SWC increases efficiency by over 50% with Smartsheet
With Smartsheet, South Western Communications makes its IT processes more efficient while discovering new ways to improve customer service.
"In Smartsheet, our reports show up on dashboards, which go all the way up to the executive level. Our VP of operations sits down at five o’clock every morning with a cup of coffee and can read everything that happened the day before on every project site we’re working on. It’s just invaluable to him to know what we’re doing, boots on the ground, in every location, and see potential issues well before they become big problems."
Director of IT, South Western Communications
South Western Communications (SWC) makes technology more efficient for customers in the healthcare, education, and detention industries by integrating platforms and services into a single functioning platform. To make its own operations more efficient, SWC takes the same approach, relying on Smartsheet to integrate data and processes for better insights and decision-making across its operations pillars and regional locations.
“As a company, we’re very customer-focused,” says David Tutwiler, director of IT at SWC. “Everything we do is with the goal of providing some type of core benefit to our customers — that’s the driving factor for improving our own processes. I view IT as very much a service-based industry, and my customers are internal employees. So my first initiative is to make sure that they have the technology and systems they need to do their work at the highest efficiency.”
SWC serves customers across the Southern and Central U.S., with offices in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia. Work done in the office and the field generates tremendous volumes of data that has the potential to help SWC staff improve and evolve their offerings. But integrating that data was a challenge; information existed in paper forms, Microsoft Word documents, spreadsheets, and email, often in multiple and conflicting versions, with little clear flow between offices or industry-focused teams.
The executive team at SWC wanted to aggregate that data and standardize as much of the company’s process as possible on a single platform, enabling employees to “work out of one app” instead of dividing time and attention between fragmented data stores. He began evaluating collaborative work management platforms and concluded that his best approach was to integrate solutions for specialized areas such as finance and HR through a central platform.
Starting small leads to innumerable uses
Smartsheet rose to the top of SWC’s consideration list. The platform offered a low cost of entry that could start with a small number of licenses, making it less risky to find out whether it could really do everything that his company needed. It had strong security documentation and would integrate smoothly with SWC’s use of Google communications and two-factor authentication. And it was quick to learn and easy to use, smoothing the adoption process for a distributed workforce.
“We did not anticipate how much Smartsheet would penetrate into everything we did,” Tutwiler says. “When we started, we just thought we were going to use a single sheet to track projects, that it was going to be essentially a glorified Gantt chart tool. And now we’re doing project surveys in Smartsheet, team member portals, and coronavirus communication. Our HR has requested their own workspace and dashboard.”
Today, SWC uses Smartsheet to increase operational efficiency, support data-based decision-making and strategic planning, and enable continuous improvement.
Information to power greater efficiency
Tutwiler and his colleagues have built Smartsheet solutions that automate and standardize operational processes across the company. A crucial one is a daily job report form that replaces email-based reporting for field technicians. The form requires technicians to include photos and other specific information; Data Shuttle pushes out the right information so consistent phrasing and project naming autofills when a technician starts typing.
“Now that we have all the data in front of us, that’s when you start talking about the role of information,” Tutwiler says. “In Smartsheet, our reports show up on dashboards, which go all the way up to the executive level. Our VP of operations sits down at five o’clock every morning with a cup of coffee and can read everything that happened the day before on every project site we’re working on. It’s just invaluable to him to know what we’re doing, boots on the ground, in every location, and see potential issues well before they become big problems.”
Automation is also key to project setup, as well as request tracking solutions for IT requests and customer service ticket management. SWC uses Smartsheet Control Center, a portfolio and project management solution, to create new project sheets based on standardized templates. Service requests are submitted through forms, prompting alerts when a technician or IT staffer is assigned; digital documents are automatically provisioned for signing and submission. IT security incident reporting also comes in through Smartsheet forms, triggering notifications and workflows based on the security threat and capturing data that can be used to analyze what happened and improve protection strategies.
Not only has Smartsheet saved time and effort for field technicians, it has empowered them to suggest more ways to improve processes.
“About 60% of our staff is field technicians; they install, service, and maintain systems,” Tutwiler says. “We’re always reluctant to ask them to do something else. They’re already doing a lot, in addition to being the face of our company. But we did feel that the Smartsheet solution would greatly improve their process and workflow. They’ve taken to it really well. Now those technicians feel that they’re being more efficient, and they’re empowered to request licenses and contribute to improving our processes.”
SWC uses Smartsheet IT Admin Center to handle employee license requests; Tutwiler has created a custom request form that helps him determine appropriate permissions and approvals. IT Admin Center also helps Tutwiler and his colleagues create and share WorkApps that streamline tasks for service and field technicians, as well as a vacation and PTO request handler, and are building a group structure to more effectively share the apps with the right people.
Dashboards surface rich data for better decision-making
SWC uses dashboards to aggregate information across the business. In addition to leadership dashboards, Tutwiler has created resource portals for each company branch to organize links, documents, and other important materials in a single place. A COVID-19 pandemic resource portal provides the current health status for company offices, updates on reopening tiers and guidelines for each, and travel intake forms that enable employees to track their risk and potential exposure and take appropriate actions.
“We have empowered our users to make data-driven decisions, rather than guessing,” Tutwiler says. “Having all of our information in one place allows our people, from technicians to our executive group, to look at live data before they make decisions. A side benefit has been that our team members have become more engaged in the operation process. They’re collaborating more often. They get automatic notifications when they’re needed in a project, pulling them into that process; it gives people access to anybody they need to help solve a problem.”
Efficiency gains of 50% or more
Tutwiler says that because SWC began several simultaneous efficiency programs when Smartsheet was adopted, it’s difficult to calculate just how much time and effort the platform has saved. But he estimates that it’s at least 50%, much of it due to Smartsheet. And he can prove implementing Smartsheet has eliminated 35 documents per project that needed to be completed online or on paper.
More proof of efficiency gains: As the company has increased revenue and sales, it hasn’t needed to significantly increase headcount — even as project management has been consolidated under a single coordinator per region. That streamlining is critical to the company’s goal of continually improving customer service. It also enables the company to spot issues earlier, and to discover even greater opportunities for improvement than Tutwiler and his colleagues realized.
“We ended up finding more inaccuracies in our process and reporting when we started moving to Smartsheet and integrating our data,” Tutwiler says. “Ultimately, one person was consolidating information from Excel documents and trying to align that with accounting information. With Smartsheet, we’re able to authenticate the information in front of us, make fewer mistakes, and notice areas that need improvement before they become bigger challenges to our business."