paper to deal with, and online bulletin boards that will provide them with local content.

Retail systems project manager Demetri Sophianopoulos from Canadian Tire called on Microsoft partner Envision to start up a SharePoint-based intranet—entitled EntireNet—to share HR policies, staff organization news, and company information within one interface.

To get that initiative off the ground, Envision president Peter Carson knew that he would have to get on-the-ground advocates right off the bat.

He said, “We didn’t want IT to own it—we wanted everyone to own it. So we trained 50 people from different business units and went from there.”

Search was important, so Envision made sure to pull in content that would allow users to find whatever they needed—especially people. Records from facilities, telecommunications, and ActiveDirectory all help the workers find what they need, he said.

To help people find things is also helped along on the back-end, said Carson, by building in set fields on the templates so that the created content becomes more easily searchable once it’s uploaded into the portal.

Combating server strain and productivity losses are some of the other pitfalls that come from collaboration “strategies” like e-mailing documents back and forth. “There’s a server strain from e-mailing all those attachments back and forth, and then you have to store all these versions on your hard drive. You don’t know which version is which,” said Burney.

Envision and Sophianopoulos crafted the SharePoint-based Open House portal to achieve better document management and get information out to the many stores in a more efficient manner, including promotional, merchandising, and customer service information. Due to the wide network of independent stores, some have taken to it more than others.

This should change next year when the more complex, mature version of the program is debuted. According to Sophianopoulos, use of the new Open House portal will be heavily advocated to get a more consistent roll-out.

One bonus that could really sell it is the near-paperless environment by the Open House application. Sophianopoulos anticipates reducing paper use by as much as 90 per cent.

Adoption will be a little challenging. “The older generation may be a little less receptive, and it could take more time,” said Carson.

Said Burney: “I’ve heard of companies where they’ve banned the wiki. When we ask why, they say, ‘Anyone can add to it!’ They didn’t grow up with that type of openness, so it can be scary.”

To help with adoption, Sophianopoulos is working with the dealer communities to make sure the design is optimal, including for the less tech-savvy. He’s already been touching base with management to pave the way ahead of time, and will eventually start communicating with the on-the-floor staff about the new portal.

These portals are here to stay, however, and could also be a key tool in attracting and retaining the younger generation, and combating the skills shortage, said Burney: “It’s a recruitment issue: we need to provide tools that they’re used to working with, whether it’s messaging or social networking.”