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Software Solutions > Book Reviews > The E-business Workplace: Discovering The Power Of Enterprise Po >

The E-business Workplace: Discovering The Power Of Enterprise Portals

by SAP and PriceWaterhouseCoopers

2001 John Wiley, New York

244 pages

Review by Madanmohan Rao

Looking for a good book on how ERP and Web-based e-business practices are converging in the form of enterprise portals? "The E-business Workplace" is a good introduction for managers and executives addressing issues of enterprise-wide IT solutions for business and knowledge management.

The author team consists of 27 consultants from SAP and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. 12 chapters cover a wide variety of topics ranging from workplace roles and collaborative project management to knowledge management and cultural change; a demo CD-ROM provides examples of the mySAP.com workplace in an enterprise setting. The book is quite informative, while also providing a soft plug for SAP products and services.

"Internet-based technology, integrated with sophisticated corporate databases, knowledge management methodologies, and decision support systems, makes possible the creation of computer-based workplaces and marketplaces that are the digital equivalents of the artisan's workshop and the town's market square," the authors begin.

Enterprise portals or workplaces provide unified access across business units and enterprise boundaries to front-end and back-end resources as well as personal workspaces and the wider world of the Internet, and support ongoing activities like datawarehousing, CRM and KM. They are personalisable by user, role and device and in the long run should support collaborative forecasting, conduct commerce, and interact in professional trading communities.

Over the decades, these transformations have taken place through three phases: integration through ERP (which streamlined business process and reduced costs by connecting people to systems - but were hard to use and were quite static), cooperation through supply chain management and Internet-based communication (focused on external communities but were less connected to internal systems), and collaboration through enterprise portals or workplaces (using flexible Web-based tools centred on users and roles rather than processes). While earlier enterprise technologies may have had some dehumanizing aspects, the enterprise portal should put the human being solidly back in control

"In the world of static systems, rigid processes and slow change, knowledge was often hoarded as a way of maintaining power. In the world of workplace systems, each individual must share information with others in order to derive full value from the tool and in order to carry out activities in a way that provides service to customers and ultimately to shareholders," according to the authors.

Different companies have different knowledge use cultures: utopian, anarchic, feudal, monarchic, and federal.

From an RoI point of view, enterprise portals must eventually help speed up customer service, cut costs, improve quality, and reduce fulfillment time - in other words, deliver operational as well as strategic benefits. These can manifest themselves via reduced costs of legacy systems, improved productivity, extended collaboration, improved market intelligence, better competitive positioning, and more effective change strategies.

"Today, many companies are moving to a roles-based focus, organizing tasks and activities not only by the processes to which they belong, but also by the roles that perform them," according to the authors. Every role and its associated workplace must therefore be flexible and dynamic to handle change. Employees tend to have multiple roles in a company, some of which can be transient (eg. during specific projects).

Two chapters cover scenarios in enterprise and community workplaces, using mySAP technology as a platform. CFOs, who need to focus on value creation based on internal and external information, can use their workplaces to look up the balanced scorecard, accounting rules, and monitor staff productivity. A well-designed workplace for sales managers can help them gather historical data; correspondingly, a field service engineer can leverage wireless technologies to boost productivity when away from the desk.

In a marketplace setting like Transora, XML-based workplaces can help improve replenishment, increase inventory visibility, and support multi-dimensional rather than linear workflows.

At the level of technology components, a workplace or enterprise portal should have push and pull features with adequate security, intuitive and pleasing design, search services, content management systems, auditable workflow, application integration, and administrative support.

At the level of corporate culture, issues that must be addressed to leverage enterprise portals in a smart manner include training of the system, organizational change, and reward/recognition incentives.

"Knowledge transfer is not only top-down but bottom-up and horizontal as well," according to the authors. The use of interactive forums and self-paced learning is critical.

"The workplace provides a way for those who have knowledge to share it effectively with those who need it to fulfill their business objectives," according to the authors. Knowledge contributors, knowledge workers and content editors must be responsible for constantly surveying available data, editing out duplication, and matching relevant information to roles.

"A well-designed KM systems grows organically. Knowledge is defined not only as explicit information about systems, processes and business data, but also as corporate messages and missions," according to the authors.

ERP and e-business in the workplace can "supercharge" each other by providing a reliable handle on realtime internal data as well as ways for interacting with customers and employees. In this two-dimensional space, companies can occupy varying positions depending on their level of e-business transformation (channel enhancement, value chain integration, industry transformation) and ERP integration (function, business unit, enterprise) - and accordingly multiple migration paths exist from early starting points to optimized ERP and e-business functionality.

"Content is king in getting a workplace up and running. Companies that implement a workplace must realize that they have, in effect, become publishers and assumed all the burdens of publishing," according to the authors. This requires mechanisms and staff for creating and reviewing content for usefulness, readability, accuracy and legal correctness.

For every one technical specialist, a company needs four to ten content specialists - researchers, writers/journalists, editors, and Web content professionals. User behaviours and interactions must be carefully analysed. The fine line between structure and chaos must be maintained.

"A company should use some of the money budgeted to KM projects to get its workplace up and running as quickly as possible and then to continue to populate it with the knowledge necessary for all of the people who use the workplace to do their jobs more effectively," the authors advise.

The stages of workplace implementation - design, release, refine - will involve different levels of involvement as time progress, from corporate leaders, IT, business units, content developers, and end users.

In sum, enterprise portals can help provide pertinent filtered information while also being flexible enough to make work satisfying.


The reviewer can be reached at madan@techsparks.com


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