Revenue: $170 million (est.; company is private)
CIO: Ruth Harenchar
Business Colleague: Karen Bright, EVP
Working Together: Nine months
IT/Business Challenge: Unite workflow and centralize information among 70 offices and position firm for growth
Upshot: Built custom enterprise application in seven months using a partner for development
When Ruth Harenchar arrived at legal services and staffing firm Hobart West Group in April 2005, an ambitious agenda awaited her. Among four projects on deck at the Florham Park, N.J., company was the development of a completely custom enterprise application. Nothing less than the growth of the business was riding on that project.
Hobart West's 70 offices operated independently of one another when it came to IT. Each had its own database, its own staff and its own way of doing things. So if an attorney in Los Angeles wanted to arrange for a deposition in New York, staff in L.A. would contact Hobart West's New York office, explain the order and coordinate the work by phone. Both offices would track the client and the work; documents would often be mailed physically; and when it came time for billing, there was much to sort out. The new application would replace all that with a central database, electronic document storage and business rules governing everything from workflow to billing rates.
Karen Bright, executive vice president of special projects, joined Hobart West when it acquired her company in 1998. From the sidelines, she had seen two attempts at creating a centralized application fail; after the second effort was scuttled, the firm partnered with a software development firm, Washington, D.C.-based Digital Focus, to build the application from scratch. Using a rapid application development methodology that involved iterations every two weeks (18 in total), a team of about a dozen Digital Focus and Hobart West engineers and subject experts pounded out the requirements and code in seven months. Now the firm has a resource that, executives say, will save on labor costs and create competitive advantage as well as a foundation for growing into new markets and services.
Directing this project from opposite coasts (Harenchar is based in New Jersey; Bright in San Francisco), these two executives met recently at the Hobart West offices in Chicago and discussed their work.
This was first published in January 2006