To achieve its goals for growth, Towne Park needed to reevaluate how it ran its business. Employees at 400 locations across the United States used manual processes based on spreadsheets, which locked data in silos throughout the company. Towne
Park wanted to automate workflows, provide access to consolidated, accurate information, and improve communication with employees. It chose Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 to build an intranet called TownePoint, create a communication hub for remote employees,
and design business collaboration processes with efficient workflows and easy access to data stored in a new warehouse powered by Microsoft SQL Server 2008. With a companywide collaboration framework, workflows that deliver 50 percent productivity improvements,
and better business intelligence capabilities, Towne Park has transformed the way it works and built a scalable platform for growth.
When founder and Chief Executive Officer Jerry South incorporated Towne Park in 1988, the company had one client, a hotel in Annapolis, Maryland. After two decades of providing hospitality, staffing, and valet parking services for hotels, casinos, special
events, hospitals, and medical centers, today more than 400 properties across the United States entrust Towne Park with their most valuable assets—their guests and patients. The company builds its business on providing quality service that helps customers
improve their patient and guest satisfaction scores. This, together with a series of strategic acquisitions, fueled the company’s steady growth.
By 2009, Towne Park management realized it needed to reevaluate how its employees used technology to conduct business. “The way we had been running the business—by using email, spreadsheets, and documents—no longer worked,” says Sonny Taragin, Executive Vice
President of Information Technology at Towne Park. “When I joined the company two and a half years ago, my first task was to develop a strategy to help Towne Park transition from manual to digital business processes.”
||Towne Park continues to grow at a rapid pace. There was no doubt in our minds that we needed Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 to expand our business. It’s our platform for growth.
Executive Vice President of Information Technology, Towne Park
It was a daunting prospect. The company had more than 27,000 data points contained in several thousand Microsoft Excel spreadsheets (many of them linked) and thousands of documents stored in a complex shared folder structure that was, according to Taragin,
“bursting at the seams.” Towne Park had to find the right technology to automate manual business processes and to help employees transition from a corporate culture that used email as the primary workflow tool. It was essential to introduce communication and
collaboration tools that staff would readily adopt.
Reduced Employee Productivity
While manual processes had worked initially, over time they began to result in decreased employee productivity. For one business process—the submission of daily revenue reports to headquarters— account managers at every location manually entered data in spreadsheets,
which could take up to four hours for the busier sites. Similarly, to set up a new customer, it took five days of routing documents, phoning, and emailing. There were many other distributed workflows: for processing accident claims, for developing budgets,
and for updating demographic data from the field.
“After a recent acquisition, it was a challenge to integrate employees into our systems,” says Malcolm Palin, Director of Business Information Systems at Towne Park. “Most people are used to a more up-to-date way of collaborating and managing data.”
Difficult Access to Business Data
With corporate information dispersed among spreadsheets and file shares distributed throughout the company’s 400 sites across the United States, it was difficult for management to make business decisions based on sound data.
“Our account managers submit a revenue report every day: 400 revenue reports submitted 365 days year is 146,000 spreadsheets,” says Taragin. “Imagine the difficulty for executives to extract any meaningful analytical data. That was just revenue reports;
every week they would submit budgets and forecasting spreadsheets. If our operations, legal, finance, and sales folks wanted to tie this data together for business intelligence, it was a huge challenge. We couldn’t count on the consistency of the data: if
a district manager updated information about a site in his or her spreadsheet, we never knew if that change was propagated throughout all our systems.”
Inefficient Corporate Communications
Towne Park wanted a way to disseminate information from the main office to foster a corporate culture and identity. Employees who are paid by the hour, called associates, account for 90 percent of the total workforce, but their turnover is high. The company
does not assign them a corporate email account or an account in its Active Directory Domain Services (the directory service that is an integral feature of the Windows operating system). Consequently, the account manager had to keep track of the associates’
personal email accounts and phone numbers and communicate with them individually. “Account managers funneled information and HR documents from the main office through to the associates,” says Palin. “This took time away from their busy days managing local
Towne Park needed to build a scalable communication and collaboration platform and centrally manage its data to carry the business forward. “We wanted an all-encompassing solution: not just document management, not just business intelligence, not just workflow
automation, or a new intranet and extranet. It was a tall order for a single solution, but we were determined to deploy the technology that matched our needs.”
