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Issue of February 2004 
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Integrated Enterprise Portal

An EPIC solution

The more you innovate, the lesser is the dependence on pre-configured solutions. To keep with this vision the Eicher Group of Companies has set up an integrated portal called Eicher Portal for Information and Collaboration (EPIC) to help facilitate employee productivity. by Shipra Arora

The challenge for automotive engineering major, Eicher Group, was to be able to meet the growing information and collaborative needs in a user-friendly and cost-effective manner.

An integrated portal EPIC (Eicher Portal for Information and Collaboration) based on the Lotus Domino platform, as a single point of service for all these needs, not only improved efficiencies in terms of collaboration and employee productivity, but also facilitated knowledge management and downright cost savings.

According to Sanjay Govil, Director of IT, GIS, Cartography and Chief Information Officer at Eicher, "The vision is to make EPIC the facilitator and single point for all information and collaborative needs covering the employees in the first phase, and extending it to our partners in the future. And we have reached quite a bit in this journey."

Workflow gets a boost

The Eicher Group has its business interests spread across the design, development, production and marketing of tractors, commercial vehicles, motorcycles and automotive components apart from cartography, GIS, engineering services, and management consulting.

With its presence spread across a corporate office, seven manufacturing locations and around 25

marketing offices, maintaining information access and adequate collaboration across the organization is one of the keys to success, but nevertheless a daunting task. The company has multiple business units across 40 locations in India and abroad.

In terms of workflow, today the company covers most of the employee-centric processes like travel management, reimbursements, and appraisals. It is constantly adding new processes and applications to EPIC.

There are around 1,500 employees, who are mostly white-collar, accessing the self-service portal through user code password access.

Disparate information

The Eicher Group faced the problem of limited access to information on one hand, and resource-eating cumbersome processes on the other. In terms of information access, employees could not easily consult the manufacturing documentation, company procedures, and quality standards since the information was not housed in a central location.

The information was spread across different sources and in structured and unstructured formats. It also did not have convenient collaboration forum or corporate information repository workgroups.

There was no easy access to check the status of aspects like expense reimbursement claims, travel requests, or to clarify a salary issue. All this, in effect, threatened to affect the employees' productivity and ultimately the group's sales and market shares.

Conceptualization and solution

Around mid-2002 the company conceptualized a solution in the form of a self-service portal that integrated the solutions to all its requirements into one and that would also take care of the future information and collaboration requirements with the partners.

According to Govil, there were three areas that the company wanted to focus on-—improving collaboration, improving an individual's productivity, and facilitating knowledge management within the organization.

In terms of technology, this translated into building tools for content management and delivery, to enable knowledge management, collaborative tools like instant messaging and workflow automation—all into one integrated portal.

Applications help operations

A powerful document library (with an in-built approval workflow) and content management tool provides the platform for knowledge management. EPIC thereby integrates all the facets like intranet, workflow automation, collaborative tools, and knowledge management tools into a single unified architecture.

The Eicher Group already had applications like SAP, which provided the transaction processing needs, Microsoft Exchange for messaging, and Crystal Decisions for Business Intelligence. Creating a single interface to access these was the next step.

Portal solution

After the conceptualization process, Eicher evaluated various vendors for providing the portal solution including IBM, BroadVision, and Microsoft.

"We found that IBM offered the best solution to meet the requirements of our enterprise as well as unparalleled technological expertise and industry experience," explains Govil.

Another deciding factor in favor of IBM was its worldwide network of business partners. With the system requirements in place the application development was outsourced to IBM business partner Pre-emptive Systems, a Lotus Domino developer. The components of the software deployed include IBM Lotus Domino R6, Lotus Domino Enterprise Server, Lotus Domino Designer, Lotus Instant Messaging, Lotus Web Conferencing, and Lotus Notes.

The solution was integrated with the backend SAP ERP using XML technology and the Microsoft Exchange messaging platform. In order to keep EPIC simple and user-friendly, Eicher decided to use a browser as the access mechanism.

"It gives us an advantage to allow some applications to be available over the Internet. So, people who travel can use the Internet and log into the system for access," Govil adds.

Workflow Automation

EPIC introduced better workflow automation, which according to Govil, turned out to be a grand success. Today the Eicher Group has enabled most of its employee-centric business processes over the portal, and got rid of the paper-based processes.

Employee leave, reimbursements, travel management, appraisals, and annual work plans are all done in real-time through this portal. The solution enables the employees to draft a broad range of requests, automatically routes them for approval and processing, and tracks their progress.

And being tightly integrated with SAP, the SAP database gets updated automatically.

