Sifting through emails, digging through documents and asking colleagues about their progress on projects are cumbersome tasks that can consume excessive time for any organization.
Two credit unions said they’ve recently eliminated these day-to-day annoyances and transitioned into a more collaborative, transparent work environment with help from a tool provided by Internet technology company Smartsheet.com in Bellevue, Wash.
Smartsheet, an online project management tool that brings employees’ tasks, emails and files into a single, interactive platform, was launched seven years ago by a group of Internet software professionals, including Brent Frei, co-founder and chairman for Smartsheet.
Frei said Smartsheet founders realized their industry lacked a product that exemplified the idea of fundamental work tracking.
“Ultimately, people use spreadsheets, and they use them for everything,” Frei said. “But they’re not set up to give you alerts and they don’t roll into one view across the enterprise. So we thought, if we take the spreadsheet interface and integrate it with the characteristics people need, theoretically, we have a killer app.”
The tool resembles an Excel spreadsheet and allows users to assign and view the progress of tasks, share files, create alerts and reminders, run reports and follow comment threads. Multiple departments within an organization, from IT to human resources, can utilize Smartsheet for projects ranging from conferences to expense reports, according to Frei.
While many types of industries have taken advantage of the tool, Frei said it’s an especially good fit for credit unions and other financial institutions as they tend to use more spreadsheets. For example, during audits, credit unions can use Smartsheet to import and organize all of their compliance documents, update them in real time and share them with auditors, he said.
“Credit unions are always looking at how they can do things better,” Frei said. “Competition is ferocious and efficiency is a big deal, and they’re hungry for that. Credit unions also have an increased interest in internal collaboration. Operational coordination is a priority.”
Smartsheet begins charging clients after they’ve completed a 30-day trial. Prices are determined according to an organization’s number of licensed users. Because of the collaborative nature of the tool, individuals outside of that licensed user pool such as vendors and remote employees end up utilizing it as well, according to the company.
The $86.4 million Motion Federal Credit Union in Linden, N.J., began using Smartsheet about two years ago after Arp Trivedi, the credit union’s manager of administration, discovered it through the Google apps marketplace. Trivedi said he was seeking a tool that would help Motion manage several projects, including the opening of a new branch. The credit union used Smartsheet to track every task from contractor negotiations to legal duties.
Trivedi said Motion has also used to the tool to manage a new phone system launch and marketing campaign, and plans to incorporate it into a due diligence project and organization-wide business plan in the near future.
“The big draw was the democracy of it all,” Trivedi said. “It’s available to everyone at the click of a button, and that’s what makes it compelling. It puts things in perspective and provides a red light, green light system.”
He added that Smartsheet allows the credit union to easily access historical project information, such as original notes about expectations and timelines. In terms of return on investment, Trivedi said Motion has saved significantly due to the time and effort the credit union eliminates on a day-to-day basis.
“Just considering the time we would have spent looking at documents and going through emails, we’re not chasing the same paper or conversation around the block,” Trivedi said. “We’re taking strategic planning and turning it into strategic execution and outcome.”
The $1 billion Eli Lilly Federal Credit Union in Indianapolis, Ind., has also reaped benefits from Smartsheet. It is currently using the tool in its marketing department, but expects it to soon spread to other departments, said Michelle Payne, communications and education manager for Eli Lilly.
With almost two years of Smartsheet use under their belts, Eli Lilly’s marketing employees now incorporate the tool into every assignment they touch, such as promotional campaigns and events. Payne said it helps the department to operate in a lean manner, improve workflow and efficiency, and increase communication.
Eli Lilly’s marketing department also uses Smartsheet to archive old versions of documents and create marketing request forms for other credit union departments, Payne said.
From a cost savings perspective, Smartsheet fills the role of a marketing coordinator for the credit union. According to Payne, in a single year, Eli Lilly spends approximately $1,000 on Smartsheet, which is far less than an employee’s salary.
Both credit unions noted that their use of Smartsheet has led to somewhat of a culture shift in their offices. Instead of seeing employees work independently and privately, they’ve noticed an atmosphere that breeds team building and a better understanding of each person’s role in the credit union’s big picture goals.
“Everyone is working from the same page, so they know what we’re working on as a team,” Payne said. “We can record our comments and discussions, keep an archive of history, and see what our colleagues are doing and how it all fits together. It also creates a healthy accountability; we feel a responsibility to keep on track.”
Trivedi said while the public display of employee actions can create some angst in the workplace, in the end, the accountability increase leads to more tasks getting done.
“For those who are lagging behind, they start feeling a peer pressure to catch up.”