Alabama-based data services firm uses SharePoint Online—and humor—to break down silos, promote transparency, and drive its values.

Published on July 8, 2020

Imaging Business Machines (ibml) makes scanners—scanners that are used in 80 percent of the world’s top mail rooms and can capture data with 95 percent accuracy using artificial intelligence–driven software. ibml’s systems can scan, classify documents by type, extract up to 30 fields, post extracted data to an SQL database, and decide which pocket to put a document in at the end—all at a rate of 750 pages per minute.

With headquarters and manufacturing facilities in Birmingham, Alabama, and regional offices in Konstanz, Germany, and Guildford, United Kingdom, ibml operates in 48 countries and has 226 employees, some of whom have been there for nearly two decades.

Now, after 25 years in business, the company’s leadership—and business model—are changing.

Following the transition from long time ownership by the Murphy family to a private investment firm, Martin Birch became President and CEO. With an eye on growth, operational maturity and improvement, two years later, ibml brought on Don Monistere as COO to help in this regard and transform ibml into a technology solutions provider. To date, Birch and Monistere have been an unstoppable force and the incredible team at ibml is poised for growth. As Monistere puts it, “ibml was already a high-tech solutions provider. Key members of Leadership and much of management just didn’t know it, yet.”

Hitting timeout on business as usual

Early on, Birch and Monistere discussed how best to refocus ibml on “as-a-service” offerings. But the decades-long experience that gives the company its edge also was acting as a weight holding it back from this growth.

“Martin had said that the company faced some challenges based on how it had always done things,” Monistere says. “Many of those issues could be solved by getting everyone in alignment and engaged in what we’re trying to accomplish as one team working toward one goal. When you have people off in silos, doing their own thing, that’s effort that’s wasted.”

When Monistere arrived, ibml had an intranet built on what was then IBM Connections. All the information was there—human resources (HR) forms, process and procedure documents, some company news—but the user experience was clunky and unwieldy. As a result, employees had largely stopped using the intranet.

ibml had adopted Microsoft 365 but wasn’t really using it to its full potential. For example, when Monistere arrived on the scene, people were just starting to explore what Microsoft Teams had to offer, but there was little governance or direction on how or when to create Teams sites or even whether to share documents in Teams or directly in SharePoint.

So, ibml pumped the brakes, took a beat and challenged the status quo. Monistere and the Enterprise Architecture team led by George Henry hit the timeout button to rethink how best to foster ibml’s internal communication and collaboration possibilities. After many hours of working with Enterprise Architecture, Marketing and Executive Leadership, a new strategy emerged. It was time well spent.

Refocusing the ibml technology stack

Monistere and Birch decided to focus on four closely integrated tools:

  • A customer relationship management solution
  • An accounting platform
  • SharePoint
  • Microsoft 365 for collaboration

The COO finished mapping the content in Connections and Lotus Notes to Microsoft 365 in late 2019. The process of migrating all that information to the new modern intranet based on SharePoint is underway. The new SharePoint-based intranet will be ibml’s intranet and communications hub. In fact, SharePoint has become a major part of ibml’s corporate planning.

“If someone is using SharePoint better than we are, I want to see it,” says Monistere, “because we’re making it the cornerstone of what we want to accomplish, from strategic planning sessions to executive leadership meetings. If you can access our intranet landing page, you can see everything that everyone is doing. It integrates the entire workforce so that we can break down those walls between teams.”

Intelligent intranet fosters communication and heightens transparency

Monistere designed and built the ibml intranet using a single communications site, with hyperlink connectivity to a network of Teams sites and governance for team leaders and managers on setting up and using them. This communications site home page is ibml’s one-stop shop for:

  • Clock-in.
  • The company calendar.
  • News and world clocks for ibml’s American, British, and German offices.
  • A “Kudos” section, where workers can learn about the company’s heroes of the month and celebrate the events and accomplishments of their colleagues.
  • Quick Links, a whole page of links to everything they need.
  • Help Tickets.
  • Document Library, which features all the classic strengths of SharePoint, such as versioning and file check-in and check-out, and documents in a consistent, familiar template.
  • Get Social, the company’s Facebook-like social media hub, built on Yammer, where people share family photos, sports news, and stories.
  • Departments, which provides shortcuts to all ibml’s business units. For example, the HR site provides access to payroll, HR forms, benefits information, the employee handbook, and even a suggestion box. From the Marketing site, employees can access ibml’s brand standards and marketing collateral.
  • The Annual Strategic Plan, which includes the plan itself and also quarterly reviews on executive leadership. As evidence of ibml’s dedication to transparency, these reviews open for everyone to see. Few companies would have the courage to publish such information about leadership, but ibml embraces the opportunity. Birch and Monistere want employees to see how leadership are behaving, adhering to the company’s values (or not), and working toward the corporate strategy. Monistere describes this dedication to transparency as “very uncommon, very popular.”

“We’re using [SharePoint] aggressively to communicate to everyone who’s working toward and focused on what we’re trying to accomplish.”

