American Axle & Manufacturing
American Axle & Manufacturing (AAM) is a global Tier 1 Automotive and Mobility Supplier that knows about power. They are a world leader in the design, engineering, and manufacturing of automotive systems and technologies, and deeply invested in delivering quality, operational excellence, and technology leadership. AAM partnered with Rightpoint to reimagine their intranet site that serves their 20,000 associates who operate from more than 80 locations in 18 countries around the world. The project required a leap of trust since AAM decided to become one of the first enterprise organizations to launch such a comprehensive intranet on Microsoft’s Modern SharePoint platform. The gamble turned out to be worth the risk. The new intranet consistently improved readership, greatly streamlined communication, and created organization-wide recognition of the new intranet as the single source of truth and a standard of excellence worthy of AAM’s legacy.
AAM is all about delivering POWER. They literally design and build the automotive systems and technologies that move today’s vehicles, and they pride themselves on Bringing the Future Faster for a safer and more sustainable tomorrow.
To support this world-changing mission, they are also committed to empowering their associates with best-in-class tools that provide the access, content, and collaboration features needed to continue delivering excellence across all areas of the business.
This commitment was the catalyst for initiating a complete overhaul of their associate intranet site, which, at the time, didn’t have its own “brand” or naming convention. The legacy portal was built on an aging platform that was unable to keep up with today’s technology or support the expansion of AAM’s growing footprint. It was severely limited in terms of features and capabilities. Its functionality was bare-bones basic, mostly providing ineffective file storage. It did not provide any interactive features; had a very poor search function; was unable to embed non-PDF files; offered no personalization, calendar, forms, polls, or surveys; and wasn’t mobile friendly.
AAM associates still had to use the portal, but were forced to employ complicated workarounds to manipulate the system in order to complete tasks.
On the back end, portal administrators were unable to measure user engagement because there were no analytics. The entire platform was a black hole in terms of data.
Once AAM committed to the challenge of relaunching this core associate tool, the team decided to take full advantage of the opportunity. They partnered with Rightpoint to completely reimagine and relaunch it with a new strategy and design that would turbo boost the portal into a whole new era.
One of the first steps in the process was giving the new portal an identity and a brand. Tied to AAM’s culture of “Delivering POWER,” the team held a few brainstorm sessions and landed on POWERhouse. This name was fitting both for POWER and house, as it would become the “home” of all news, information, policies and events for AAM.
Next, AAM and Rightpoint addressed some big-picture questions that the team framed up based on the POWERhouse metaphor as “remodel or rebuild” and “rent or own.”
AAM knew they needed to move off their legacy platform, but before they made the jump, they needed to assess whether there was anything to salvage. There was also the matter of which type of platform to use, and — to complicate matters further — a recent acquisition was about to add over 40 new locations to the AAM roster, increasing the stakes for the new intranet.
After weighing the options, the AAM and Rightpoint team decided that the best course of action was to start more or less from scratch (no data transfer), and to build on Microsoft’s new Modern SharePoint platform.
Despite already being heavily invested in a variety of MS tools, SharePoint wasn’t on AAM’s original consideration list. There was a definite risk to be one of the first major enterprise organizations to build a mission-critical asset on the new Modern platform, but the Rightpoint team had a vision for how the platform could be used to create the perfect experience for AAM, and AAM trusted Rightpoint to steer them in the right direction. This initial decision was a pivot point in the program that ultimately influenced every other phase of design and development.
Underlying the entire project process was Spark Workspace, a Rightpoint Accelerator that delivers the right tools to craft an effective, frictionless modern digital workspace. Spark Workspace considers all the critical elements that make a digital workspace a powerful tool for getting things done:
Content and communications
Search and navigation
Social engagement and communities
Or, as Kristi Van Wormer, Director of Marketing and Brand Management at AAM puts it, “Spark Workspace is the magic that makes SharePoint not SharePoint.”
The team overlaid the Spark Workspace framework with the Rightpoint Way methodology — Frame, Shape, Create, and Iterate — to identify opportunities, develop strategies and designs, and ultimately implement the final solution.
