RadioShack portal opens door to data

Margo Weeks got more of a collaboration enabler than she expected when she launched a portal to inspire teamwork and enthusiasm by encouraging employees to share knowledge and improve efficiencies. The vice-president of Information Systems for Barrie, Ont. headquartered RadioShack Canada says they selected the CleverPath Portal Solution from Computer Associates (CA) over other portal technology because of CA’s professional services.

“When we implement things here we try to get a knowledge transfer at the same time because we can’t get people out for the education and training like you used to do,” she explains. “If they’re installing here on your own system, you get that knowledge transfer. It helps you get a jump start.”

The initial two-month deployment last year involved a series of roll outs, making the portal accessible first internally, then to regional and district managers, repair centres, store managers and finally to store employees.

“We are rolling out the dealer portal and about a third of the dealers are currently using it,” she notes. “Because the dealers are where they are, it is more difficult because they don’t have the bandwidth sometimes. The dealers love the portal and one of the things they like best is the access to up to date pricing information.”

Weeks reports that the portal technology permits personalized desktops that replace paper-based processes with secure, easy-to-use, browser-based access to internal applications and information resources.

Depending on the job function of the user accessing it, the portal can show parent company InterTAN’s stock prices, display idea guides, content of recent RadioShack newsletters and flyer inserts in French or English, corporate news and relevant corporate information such as head office directory, human resources forms and information, and store tools such as product locator, plus a video demonstrating a product or corporate message.

A portal for a regional manager could also show notes to sales tips discussion groups, education programs, regional sales summary chart, store visit calendar and interesting reading such as preferred newspaper and employee suggestions.

Weeks cites business benefits of the portal that include providing one message and one voice, and reducing costs by eliminating paper based processes such as new hire packages, payroll activities and expense reimbursement. She says it gives fast access to e-learning modules and reduces lost sales by providing advance notice for flyer/sale information.

“When we first installed it, there were certain parts of it that I didn’t think would actually take off in our environment but they are and people are actually using it to form groups of working on projects and work groups or interest groups, even contests like ‘I sold x amount of this.'”

She says they have calculated a nine month return on their investment and, since the business units post their own applications to the portal, are experiencing a “very low” total cost of ownership.

However, although widely used and appreciated now, initially it was a challenge to get people to use the portal, Weeks recalls.

“It’s like email when email first started,” she explains. “People couldn’t see the need; didn’t want to do it. People don’t as a rule like to change their method of doing things. It has a lot more features than it did when we first put it out and there are a lot more applications that they use there so now it’s easy for them to say ‘we can use the portal for this and the portal for that’. Now it’s going the other way and they’d rather use the portal for everything. It is one place to go to look for information.”

To get from resistance to endorsement they had to go beyond just promoting the portal to making people use it, Weeks confesses. “We had to sort of bait people to use it [with] email, pricing, travel request forms. Because we have so many stores, even if we give somebody a form for filling in travel, you have to give them a pad of 25 or a pad of 10 and that certainly adds up. We said ‘we’re not supplying those anymore because they are available on the portal and you get one when you need it. It is electronic, they don’t necessarily have to print it; it travels on to the next person who needs to okay the expenditure.”

RadioShack is currently adding a self-service area for dealers . “The more self-serve they can do, it benefits both us and them because they can get the forms or information they need or place an order or find out where an order is – without the typical voice mail,” says Weeks. “The dealers love it because there is a lot of information they get right away because the information comes from the users themselves. Before, we used to have to bring the information out of IS and post it somewhere on a corporate Web site and everybody got to see it. But now the users can actually post their own site and the information is a lot faster getting where it needs to be.”

Weeks says they can also mine and manage the content for business intelligence activities. “We use a data mining tool (Hummingbird’s BI Broker and Query) that we present on the portal now for people to use so they can go in and mine through whatever data they want,” she explains. “Our next step now is to put a knowledge database behind some of that stuff.”

She anticipates that having a knowledge database and reporting/querying tool to answer repetitive questions and queries regarding processes or procedures will free the system for use by those “thinking outside the box.”

In February, CA announced new portal and business intelligence (BI) solutions, including CleverPath Portal 4.5, CleverPath Aion Business Rules Expert 9.5, CleverPath Collaboration Option, CleverPath Advanced Access Control Option and CleverPath Dashboard Option.

Ricardo Antuna, CA vice-president of marketing highlighted a real-time strategy with solutions such as the new portal solution designed to work within a “plug-in” type framework that incorporates XML and Web APIs. The solutions will be sold on a tiered structure, Antuna said. For example, pricing for CleverPath Portal 4.5 starts at US$22,000.

Portals are maturing to offer a broader range of functionality, according to Gartner’s Gene Phifer. The Stamford, Conn.-based research director noted the portal market is evolving towards the “Smart Enterprise Suite” – solutions that offer application integration, BI, collaboration and security.

— with files from Ryan B. Patrick

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