Towne Park found the solution it wanted in Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. The company immediately saw the value of this integrated suite of server capabilities that it can use to improve organizational effectiveness by facilitating workflow automation,
business intelligence, collaborative sites, and corporate communications.
||The way we had been running the business—by using email, spreadsheets, and documents—no longer worked.
Executive Vice President of Information Technology, Towne Park
“SharePoint Server 2010 offered the broad base of capabilities that we needed,” says Taragin. “IBM, SAP, and Oracle were more expensive and didn’t have the combination of abilities that we found with the Microsoft solution.”
Taragin and his team planned a three-phased approach to implementing the solution, using SharePoint Server 2010 together with Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 data management software and Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services. With these products, the company
can collect and disseminate the data that is required to support the newly-automated SharePoint workflows and applications that will make it available for executives’ business insight.
“First, the data team will scrub all the data in the spreadsheets and documents in our environment,” says Palin. “Second, we’ll migrate that data into data warehouses and build a middle layer, which is mostly stored procedures that will be used for the last
phase, which is adding the SharePoint applications.”
Towne Park is calling these SharePoint Server 2010–based applications TowneApps. They will be used to automate business processes and will reside on the company’s rapidly expanding SharePoint Server 2010–based intranet, called TownePoint. The first TowneApp,
called LocationApp, is where account managers track and update all customer, contractual, and demographic information about each Towne Park location, making data available for executives to create reports. It went live in November 2011. At the same time, Towne
Park launched MyTownePoint, a communications hub for its nearly 7,000 associates, 400 account managers, and 25 district managers in the field.
Towne Park engaged RDA, a member of the Microsoft Partner Network with four Gold and four Silver competencies and a Microsoft National System Integrator Partner, to help with these IT projects. For LocationApp, the teams used SQL Server 2008 to create a
data warehouse to support the migration of data from the account managers’ spreadsheets. “We are using Microsoft Business Connectivity Services to connect with the data warehouse, and we developed our own Microsoft ASP.NET interface to write records to multiple
tables simultaneously,” says Palin. “SQL Server Reporting Services sits on top of our data warehouse. All you have to do is click on a report in the Reporting Center to launch a SQL Server Reporting Services web instance and view the reports. We will be building
more sophisticated dashboards later.”
RDA also helped Palin and his team with MyTownePoint, another SharePoint Server 2010–based project that went live last year. The company built an extranet portal for the associates so that they can log on to the site using their personal email accounts.
Currently, Towne Park is working with RDA to launch other TowneApps in 2012. Each will replace manual processes with intelligent, automated workflows to boost productivity. The teams used out-of-the-box workflows for common tasks such as approvals and reviews
and used Microsoft SharePoint Designer and Microsoft InfoPath 2010 information gathering program for more complex, forms-based workflows.
Towne Park is taking advantage of the close interoperability between SharePoint Server 2010 and Exchange Server 2010 to create workflow alerts that show up at requisite stages in employees’ inboxes in the Microsoft Outlook messaging and collaboration client.
Employees just need to click on the message to get to the appropriate SharePoint site where they can go to a My Task section and click on their My Pending Forms to see their tasks in the workflow. The next TowneApp, called ClaimsApp, will launch in April 2012,
followed by RevenueApp in December 2012.
During 2012, the data team will continue to evaluate, scrub, and migrate data from Excel spreadsheets to the data warehouse. Each TowneApp will connect to this data source for information through Business Connectivity Services. Further ahead, the company
plans to automate its budgeting and forecasting processes. “As we work to decommission old manual processes, SharePoint Server will be the center of everything,” says Palin. “We’ll be replacing all back-office systems as they exist today, except for our Microsoft
Dynamics GP 2010 general ledger solution. RDA has been invaluable and continues to work with us: we are very comfortable with their expertise and they are a core part of our technical team.”
Towne Park is using SharePoint Server 2010 as a foundational technology to support an almost complete transformation of the way it does business. “Towne Park continues to grow at a rapid pace,” says Taragin. “There was no doubt in our minds that we needed Microsoft
SharePoint Server 2010 to expand our business. It’s our platform for growth.”
