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Best practice Award, September 2002, Extranet pays off for EMC and its customers

This article appears in the issue September 2002 [Volume 11, Issue 8]


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By Judith Lamont

With nearly 40% of the combined storage area network (SAN) and network-attached storage (NAS) market, EMC Corporation is a market leader in information storage systems. Its major customers include the world’s largest banks and financial services firms, manufacturers, telecommunications providers, airlines and government agencies. An extranet application that delivers content derived from sources throughout the enterprise has substantially improved customer service, efficiency and cost-effectiveness for EMC.

Recognizing that its close working relationship with its customers and partners was key to its success, EMC developed and launched a secure extranet called Powerlink to enhance that relationship. Powerlink was designed as a single branded entry point that could provide personalized services to different user accounts (currently numbering about 90,000). For the first time, EMC had a centralized source of content that served both internal and external users. Cost savings accrue from self-service activities, electronic distribution of materials and collaboration among employees, customers and partners on a real-time basis.

In the past, the company had multiple Web sites for sales, service, customers and partners, but that approach was inefficient. Users had to switch from one EMC site to another for different functions such as partner collaboration or customer service interactions, and content management was often duplicated between the sites. Moreover, some users fit into more than one category—if a company was both a customer and a partner, for example, access became a problem.

“We recognized that our old system and methods were not keeping up with our needs,” says Paul Brassil, senior manager of e-business architecture and development at EMC.

The new system required a serious team effort to reach completion within the target timeframe. Development was begun in early 2001, and Powerlink was launched in May of that year. EMC selected Documentum to provide content management through its 4i ECM platform, and Technology Services Group , (TSG) as the integrator. TSG also handled the integration of Autonomy, which provides search and retrieval functions for Powerlink. Additional components of Powerlink were EMC’s own hardware and software products, used for storing, protecting, moving and managing Powerlink’s information, and a personalization product from ATG.

“Scalability was a key issue for Powerlink,” says Grego Kosinski, senior product marketing manager for Documentum, “and the Documentum Enterprise Content Management platform has a well-established performance record.”

Scalability is important from two perspectives—first, the ability to manage many content objects from a variety of sources such as engineering, customer service and marketing departments, and second, to serve up those objects to many users. Since they are closely tied to Web application servers, Documentum’s content management products can deliver content quickly and can be targeted to meet individual needs throughout an enterprise. Powerlink uses Documentum’s eContent Server to automate life cycle management of documents across all phases of delivery, including testing, staging, approval and deployment.

Ease of use for content developers was also a critical element, because EMC wanted a rich Web site with content originating throughout the enterprise.

We have seen other Web sites where people struggle with complex publishing tools,” says Dave Giordano, president of TSG. “The Powerlink team developed a custom contributor user interface (CCUI) that is tailored to allow users be productive with minimal training.” Marketing teams in EMC identify customer needs and seek resources that will be useful, and are able to add that content to Powerlink.

The personalization capability is provided by ATG, which offers e-business solutions that support relationships with customers, partners and employees. Built on a J2EE-compliant framework, ATG’s relationship management suite, which includes the Dynamo Application Server, Personalization and Scenarios products, integrates readily with back-end and front-end systems. Advanced caching capabilities beyond those covered by J2EE standards were developed to further improve performance.

Powerlink users are assigned membership in communities that reflect their relationships with EMC; over 150 communities currently operate on the site. An individual user would generally participate in one to seven communities. In addition to targeted content and features available within a community, users also have access to e-services features that can be personalized at the user level. Typical e-services include starting a customer service ticket, searching the knowledgebase or downloading software updates. Since Powerlink went live in May 2001, self-service transactions have doubled each month, and savings from such transactions account for a substantial portion of EMC’s ROI on Powerlink.

Systems administrator Kelvin Menzel has been using Powerlink for technical support on EMC’s systems, which manage data for the City of Phoenix. “It’s convenient to be able to open up a ticket online for a question or a configuration issue,” says Menzel, "and saves time that might otherwise be spent playing phone tag." The tickets he has entered are added to the knowledgebase once they are answered. “With the information available centrally through Powerlink,” says Menzel, “I don’t have to record detailed notes about the solutions.”

Tushar Sharma, a systems architect with Nextel , has used Powerlink to obtain documentation, create cases and search the knowledgebase. “The knowledgebase is quite extensive,” he says. “I have been able to do most of my problem solving using it.” Nextel is using EMC’s products for primary storage.

Another top priority for EMC was e-learning. The company was at capacity for training its own employees and did not have the resources to provide classroom training outside the enterprise.

Brad Johnson, director of e-learning, reports, “We hoped that customers and partners would react well to the availability of online courseware, but no one expected the level of response we actually got—10,000 signed on in the first six months of this year.” In several cases, says Johnson, it was clear that a mandate had gone out for entire companies to take the course. Online courses are being used to “train the trainer” to increase the pool of instructors for blended learning situations when a combination of online and classroom training is the best solution.

E-learning through Powerlink also serves as a gateway for EMC’s global audience. Recently the company had an online training event for 17 people from 11 different countries, and participants were enthusiastic. An e-learning development tool called gForce (gforce.com) is being used to create short courses that are translated into local languages within a day; those have also been successful. EMC is ahead of the curve relative to most enterprises in its plans to repurpose and share learning objects from the extended enterprise, such as core intelligence from the engineering department. With an ever-shortening product life cycle, accelerating the training process becomes an important part of achieving corporate goals.

“If we can reduce the time to competency for employees, customers and partners,” maintains Johnson, “the benefits will be immense.”

Powerlink integrates with numerous enterprise systems to make all the information work together, and that is where effective teamwork played a pivotal role. Among the applications that tie in are Amdocs Clarify’s call ticketing application, Primus’ Answer Engine, Saba Learning from Saba Software and a configurator that allows prospective customers to look at combinations of products that will work with their existing software and storage. Developers from TSG, ATG and EMC’s IT departments coordinated their efforts to integrate the enterprise applications into Powerlink.

But EMC took care not to focus all its efforts on technology. “No matter how proficient the software professionals were,” says Brassil, “the development process and outcome would not have been successful without knowledgeable input from the business side.”

The development team included approximately 50 individuals who reflected the needs of engineering, marketing, field groups, manufacturing and others. That cross-functional team combined strategy, technology and business acumen to produce Powerlink.

Says Brassil, “Our surveys and usage analyses confirm that the users are getting the right information when they need it."

Judith Lamont is a research analyst with Zentek Corp., e-mail jlamont@sprintmail.com.


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