Petro-Canada builds home port for intranet users

Canadians know Petro-Canada best as a retailer, but the Calgary-based multinational is also an energy explorer and producer with operations that stretch from the Alberta oil sands to drilling rigs in Europe, North Africa and Latin America.

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The company has grown to 5,000 employees around the world, and the corporate intranet grew with them to include almost 150 different sites. Two years ago, the time came to create a single portal.

John Matthews, Petro-Canada’s Manager of Enterprise and Financial Systems, had the overall responsibility to deliver the project.

“We had a whole range of corporate Web sites that were being managed distinctly, that had different look and feel across various groups, and they were being managed by different people,” Matthews explained. The solution was Oracle Application Server middleware to centralize site management and provide a common interface for every Petro-Canada department and user.

The project had positive goals, Matthews said, because users were not particularly unhappy with the previous solution but the supporting technology was clearly ‘end of life’ and lacked functionality, such as support for wireless devices or the ability to target specific audiences within the company with information. “The project brought terrific benefits through consolidation,” Matthews said. “The work area just gets a lot tidier when you have one common interface tool that everybody uses, and in IT, we were able to clean things up and move to one common platform.”

The benefits of the project had such broad popular appeal that if enthusiasm were the only criterion, Matthews said, it would almost have organized itself. But life isn’t that simple. It took somewhere from nine to eleven months to get all of the stakeholders with existing Web sites accustomed to seeing the new design.

“The technology itself was pretty straightforward. The design was the biggest hurdle — getting people to participate in the design sessions and coming up with a common design, and a taxonomy and a navigation scheme that everybody could feel comfortable with,” Matthews recalled, “We also wanted to maintain the flexibility to expand this even further in the future.”

His biggest personal challenge was finding the right skilled resources. “That was an issue,” he said, “but once I had the appropriate resources, they did a great job on the project.” Oracle provided some support but Petro-Canada also invested in internal training to build in-house resources for long-term support.

The governance committee kept the project on track during development with regular briefings. The Petro-Canada corporate communications department was the main project sponsor, with overall decision-making or veto power. For John Matthews, this meant good support. “When we had to make a critical decision as to which way to go, they were able to make it for us,” he said. “We didn’t have to go and create consensus or go out and get buy-in from every different department. That would have been difficult, to say the least.”

As the roll-out date approached, the team discussed the pros and cons of launching the project as a complete package. “In most cases with the deployments we have done internally, we have never taken the ‘big bang’ approach,” Matthews said, “but in this case, we felt there wasn’t a lot of risk. If it didn’t work for whatever reason, there always was the fallback position that we could go back to the existing system. It wouldn’t have been pleasant but it was an option.” The project went live on December 1, 2005, right on schedule.

The new Petro-Canada intranet exceeded user expectations with no post-implementation problems. Looking back, Matthews said the key lesson learned was to take the time to do proper design, even if it adds time to the project. Looking ahead, “There will definitely be more personalization and more transactional applications deployed through the portal.”

The project team is still exploring the functionality that came with the Oracle Application Server. “There are still some things we haven’t used yet but from our point of view, the Java environment is something we are going to leverage, it provides us a common deployment vehicle for other Java applications. That’s huge,” Matthews said.

— Richard Bray

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