Highlights of the project process included:
Research and Stakeholder Interviews
The team spent 2 to 3 months facilitating global, cross-functional workshops. These sessions were strongly focused on collecting all the information and insights needed to ensure the new portal would have the right pages, tools, and widgets to be truly useful to end users.
In addition to leadership stakeholders, interviews included in-depth conversations with users and page owners. In this way, the team was able to craft a 360-degree view of the possibilities that included the perspective of leadership, the people who own specific portal content (safety, engineering, etc.), and the people who ultimately access and consume that content.
“It was helpful to have Rightpoint conduct the interviews as an impartial third party,” says Kristi. “That created a space in which stakeholders were more willing to open up about their challenges with the legacy platform. This honesty helped the team accurately identify the best way to move forward.”
Functional and Aesthetic Design
The design phase included both structural wireframes and the incorporation of branded elements to bring the emerging vision to life in a way that aligned with the corporate brand standards and aesthetics while also creating a fresh, new feel that was exciting and enhanced the new intranet’s functionality. The team also played off the name POWERhouse, using a house-shaped icon as part of the new site’s logo.
Template Build and Training Support
The Rightpoint team built and loaded a core selection of key page templates, and then worked with AAM to train the internal team that would backload the content. That team carried over six months’ worth of stories and other material from the legacy intranet, and then focused on populating the new portal with current content.
Rightpoint also worked closely with the AAM team to conduct in-depth testing to ensure that all associates around the world were able to access the new POWERhouse portal, and that load times were fast and functionality was seamless.
A Whole-team Launch Strategy
The AAM marketing & communication team is a small group, but they knew it was important to make the launch a big deal.
Jumpstarting engagement right out of the gate would be critical to the short- and long-term success of the all-new POWERhouse, so they allocated resources to the launch effort at the very beginning of the project. They used those resources to reach the global team, which, at the time, was distributed across more than 90 facilities worldwide. The goal was to get the entire global workforce excited about the POWERhouse launch to encourage repeat and daily, ongoing use of the site.
The team employed a wide range of fun and clever tactics to get the word out and get associates on board. There was POWERhouse-branded promotional content and swag; in-person celebrations with door prizes, giveaways, and branded coffee drinks; announcement assets from digital graphics to Welcome Home elevator mats that played up the “new home” theme of the portal.
The marketing & communication team was also very intentional about working with Rightpoint to design a comprehensive and engaging onboarding experience to help users acclimate quickly so they could start using all the new features right away. This included first-time user pop up screens to walk associates through some of the new features such as news highlights, global policies/procedures, and event calendars.
Even beyond the initial launch, the team continues to promote POWERhouse with incentivized, themed digital ”virtual information” hunts in the portal during the organization’s annual POWERweek event.
Building on a Strong Foundation
The initial phase of the new POWERhouse intranet was the complete reimagining and rebuilding of all the key elements on Modern SharePoint. Phase two encompassed a variety of enhancements and expansions, including an overhaul of design elements, a new homepage, new video widget features, advanced search capabilities, and the first wave of personalization options.
As AAM continues to grow, POWERhouse grows with it. Rightpoint continues to be not only a resource for regular maintenance, but also a collaborative partner to the AAM marketing & communication team. Rightpoint consistently surfaces new Modern SharePoint tools and features that can add value for AAM’s associates, and AAM brings new user needs to Rightpoint so the two teams can work together on solutions.
While the legacy platform’s lack of analytics capabilities makes it impossible to quantify before-and-after results, it’s easy for the AAM team to see that associates are using the site much more consistently than before, and that usage continues to increase steadily.
The new POWERhouse has really helped to streamline communication and activity across the entire global organization by making content more centralized, accessible, updatable, and mobile friendly. From policies and procedures to travel information and new highlights, everything lives in POWERhouse. It is also the “front door” link to other sites and programs that AAM associates need access to via the Quick Links section on the homepage. Every internal action and transaction begins in POWERhouse, making it the single source of truth for all the operational content and tools that keep the AAM engine running smoothly.
And associates, whether they are users or content owners, are now more invested in the platform. Everyone on the AAM team is eager to take full advantage of all the new features.
Based on the success of the POWERhouse project, AAM and Rightpoint have begun work on another big initiative to serve another associate group.
Microsoft Modern SharePoint