Quick rollouts packages find favour

When CSX Corp. wanted to create an employee portal, the executives had one main priority: a fast implementation.

Lisa Balter, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based director of commercial applications at the parent company of CSX Transportation, which operates the largest rail network in the Eastern U.S., along with CSX Intermodal and other subsidiaries, said the portal was developed for 15,000 active users.

The company chose Computer Associates International Inc.’s CleverPath portal software. According to Balter, CSX had a portal mock-up up and running within three days.

“The power of being able to do such a quick mock-up is that you’re able to show it to your business partners and company executives and validate that you’re going in the right direction,” she said.

Shari Shore, director of marketing for CleverPath at Computer Associates in Islandia, N.Y., said the demand for this type of fast implementation is absolutely customer-driven, and stems from the state of the economy.

“Most people we work with are business people, who have to either prove ROI or show something to the boss. However they couch it, they have to show that their implementation is adding value to the business somehow, and saying it will be ready in six or eight months isn’t an acceptable answer at all anymore,” she said.

Other vendors including PeopleSoft Inc., Oracle Corp. and SAP AG have heavily promoted their own quick implementation packages.

Warren Shiau, an analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, said the quick implementation draw has been largely limited to customers south of the border.

“In the U.S. it’s very big,” he said. “I think there are few vendors who have not gone down the path of offering a pre-packaged quick implementation offering in an effort to generate mid-market sales.”

The reason these quick implementations are not as plentiful in Canada is because our mid-market is quite different than that in the U.S. According to Shiau, U.S. mid-market offerings are often too broad or costly for Canadian customers.

That could change in the near future as some vendors are rolling out solutions for the small business market. One example Shiau gave was Microsoft’s customer relationship management software push into the mid-sized and small business market, which he said might better fit for Canada’s mid-sized companies.

Customers who do choose quick implementations tend to do so because they see a risk in the cost and time it takes for the implementation to be completed, Shiau said.

“Mid-market firms want to know how long they could be down by agreeing to an implementation, so the vendors have tried to assuage fears and eliminate risk by implementing in a fixed amount of time at a fixed cost,” he said.

According to Shore, Computer Associates has changed its approach to implementations to fit with the quick model.

“We’ve implemented a much more formal approach to things like best practices, including repeatable best practices. If you want to continually help customers quickly, you can’t treat each one as a one-off, but need to recognize patterns and commonalties,” she said.

While the three-day implementation timeframe is impressive, it must be noted that much work went into the process before the first hour of the first day and that much was done afterwards, Shore said.

David Schatsky, vice-president and research director at Jupiter Research in Darien, Conn., said a portal is not something companies can have up and running full tilt in that period of time.

“The value of an enterprise portal is not so much in the software itself, but in the data and the content and the applications that it aggregates from its users, and that kind of stuff takes time to turn on and integrate in any portal framework. These fast implementations usually deal with bare-bones frameworks that will gain real value over time,” he said.

For Balter, the CSX portal is following this exact path, with modifications still being made and information continually added.

“We’ve got a good foundation,” Balter said. “We’re really pleased.”