Knowledge Management Meets the Portal

Combining knowledge management and corporate portals helps companies and their employees gather, manage, share, and use previously disparate information.
Posted November 28, 2000

Cynthia Flash

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Within minutes of learning of an oil refinery fire on the West Coast, a salesperson from Equilon Enterprises LLC in Houston can turn to his company's corporate portal, find out which customers are affected, and make sure he sells them the gas they need at current market prices. Five months ago that salesperson would have had to make a bunch of telephone calls and cruise various Internet sites to find that information.

AT A GLANCE: Equilon Enterprises LLC
The company: Houston-based Equilon Enterprises handles pipeline operations and gasoline distributions to all Texaco and Shell retail stations in the western United States. The company has 500 employees.

The problem: Need to increase the bottom line by bringing together disjointed technology and making information more Internet-centric.

The solution: Develop a corporate knowledge management portal that integrates all Equilon information into one central location on the desktop.

The technology: The portal runs on Windows NT servers from Compaq Computer Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. servers that run UNIX and Oracle 8i database.

But since Equilon, a joint venture of Shell Oil Co. and Texaco Inc., launched its corporate portal in June 2000, its salesforce and some account managers and pipeline schedulers now have access to much of the company's internal data from one Web-enabled starting point. The portal integrates Equilon's customer relationship management (CRM) system, suite of office software, and collaboration and document management tools, along with selected content, onto a single screen.

"It's not so much that the information hasn't been available, it's the timeliness that the portal brings to us," says Robert Stephens, an Equilon business information manager who helped implement the portal before leaving in September 2000 for another job. "We can get that information in real-time and make decisions quicker based on the information. It's getting the right information to the right people at the right time."

Equilon is among the growing number of firms launching corporate portals to help employees gather, manage, share, and utilize information that in the past had been stored in disparate databases throughout the company. These knowledge management portals not only bring the information to the employees' fingertips through a corporate intranet site, or in some cases the Internet, but also help them interact with it, mine the data, and share information between one application and another.

"The portal is the first killer implementation of the knowledge management philosophy," says Carl Frappaolo, executive vice president and cofounder of Delphi Group in Boston. The portal personalizes users' desktops, organizes what their company knows, and presents it so they can absorb and use what's there. Users can then add what they know into the environment to take advantage of the full knowledge-sharing capability, he says.

Carl Frappaolo, executive vice president and cofounder of Delphi Group in Boston

The Evolving State of Corporate Portals

Dephi Group, which specializes in knowledge management research, estimates the corporate portal market by 2001 will grow to $740 million, from $178 million in 1999. By the beginning of next year, Delphi estimates nearly 90% of large organizations will be developing portals, with 80% in production mode. Similarly, Gartner Group Inc. of Stamford, Conn., estimates that by 2003, 50% of Fortune 1000 companies will have a knowledge management system in place. Both firms say there is a growing trend toward achieving knowledge management solutions through a portal interface.

"Knowledge management is a business process, not a technology," says Jim Jacobs, Gartner Group knowledge management research director. "Portals are valuable technology that can assist with the business process."

The idea is not just to gather information, but to present it so employees can interact with it and contribute back so others can learn from it, too. Software vendors began offering portal tools two years ago. Now more than 100 vendors have emerged, offering everything from niche tools to full, out-of-the-box solutions. However, there are no true leaders in this diversified space.

Lotus Development Corp. and Microsoft Corp. in October 2000 picked up the pace by announcing new knowledge management portal tools. Lotus' K-station will work with collaborative tools such as Sametime, QuickPlace, and Domino to give users a single point of access to information. Microsoft announced a server application, code-named Tahoe, which will combine with its Digital Dashboard tools that are available for businesses that want to build their own portals.

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