Tassie NBN builder looks to Sharepoint for staff safety

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Tassie NBN builder looks to Sharepoint for staff safety

John Holland Group adopts Microsoft's latest collaboration tools.

Construction company John Holland Group is ditching Lotus Notes for the latest generation of Microsoft collaboration tools in a project that aims to take policies and procedures to its workers via a web interface.

One of Australia's largest companies, John Holland Group builds everything from roads and railway lines to mines, power stations and wharves.

The company was contracted in by TNBN Co in December to build the backhaul component of Tasmania's national broadband network rollout.

The deal - announced with fanfare by Federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy [pictured] and Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett - has continued to make headlines, but not always for the best reasons.

Like most construction deals, John Holland Group splits the work among a range of specialist sub-contractors. In the case of Tasmania's NBN, work was dished out to Russell Smith Electrical and Communications, GHD Tasmania, Hazell Bros, Nu Energy, Power and Electrical, Scott Devereaux Excavations and Com Star Systems.

Last month, contractors hired by one of these contractors, Power and Electrical, told Tasmanian newspaper The Mercury that pressure to finish the networking project to meet politicised deadlines was being applied at the expense of safety requirements. Workers reported suffering electric shocks during the optical fibre roll-out.

Late last month, Commonwealth occupational safety body Comcare announced it would investigate some of John Holland's sub-contractors over these safety concerns, whilst John Holland Group agreed with the CEPU (communications, electrical and plumbing union) to develop a new training program for its employees.

A technology solution

Months earlier, John Holland Group had noted the need to better document its policies and procedures to cope with OH&S compliance issues during high pressure projects.

"One of the difficulties any construction company faces is that in working with joint venture partners, people are on sites who haven't worked for your company before," John Holland Group CIO Les Oates told iTnews.

"Like any business, once people have worked there for five years, they know the systems and processes. But our business can be quite transient.

"The problem is getting people trained whilst there is pressure on getting projects delivered."

The company has spent the last few months documenting its policies and procedures for staff and contractors and sought a technology solution that could deliver this data to the field.

John Holland Group has been a Lotus Notes shop for the last 15 years. But as the business has "changed over time", Oates came to a conclusion that the company needs to "move to a web interface for all applications and databases."

"Although Notes can do [that], we looked at what else was available on the market," he said.

The Group surveyed what systems were in use by its joint venture and alliance partners - noting that some had reported success with Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration suite.

Oates noted a potential to be an early adopter of Microsoft's Sharepoint 2010 and Office 2010 suite to provide a solution for the training of new staff and sub-contractors.

Impressed with Microsoft's "standardisation of ribbons and seamless integration of data across all applications," Oates saw a potential for Sharepoint 2010 to be a web- front end for workers to access procedures and policies published as "process diagrams" using Visio 2010.

The company signed off on a proof of concept trial of Microsoft's Sharepoint 2010 and Visio 2010 in mid-May, and took receipt of the software on Tuesday 15 June.

Oates expects the company will be able to "use the rich Sharepoint graphic interface at the front end to drill down into Visio diagrams and documents, with version control, search and editing in place."

"The strategic approach is to use these new applications and functionality to simplify the user interface for use in training," he said.

When a staff member or contractor is hired, the safety manager on any given project can look at where that role sites in terms of business processes and "all the safety information required for that job," he said.

"Further, Sharepoint can help us reduce the amount of direct software development we do and move to an out-of-the-box configuration."

Oates expects the solution to be rolled out within the next six months, "hopefully sooner".

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