However, Govil clarifies that EPIC is not just a HR system since there are other aspects as well. The focus is driven from an employee's perspective. Eicher is now expanding the scope of EPIC beyond the HR processes through the workflow automation of other processes, and adding them to the portal on a regular basis. It has recently started a helpdesk for IT called 'Serve IT'.

Also in the pipeline are Customer Service Management (CSM) and procurement management, which are both very workflow-oriented processes. CSM, which is for after sales support, is already being piloted at one of the business units. Other collaborative business processes like purchase requisitioning, training, management, and budgeting will also be workflow-enabled on EPIC over the next few months.

Workflow vision

According to Govil, it is difficult to say whether total automation of workflow will be possible, but clearly the vision is to eliminate the non-value added activities from the company's processes and automate the processes as far as possible.

"We have not automated for the sake of automation but actually in areas where we will get business benefits in terms of cutting down on the cycle time of processes, and bringing down the cost of processes," he said. As a result, the group is taking up those processes for their workflow automation where there are business benefits.

Embedded intelligence

An interesting feature of the portal solution is that it has embedded intelligence to display the latest organization structure for the workflow operations. The entire application is being driven by the organization's structure and any changes in the structure are incorporated automatically.

Collaboration and Knowledge Management

EPIC provides a content publishing tool to allow knowledge management capabilities. In this function, the content has been categorized into different categories and allows anyone to contribute to any category.

However, every category has a moderator or a content editor who can accept and publish, edit, publish, and reject the article.

"We have allowed everyone to contribute to any category thereby keeping it very open and transparent. Anything I contribute through this is available and visible to everyone. So, that's how the knowledge management piece gets built up," explained Govil.

In addition to this the portal provides document libraries. The document libraries have been created as secure areas where one can define access to different people. Eicher has created different document libraries for different areas, functions, and business units within the organization, thereby creating a huge information repository, which is centrally accessible.

"With all this we are trying to proliferate information-sharing but at the same time making sure that certain amount of manageability and confidentiality of critical documents is maintained," says Govil.

The Eicher Executive Information System (EIS) tool on the other hand provides executive information on sales, purchases and production, and receivables. The company plans to extend knowledge management to integrate external sources of information like industry news, financial analysis, best practices, and benchmarking in the future.

On the collaboration front, EPIC provides an Instant Messaging (IM) tool, which is Domino-based and instantly tells who's online. It allows any user to send a chat request to another user.

While all the 1,500 EPIC users are entitled to text-based chat, there are only few people who are entitled to use audio and video in their chats for resource optimization and bandwidth management. In addition to IM, there are features like surveys, polls, discussion forums, and team rooms, which are largely for project teams.

Benefits

According to Govil, the implementation of the portal solution has resulted in a number of benefits. There are benefits in terms of reducing the turnaround time of key employee-centric processes by 30-40 percent, and considerable reduction in data entry errors and administrative costs by minimizing the need for telephone follow-ups, printed forms, and manual data entry.

Most of the employees require SAP access for authorizing and approving transactions, and for viewing HR-related information for themselves and their subordinates. However, with the same enabled through EPIC there have been cost-savings on the number of licenses.

In addition to this, the Eicher Group has witnessed benefits in terms of rise in employee satisfaction and productivity with the transparency of employee-centric processes and easy access to information.

In an online survey conducted three months after implementation by the Eicher Group, more than 75 percent employees reported improved productivity due to elimination of time-consuming and paper-based processes.

Future Plans

As part of its future strategy, EPIC will play the central role in becoming the 'single-window' anytime, anyplace, and anyway gateway for all information and collaboration needs. Over the next 12-18 months the company plans to integrate its dealer and vendor portals into EPIC and have a unified system in place. In future, the group also plans to deploy a true portal technology at the backend so that even the applications are run through this. So, the only screen that users will need to see for processing SAP transactions will be EPIC.

This will, however, be a little ahead in the future. According to Govil, "SAP is already Web-enabled, but using EPIC will make it more esoteric. So, what is important right now is where we can extract the most benefits. We will move the process gradually as and when the need arises and reap the benefits."

Shipra Arora can be reached at shipra@expresscomputeronline.com

In a nutshell
The company

The Eicher Group has business units in 40 nationwide locations, seven manufacturing locations, and around 25 marketing offices.

The need

The company needed to allow information access and adequate collaboration since it felt that these were important for success.

The solution

The company set up an enterprise portal called Eicher Portal for Information and Collaboration (EPIC), using a number of useful technologies to help facilitate employee productivity.

The benefits

There are benefits in terms of reducing the turnaround time of key employee centric processes by 30-40 percent, and considerable reduction in data entry errors and administrative costs by minimizing the need for telephone follow-ups, printed forms, and manual data entry.

 
     
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