Friday, March 9, 2007

Dell and AERA: Facilitating an Intranet portal

AERA is an information technology, engineering and logistics provider for public and private sector clients. Based in Alexandria, Va., AERA is comprised of four business divisions with approximately 500 employees. Each division is run from a different site, and operate largely independent from each other. AERA engaged Dell Professional Services to implement their SharePoint Portal Server (SPS) while in the process of building an intranet site. Three business objectives provided the framework for implementation:

Enhance employee productivity by implementing a one-stop-shop for documents and tools, improving search and retrieval capabilities, and facilitating reuse of corporate assets. Improve AERA&singlequot;s ability to win new business by centralizing resumes, past proposals and past project descriptions. Enhance AERA&singlequot;s ability to attract, retain and develop talent by enhancing communication about company news, initiatives and other corporate information, such as benefits policies.

The initial solution focused on rapidly deploying SPS functionality to get the system in use quickly. As a first step, Dell Professional Services researched and recommended strategies for integrating SharePoint into AERA&singlequot;s mixed technology environment. DPS experts also conducted interviews with key AERA stakeholders to identify existing documents and data for inclusion in the Portal and developed a taxonomy — a system for categorizing these documents to help facilitate document searching. DPS also provided recommendations for possible future site enhancements, as well as ways to manage the site to maintain its quality and usefulness. Finally, to simplify the transition to the SharePoint portal, DPS developed scripts to automate the creation of pages on the SharePoint site. The scripts were used to build the document profiles, custom properties, property list values, document folders and categories; to import content and assign document meta-data; and to assign user permissions to document folders. Without the scripts, the time and effort involved to complete these tasks manually would have made adding information to the portal difficult and time consuming.

For the full corporate release, DPS experts developed an Employee Directory application that integrates with the portal and Active Directory, retrieves and updates employee contact information, and provides links to employee resume documents. DPS also provided training for site readers and authors for the official portal launch.

Initial feedback has been positive. Traffic on the portal rose steadily since its launch in May 2002, reaching about 50 visitors a day within a month. The rise in traffic is mirroring the steady increase in content being added to the site. As AERA employees become familiar with the site, they are beginning to rely on it for conducting day-to-day tasks such as filling out expense reports, travel claims and personnel forms. AERA plans to add electronic timesheets which can be accessed only over the Portal, which should increase the daily usage of the portal by employees even further.