– Don Monistere

Communication and transparency are imperative at ibml. To ensure them, leadership and various cross functional teams now create and maintains lines of communication at multiple levels, all of which reside on the new intranet. For example, Birch pens “The Monthly,” and Monistere writes “The Weekly,” which is a huge draw for ibml’s employees. This tactical week-in-review column always includes the company’s mission, vision, and values, highlighted in the company’s colors and prominent on most pages. As Monistere says, “If we’re not adhering to our values, we’re not who we say we are.” His goal is to stress the company’s core values so widely that any employee, if asked, could instantly recite them.

Running throughout all these sites is ibml’s dedication to open communication and the emphasis on the company’s mission, vision, and goals. “Whatever the message is, if you’re not tired of saying it, you’re not saying it enough,” says Monistere.

Driving corporate strategy through Microsoft Planner

ibml’s SharePoint-based intranet is closely integrated with other Microsoft 365 apps, including Microsoft Word, Excel, and Planner. In fact, there’s a Planner page for every strategy the executive leadership team has posted to the company’s intranet. “We’re using this tool aggressively to communicate to everyone who’s working toward and focused on what we’re trying to accomplish,” says Monistere. “Our Enterprise Architecture team and specifically our VP over EA mentioned earlier George Henry has become the defacto “Teams Creator” in SharePoint to ensure that we are utilizing the toolset in the most integrated fashion and according to best practices.”

For example, if people want to read more about the company’s corporate strategy for a given year, they can do that on the intranet, then follow a link to Planner to see which tasks and milestones the company has accomplished toward its fiscal year goals. Tasks flow from those top-level strategic plans into Microsoft To Do for individual contributors, who can then act on them. This way, each person’s To Do task list is in some way linked back to the highest level of corporate strategy.

Now, [people] trust that we’ll post whatever we think they need to know. It’s one of the reasons we’ve done so well this year.”

– Don Monistere

To help employees get used to the site and use it effectively, Monistere sent out company-wide emails with links to intranet pages as they went live. From there, each installment of his “The Weekly” intranet column included a video from Microsoft’s video library, such as how to use Teams. Now, people demand

“The Weekly”; look forward to new entries on the Kudos page; and submit dad jokes, funny stories, and their kids’ successes to ibml’s modern intranet proactively.

Humor: A key to success

ibml’s modern intranet reflects the “Birch\Monistere” personality and energy. It is informative and functional but it is also a lot of fun and humor sprinkled into the intranet’s pages, which keeps people engaged with the site’s important content.

For example, tucked at the bottom of the home page is a little section called “Brint Hardy’s Dad Jokes,” which features all the groan-worthy classics we love. Hardy, a long-time solutions engineer at ibml, is responsible for such classics as “Why did Dad never trust stairs? They were always up to something.”

Another hugely popular section is “G-Russelisms,” which appears on the Get Social intranet page. ibml’s CFO is famous for such “country-isms” as “A skunk is a skunk. It’s not a cat with a stripe painted down its back.” G-Russelisms are powerful leadership tools that draw employees into the discussion and the intranet. People love sayings such as “We are burying ourselves alive to prove we can use a shovel.” In fact, they expect them—so much so, that when someone hears one, they make sure Monistere adds it to the section.

With gems like these to look forward to, who wouldn’t want to check the intranet daily?

Metrics reveal broad buy-in

Monistere uses a simple Net Promotor Score (NPS) questionnaire created in Microsoft Forms to gauge the success of ibml’s modern intranet. The form consists of two questions:

  • How are we doing?
  • How likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague?

The results have exceeded the COO’s expectations. Says Monistere, “Our goal was a five-point increase in internal NPS score. We achieved an 11-point increase in our first year.”

Monistere admits that there was a fair bit of skepticism about all the information appearing on the intranet among the workforce. “At first, all the information we were providing was viewed as a little dicey,” says Monistere. “People wondered, ‘Who is this Don guy, and why is he writing all this stuff that I don’t think I want to know?’ Then, people developed a thirst for what we were posting. They started asking for more information. Now, they trust that we’ll post whatever we think they need to know. It’s one of the reasons we’ve done so well this year.”

A modern intranet becomes the face of a company

To date, Monistere has created the entire SharePoint infrastructure at ibml and written most of the content, although he’s in the process of training Marketing department staff so that they contribute more heavily. In addition, SharePoint champions have emerged who are doing things the way Monistere does. “All of a sudden, pages and Planner lists are appearing with my name assigned to things that I didn’t create,” he laughs.

“Now that we have enough content up that people are actively using the intranet and are comfortable with the tool set, ibml will make the intranet the company home page. Everything will lead from that SharePoint landing page,” says Monistere.

ibml’s modern intranet, built on SharePoint, has become a major part of how the company communicates, runs meetings, organizes workflows, and builds and maintains its culture. Every ibml employee can see what his or her colleagues and company leadership have done and are doing to meet the company’s goals and objectives. Perhaps most importantly, ibml’s modern intranet has helped bring down siloes while the company grows and scales. Cross-functional teams are communicating and collaborating in real time, and Microsoft 365 has enabled that