Magazine Article | September 1, 2000

Open The Door To Information

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

With $460 billion in assets and more than 100,000 employees worldwide, ABN AMRO is the sixth largest bank in the world. Managing access to information across this enterprise is an ongoing challenge. An enterprise portal and wireless technology, however, will alleviate this burden for the company's North American operations and its 19,000 users.

Integrated Solutions, September 2000
As literary devices, metaphors are useful but imperfect tools. They help us partially understand a person or object by way of comparison. Remember when you said that an underhanded competitor "was a snake"? Well, he might very well be deceptive and untrustworthy. However, he doesn't actually slither on the ground and go through life without appendages. The point is that metaphors open up new ways of understanding that might not be so obvious at first glance. When it comes to conversations on technology, metaphors can be especially helpful.

Moving beyond English 101 and into the financial arena, it is obvious that ABN AMRO Bank is one of the main players on the world banking stage. It is the sixth largest bank in the world, with total assets of $460 billion in 1999, and more than 100,000 employees. Included in those numbers are its business dealings in North America where it operates under the names ABN AMRO, LaSalle Bank, Standard Federal Bank, and EAB (European American Bank). In North America alone, ABN AMRO has more than 19,000 employees and reported assets of $167 billion last year.

Just keeping an enterprise of this scale up and running is a daunting task. But, making it a more efficient enterprise is another story altogether. Internal financial reports on the intranet, facts and figures from the Internet, market analysis, project management, and internal and external corporate communications are among the information that has to be managed every day.

Put the magnifying glass on the North American enterprise for a minute. ABN AMRO is storing data in almost every type of database imaginable. The thousands of users have different applications and different levels of security. Employees searching for that proverbial needle in a haystack in the form of an archived report or memo may suffer information overload. Or worse, the information might be so buried that they can never locate it at all.

Enter the EIP (enterprise information portal) – and, another metaphor. "You could say the portal is the front door to our electronic office," relays Louis F. Rosenthal, executive vice president at ABN AMRO. The portal, or front door, sits on users' desktops in the form of a Windows-based GUI (graphical user interface). Once users enter the portal, or open the front door, the options and information are arranged in an orderly fashion. Archived financial reports are down the hall and to the left. Project updates are on the right. Corporate communication messages are straight ahead. Want to leave a note for the boss? The receptionist is right here. Well, you get the idea. Also, wireless technology allows ABN AMRO to create a "mobile front door." Armed with PDAs (personal digital assistants), ABN AMRO employees will be able to access the company portal from any remote location.

Portal Eliminates Password Overload
Every door comes with a lock, and the operation of an EIP is no exception. Employees may all have access to the front door, but that changes once the door is open. Obviously, loan officers need access to different types of information than the bank presidents need. Employees are also running different applications. Securing the information behind these doors are employee passwords. If you have the right password, you can unlock the door.

The password system has been in place at ABN AMRO for some time. Like doors and locks, however, each application required a different password. This led many employees to carry around virtual key rings in the form of password and ID cards. "We have a host of different systems that require different passwords and logon IDs," explains Rosenthal. "Employees had to carry cards that contained all of their access codes. It became a little cumbersome." ABN AMRO's portal, Coreport from Corechange (Boston), eliminates this rudimentary form of password management. Included with Coreport is a secure mechanism that allows users' passwords and IDs to be encrypted and stored. When users start up their computers, they enter one password and ID. This tailor-made "master key" offers users access to only the applications and information they have been authorized to use. "While this is only a small part of what Coreport offers, it solves one of the biggest complaints I heard from users. They were always asking me, ‘Isn't there some way to eliminate all of these passwords?' By itself, this functionality is a big plus," states Rosenthal.

Search Engine Delivers Personalized Information To Users
While password management gives even the best systems administrators a migraine, searching for the right piece of data can sometimes numb the minds of end users. Imagine a seemingly endless hallway with a string of doors on both sides. Behind those doors are rooms filled with file cabinets crammed full of files. Remember that report you were working on six months ago? Now, go find it. Trust me, it's in one of those file cabinets behind one of those doors.

Not only is ABN AMRO's portal a front door to the electronic office, it also comes equipped with a high-speed, virtual clerical staff that locates information employees need. Coreport uses a search engine by Autonomy (San Francisco) to gather pertinent information from both ABN AMRO's corporate intranet and the Internet. "We have a wealth of information available in our own storage warehouses," says Rosenthal. "If I search under a company name, for example, the engine will gather relevant information from the sources that we subscribe to through the Internet. It will also return proprietary knowledge that is stored on our intranet. It's an extremely powerful tool."

To appreciate the efficiency, take the example of a bank lender who specifically follows the telecommunications industry and is trying to gather information on a specific company. First, he must search this company's Internet site for data. Then, he must search a variety of industry-specific Internet sites. Last, and hardly least, the lender must search ABN AMRO's intranet. This involves searching bank databases including commercial credit systems and central information systems. With the portal's search engine, all of these steps are eliminated. The employee does just one search to gather all pertinent information.

The search engine is so powerful that it is actually allowing ABN AMRO employees to access information that was previously unattainable. "During the pilot period, I found some information on the intranet that I didn't know had been extended to the intranet. The portal will not necessarily make our employees sell services any faster," says Rosenthal. "But, we will have much more knowledgeable employees who will be able to sell and service more effectively."

Five-Day, Enterprise-Wide Project
Like any enterprise project, the first step to full implementation is the pilot project. And, ABN AMRO is progressing quite nicely through this stage, thank you. About 50 employees have been given access to this new front door in the form of the company's new portal. If all goes as planned, and indications are that it will, then all 19,000 employees in North America will be looking at ABN AMRO's portal as they start each day. The 50 members of the pilot project include representatives from all departments at the bank and employees of different levels.

Remarkably, the pilot installation of Coreport took only five days to deploy across the enterprise. In terms of cost, Rosenthal was much more vague. "This is not a $200, off-the-shelf solution, and it is not a multimillion-dollar project," comments Rosenthal. "I was able to implement the software in five days. And, I haven't run across many five-day, enterprise-wide projects. I don't think that going from the pilot stage to full implementation will be a big deal."

Full implementation means a front door for every employee. And, the information behind that front door can be personalized. Investment bankers access information germane to investment banking. Security guards access information pertinent to securing the physical bank facility. And, high-level executives access all information that helps them run the bank more efficiently. Among all employees, not every front door will look the same. Each portal may have stock updates, industry-specific news, or a host of other personalized services tailored to each employee's responsibilities. "Every person's portal will be different. A trader's portal is different from a branch manager's, and that is different from the portal seen by a person in corporate finance, commercial lending, and so on down the line," states Rosenthal.

At ABN AMRO, employees each have a different door – beyond which lies the knowledge to help them do their jobs more effectively. If information overload is a problem for your enterprise users, you might want to consider opening your front door. That knocking you hear might just be the sound of an opportunity disguised as a portal.

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