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The smart enterprise suite - Gateway to the KM vision

By Judith Lamont, KMWorld senior writer

The smart enterprise suite (SES) is a relatively new category of software, defined by Gartner two years ago. It is comprised of an integrated set of software solutions, including content management, collaboration and business process management (BPM) in a portal framework. Few vendors have integrated all of the components into a seamless product, but many are scrambling to acquire the pieces either through acquisition or internal development. At stake is the ability to address the full range of customers' needs for business services.

Customers are interested in the smart enterprise suite because it can bring a measure of simplicity to both the IT department and the business side of a company. For one thing, using an SES reduces the number of vendors the organization must deal with, and potentially licensing and maintenance fees as well. Perhaps more importantly, the SES by definition is integrated already, reducing the burden on IT and improving the collective performance of the components.

In today's services-oriented software environment, integration is often being achieved through the loose coupling of applications via Web services rather than by the use of APIs or middleware. That approach allows customers to phase in the different components of an SES, a useful option because most user organizations already have one or more of the software solutions represented in the SES. Whether those organizations migrate to a unified solution or take the best-of-bred approach remains to be seen.

Syncrude Canada, a large oil producer in Canada, sought opportunities for using the Internet to support its business activities in the late 1990s and had successfully developed more than 20 departmental intranets. However, the company recognized that this approach produced inconsistent intranet environments and limited the use of information across departments. Syncrude wanted to improve information sharing and help its employees more quickly locate the resources they needed to do their jobs.

"Restructuring how we look at information and use it internally was a major undertaking," says Darcy Daugela, project manager at Syncrude. One goal was to have better access to production performance and cost information. Another was to develop employee self-service applications including requesting vacation time or monitoring benefits such as pension and retirement plans. Finally, Syncrude wanted to develop an IT application so that staff could track support issues and help users solve common problems.

Syncrude chose the Plumtree Corporate Portal, Collaboration Server and Search Server as the means to effect that restructuring. Over 150 applications have been written for the portal, and the departmental Web sites now have a much more consistent look and feel. The portal comes up configured for the work activities of each user, launching a commonly used application or presenting a needed report, for example. In any given workday, 70% of employees use it during the day, and 80% use it during a typical month.

The increase in the efficiency of providing information has been substantial. "We now have over 50,000 documents online, as compared to 5,000," says Daugela, "using the same number of support staff." MS Word documents are automatically indexed and shared through the network, and all of the library indexes are also online. Technical documentation and engineering drawings for custom machinery are available and searchable online.

Operational systems track Syncrude's expensive equipment such as trucks that mine sand during drilling operations. For example, the trucks' locations are monitored by GPS systems, and the computerized systems on each truck send data that records their activities, documenting the percent of time the truck is functioning along with other measures. Through that information, managers can quickly identify and respond to changes in the field. Cost reports are available in real time for thousands of transactions that occur daily in the company.

The ability to have all the functionality work together in the portal is critical, according to Glenn Kelman, a co-founder of Plumtree and VP of product management and marketing. "Being able to check off the boxes does not mean the components will function as a suite," he notes.

Smart enterprise suites are particularly valuable in businesses that are experiencing significant M&A activity, have many different business units or are outsourcing some of their functions. They are also valuable as a framework for building new services-oriented applications, such as customer, partner and employee support applications. Those applications are based on services from different systems and businesses, all connected via Internet protocols.

Sun Microsystems also wanted to consolidate numerous internal Web sites by using a single platform that would serve all of its groups and corporate functions. Because Sun has its own Sun Java Enterprise System and associated portal, the company used it as the foundation for the internal portal. Sun then began building out the portal with a new content management infrastructure from Vignette, a logical choice because of ongoing partnerships and the ability of Vignette's Content Suite to run natively on Java. Sun had also been using Intraspect's collaboration product (now owned by Vignette and renamed Vignette Collaboration Server) for its MySales application in the sales and marketing departments, and wanted to deploy it across the enterprise.

"The MySales initiative has been tremendously successful," says Randy Hale, global collaboration and information management lead for the Internal Portal Services Group. "We wanted to be able to extend the reach of this collaborative infrastructure and integrate it more tightly into other portal elements." Activities such as sharing documents, posting online discussions and tracking action items will vary depending on the employee's context. With 35,000 employees working in team environments throughout the world, Sun has many opportunities to draw upon its talent base through enhanced collaboration.

Some of the output from the collaboration environment will become part of the Vignette content management repository. "Collaboration tools provide the perfect platform for developing ‘work product' types of outputs, including providing support for communications and announcements that might result from this work process," says Hale, "such as contract wins or organizational changes." The repository also contains other content, such as high-value documents organized into a robust, browsable subject taxonomy. Those documents are selected and classified through a combined process of autoclassification and human evaluation.

Subject matter experts within the business groups now own the publishing process and can determine the destination of the content. That eliminates the bottleneck with the past environment where centralized Webmasters owned the publishing process.

"Having an enterprisewide content management system lets us publish content to a common repository, which is available across the internal environment," Hale says. "As we provide more personalization and tag our content more rigorously, we can repurpose it across many different channels."

IT services for the portal are provided by the Portal and Web Services Engineering Group, but the Internal Portal Services Group is part of the Global Talent Development Organization within HR. That structure reflects the distinctly employee-centric nature of the Internal Portal Services Group in providing the business direction for the program. Evaluating business processes is a core part of Sun

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