The Internet has already transformed the workplace by making huge amounts of information available, but a few minutes spent clicking away at various search engines often results in a mass of disorganized and irrelevant data. Many companies are now looking at ways to provide customized portals that organize information so employees can find exactly what they need.
Unocal Corp., for example, has set up its own EIP, or "enterprise information portal," which is available to all employees worldwide. It organizes everything from technical documents to news feeds. "It's also very good for competitive analysis," says Allan Crawford, vice president for the El Segundo, Calif.-based independent oil company. "We have a Web page set up for each competitor showing all their financials, news, and strategies, so if I want to know what a specific company is doing, I can find out at once."
Crawford created this capability with the help of Sagemaker Inc. (www.sagemaker.com), a vendor specializing in managing the information assets of energy- related industries. "What we were looking at is being able to bring together all of the external content that we subscribe to, newsletters as well as real time news from Reuters and other sources, within one portal," says Crawford. "It's simpler to view, and it's searchable and archivable--you can go back years."
The value of the portal isn't limited to its use as an electronic magazine rack, however. Crawford thinks it can improve communications among Unocal employees around the world. "For example, we have drilling people in the U.S., Thailand, and Indonesia who will be able to share information, including best practices. It will unify remote operations."
Gelco Information Network, which provides travel-and- entertainment expense services to private industry and government agencies, is implementing a different kind of EIP. Using tools from Viador Inc. (www.viador.com), the system provides clients with decision support information regarding all aspects of their T&E expenses. Currently, that data resides in manuals, memos, and other sources, and can be hard to track down.
An ideal EIP would combine information from several types of sources: external newsletters, news feeds, and financial data; internal documents, including word processing memos, presentations, spreadsheets, and so forth; and internal financial data, usually extracted from corporate accounting systems, manufacturing systems, and decision support systems
But the industry isn't there yet, according to Guy Creese, an analyst with the Aberdeen Group, a consulting firm in Boston. "Suppliers tend to show their roots," he says. "Viador started out in structured numeric data, and that's what it does best. Sagemaker originally started out gathering news for utilities companies." Other vendors are moving into the pace, he says, and they also tend to specialize in certain forms of data.
Implementation costs for EIP vary depending on size and complexity. Gelco's system cost close to $1 million, while Unocal's was around $50,000. To keep costs down, Creese suggests an incremental approach. "Assess how people get their information today, and look at how to improve it. Get something up in three to six months. Don't bite off too much; get a small victory and then go on to another."