Todd Weis, award-winning tech journalist for CITEworld, recently sat down with Ken Fonzi, associate director of online information systems at Children’s Hospital Foundation to learn how the foundation’s communication and collaboration improved since adopting Igloo Software.
For years, employees at the Children’s Hospital Foundation in Washington, D.C., worked on projects together using shared drives and folders to keep track of fundraising, special events and all of the other things they did to seek donations on behalf of the Children’s National Medical Center and its mission.
But that was limiting. The foundation’s 127 workers had a hard time staying up to date on the latest status of each project because the system didn’t clearly keep information, activities and individual tasks very organized. Much of the staff collaboration had consisted of employees sharing spreadsheets via email, which meant that it was hard to work with the latest versions of the files, said Ken Fonzi, the associate director of online information systems for the foundation.
“The problem was that we needed to start collaborating, in all honesty,” Fonzi told CITEworld. “We were trying to collaborate but we didn’t have a dedicated tool set. We had shared drives, but the folder structure didn’t lend itself to the kind of dynamic environment that we are, that we need to be.”
In addition to drastically improving collaboration capabilities among employees, the foundation had another huge goal for the project — to literally double its donations from philanthropists from $45 million a year to $90 million annually to help fund the hospital’s work, said Fonzi.
“There’s no way we can do that without collaborating and working smarter as an organization,” he said. “We’re a non-profit, the fundraising arm of a non-profit whose primary mission is healthcare, to the collaboration piece at that level has not previously been a big key. That’s why we didn’t get to this before.”
SharePoint: A touch too much
The foundation could have participated in a Microsoft SharePoint implementation that was in use for the larger staff at Children’s Hospital itself, but the big, powerful application was seen as too much for the foundation’s needs, said Fonzi. Another reason to look elsewhere was that the hospital’s IT team rightly focuses most of its attention on the needs of the approximately 360,000 patients who come into the hospital each year for treatment, which can leave foundation employees wanting when they need IT help and the technical staff is busy.
The search for an answer to the problem literally began with a Google search, looking for intranets as alternatives to SharePoint, said Fonzi. “We saw Yammer, Box, Noodle and others” over a few months and ultimately found an intranet from Igloo Software which used a cloud-based product to offer improved, streamlined collaboration.
“I didn’t know what I was looking for until I found it,” said Fonzi. “We knew that it needed to support interactive dashboards, have reporting tools, and that it had to be very easy to use for users in its interface, user experience and access.”
A round of applause
The Igloo cloud-based application was brought in in May of 2012 for testing during a staff retreat, where workers were asked to sign in to the then-nascent intranet as if they were at their desks, according to Fonzi
“We actually got a round of applause from the staff for that,” when they saw how it worked and would allow them to more freely collaborate, said Fonzi. The next step was setting up some pilot users to let them explore the browser-based application and its features. “We let them go in and play with it and use it. Then we did an advisory committee of mid-level staff to provide insights on what things should be considered and how to improve things.”
In the fall of 2012, the Igoo intranet was deployed by the foundation for all of its workers, contractors and interns.
The foundation also brought in Google Apps for Non-Profits for its workers, to give them improved capabilities to share documents. Several other related pieces are also used to help bring collaboration into the cloud for the foundation, including identity management and single sign-on capabilities from Okta and digital asset management from MerlinOne, which provides an online database for the foundation’s content, from images to videos and other resources used in its fundraising campaigns.
For the foundation, the Igloo project was the first ever to live solely in the cloud, said Fonzi. Using the cloud-based service for collaboration didn’t set off any special security or privacy alarms because the foundation doesn’t maintain or deal with sensitive patient data, such as that used by the hospital itself, said Fonzi. “What enabled us to go to the cloud is that the foundation never really sees any HIPAA-sensitive information. If we were dealing with that more frequently, then we would have had a longer conversation about the cloud.”
Instead, the foundation’s documents typically include drafts of acknowledgement letters, as well as guest lists for events and fundraising. “We aren’t emailing patient charts,” he said.
So far, feedback from the staffers who have been using the service has been positive, he said. “They’re saying that it’s really great that they can go in there and see which conference rooms are available, or to be able to get an employee directory. People noticed that it’s easy to collaborate and that information is available and up-to-date. It also takes new hires much less time to actually get up to speed now. We haven’t fully reached the total collaboration stage, but we’re getting there.”
Another huge long term benefit of the new cloud-based intranet is that it is fully searchable, so users can find all kinds of information, conversations, emails and other information they seek even if it was placed there in the past, creating a wealth of institutional knowledge that is helpful, said Fonzi. Employee request forms for reports, support and more are also now on the intranet, making things more responsive and faster.
“You had people wandering around before saying they didn’t know other people or what they did,” he said. “Now they can it look up.”
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