Improved Business Insight
By using its Microsoft solution to extend the reach of corporate data and improve business processes, Towne Park can begin to reap the benefits of its knowledge stores. As the IT team decommissions spreadsheets and enters the information into the data warehouse
where it is kept up to date and consistent, executives can use it to make better business decisions.
||Now we can consolidate information from 400 locations and ask questions like ‘What is the average parking rate for hospitality sites in the Southwest region?’ We never had that capability before.”
Director of Business Information Systems, Towne Park
“The legal, operational, financial, and executive staffs at corporate headquarters are already using the data from LocationApp to gain valuable business insight,” says Palin. “Being able to access all the site demographic information in one place is huge.
Now we can consolidate information from 400 locations and ask questions like ‘What is the average parking rate for hospitality sites in the Southwest region?’ We never had that capability before.”
Expedited Business Processes
Towne Park has automated several significant business processes within LocationApp. Today, when an account manager wants to update the information about a particular site, instead of making the change in a spreadsheet and hoping that it promulgates throughout
the company, he or she simply initiates a change workflow in LocationApp that alerts the staff in operations support and other departments to make sure the records are updated everywhere.
“With LocationApp, setting up a site is 50 percent faster,” says Taragin. “Our contracts, sales, legal, and financial teams all know exactly what they are supposed to do and when, because everything is consolidated into a single workflow. It has probably more
than halved the time it takes to get the review process underway for new sites. The process to assign an account number, which marks the official opening of a new site, has gone from five days to three.”
Similarly, Towne Park has automated the hiring processes within TownePoint. This has a significant impact on employee productivity, considering that the company hires thousands of associates a year for its valet parking services. “The process for hiring was
email-driven and could take up to 10 days,” says Taragin. “With SharePoint workflows, it’s down to two, so that’s 80 percent faster.”
Towne Park is looking forward to automating the manual process that staff followed if someone made an insurance claim for a car that had been damaged at a customer site. When ClaimsApp is released (expected in April 2012) Taragin anticipates that the new workflow
will have a significant impact in time and labor savings. “When we add the RevenueApp (expected in December 2012), our account managers will be saving many hours a day not filling out those spreadsheets and our financial people won’t be wasting time with phone
calls trying to verify data,” says Taragin.
Increased Employee Satisfaction
Given the familiar, graphical user interface that SharePoint sites offer, Towne Park is not surprised that employees are happy to retire their spreadsheets and use the new workflows. The company also anticipates that it will be easier to integrate new employees
following business acquisitions. “We have replaced some very complex spreadsheets with forms and fields that are much easier to use,” says Palin. “The solution was embraced by the company because there was a common understanding that using manual processes
was not sustainable. Now that we are replacing them with a more up-to-date solution, we’ve had nothing but positive feedback. That’s unusual for such a big change.”
Although the company has introduced technology that is new to employees, Taragin believes that things will be easier for the IT staff. “We can transfer responsibility for new SharePoint applications so that power users can build collaboration sites and workflows
to establish their department’s environment without the need for IT staff. We want employees to be as self-efficient as possible because it increases workplace satisfaction. By using SharePoint Server, we can achieve that vision.”
Improved Corporate Communications
Since Towne Park launched MyTownePoint, the company has opened up an important line of communications between its dispersed employees. Now Towne Park can send corporate information to employees in the field without having to invest in bringing a highly transient
workforce into its email and corporate network. Associates can access HR forms without going through the account managers, which saves a lot of time. “We use MyTownePoint as a communications hub for the whole company, and we can use SharePoint site functionality
to target content for different types of employees—associates, account managers, district managers—without writing code,” says Palin.
Better Business Agility
Opening up the lines of communication, streamlining workflows, easily accessing valuable corporate data—these capabilities increase business agility for Towne Park. “Using Microsoft technology to get things done faster and more efficiently means that we can
respond to customers and to market opportunities better,” says Taragin. “The ability to add new accounts, track data, and come up with new information adds up to a more cohesive, agile organization. Towne Park is using SharePoint Server 2010 to make it all
Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010
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