Intranet Portal Strategy

Over 100 attendees showed up for the First Conferences Intranet Portal Strategy for Energy event, held in Houston this month. Portal deployment is still in its infancy and all were keen to learn the tricks of the trade. While few would claim that there are “magic bullet” solutions to Portal development, experience from Texaco, Enterprise, Schlumberger and others was avidly shared. Real-world case histories and caveats made the show a rewarding experience for would-be Portal developers.

The First Conferences’ Intranet Portal Strategy for Energy Conference was held in Houston this month. PDM was at the show and discovered that, although Portals are very much in the news, the reality is that experience, and real-world deployment are rather limited. As one attendee put it “We came thinking we were behind the curve, but there is no curve, nobody knows anything!” Despite the lack of answers, the consensus was that this was a great event for those just starting such a venture. The need for portals comes from the explosion of information-rich sites within the corporation and the expectancies of the user community.


A theme of the meeting was “let the business drive the technology”. Conference speakers offered lessons learned in fields such as security, the need for cultural change, work patterns, user acceptance, and technology skills. All of which can prove a lengthy process. Before rushing to construct a portal because it’s the technology du jour, ask yourself what you’re doing and why. For instance, if you want to increase productivity, is this the best way? Unless the staff and the company both will benefit from the portal, it probably won’t work. If there is no business problem to solve, you don’t need an enterprise portal. Another pitfall is implementing a site too quickly which can lead to solutions that aren’t fully functional. The message was; take it slow, and while you can think big, it pays to act small and put a pilot site out for viewing and comments — feedback can go far to ensure that people get what they want and need. “Show Me the Money” was the leitmotif of one feedback session. Millions of dollars are being spent on intranet/portal strategy and execution, begging the question—“How can we realize more return out of Information Technology, how do we leverage our existing technologies?” A to-do list of action items that can make life easier for the portal team, and which should help evaluating the return on investment (ROI) included:

Changing senior management’s view of the portal from a cost to an asset

Meeting expectations within budget

Controlling runaway senior management’s expectations

Sponsorship from management

Getting the organization to move at “web speed.”


John Keeble described how Enterprise’s Intranet began as a simple home page in 1996. User-driven development and a lot of trial and error ultimately determined the content. Website diversity reflects the fact that geologists see the world differently from engineers. Each community has its own site. The incorporation of dynamic information (news feeds, oil prices, press releases, etc.) proved a “honey pot” for viewers and reduced e-mail overload. Dynamic sites also allowed for a mix of external and internal information. It proved easy to add news items coming from a network of news providers. On the downside, such composite pages can be slow. Enterprise had found that unified, dynamic information sources are a powerful knowledge management tool. Needless to say, such a system is far from maintenance free, but Keeble advises that the control of the Portal should stay with the users and that the IT department needs keeping at bay!


Lon Winton set out to solve Chesapeake’s production volume reporting problems, created by late and incomplete data from multiple sources. Analysis was hard because of the different data bases and reporting delayed and mostly paper based. Winton was also confronted with the fact that IT had a stranglehold over the intranet. A quick fix solution using an “intranet in a box” was first deployed in 1999 to disseminate information. By January 2000, production volume reporting had evolved considerably. Volume data collection was consistent and timely providing a quick response to process/systems issues. A business intelligence tool had been acquired and a production volume “mart” established, with daily production volume reports published to the intranet.

Intranet “in-a-box”

As the environment evolved, the “intranet in a box” solution began to show its limitations. Control of the Intranet was wrestled from the IT department and a “co-focused” intranet home page home page was designed. At the same time, a web master, graphics artist and page master were designated. Now the intranet offers a daily production summary page with tables and graphics, a page for source of variance and a downtime report for wells off production. Production volume reporting now includes integrated operations and financial data, routine analysis, prototyping and hourly operations reporting. Winton considers that the original “in a box” strategy was a mistake, and believes that the intranet should avoid being run as “an IT project.” Ultimately, success came because the project addressed a business need and obtained sponsorship from outside the IT department. Chesapeake’s intranet is now built around Microsoft FrontPage, Interdev, Brio and Microsoft IIS. Visual Basic scripting and Java are also used.


One company which believes that it has stolen a march on the competition is Petris Technology. President Jim Pritchett describes the e-business value proposition as “making data more valuable, easy to find, easy to use and higher quality.” Typical data problems are that users can’t find data, or can’t use it because of poor data quality. E-business offers “vertical” data management through timely access to data (hardcopy, legacy systems), search engines, re-formatting and data exchange technologies. While such systems may not solve all data issues at once, Pritchett is convinced that the ability to browse and inspect data is a key first step in the process. Petris’ flagship projects include the Winds data browser originally developed for Anadarko, and the Internet Data Room (IDR). The IDR now incorporates technology for collaborative working including voice telephony over the internet and webcams to facilitate arm waving over the internet.


Rick Diaz defines the Enterprise Information Portal as a “knowledge-based application that allows access to internal and external information with a single entry point and which personalizes information needed to support informed business decisions.” Most importantly, the main driver for the EIP is the business, or as Diaz puts it, “the bottom line.” For Diaz, E&P companies will be forced to adopt knowledge management because of the aging workforce. With a median industry age of around 50, combined with low enrollment in the disciplines that feed the upstream, the corporation will have to retain knowledge workers longer, increase their productivity and must manage knowledge as a corporate asset. Diaz claims “Knowledge management must become a way of life.” Texaco hasn’t fully implemented an enterprise knowledge portal yet. To have done a portal two years ago would have meant jumping the gun, not least because the tools have been slow to mature. Texaco is currently selecting a portal solution, reviewing vendors and products, and trying to anticipate how the market will evolve.


Ken Landgren’s (Schlumberger GeoQuest) observes a paradigm shift from today’s GIS browser. Currenly these read-only systems answer questions like “what do we have in this locality?” The job of populating the project data store is still very time consuming. Schlumberger’s view of the (near?) future is of a “data cube” of structured and unstructured data spanning geotechnical, financial, corporate and HSE-type information. The third dimension to the cube is access technology – from repository management through web access, and the Portal. For Landgren, the “The Enterprise Information Portal (EIP) concept is not just a web front end to an intranet, rather it is a single personalized point of access to relevant information and applications.” EIP supports demand-driven pulling of information, based on an individual’s role or function. Such a facility requires the development and implementation of “e-business practices.” Schlumberger is ready to do the same for E&P with Decision Point.

The debate

In the panel discussions it was clear that significant added value is anticipated from inter-company collaboration facilitated by portal technology. This will support real-time interaction between joint venture partners. Landgren insisted on the importance of cost-benefit analysis prior to portal deployment. This can be hard to compute for relatively intangible benefits. Landgren advocates establishing a strategy before asking for money. But there was dissent on this point “connecting people is paramount, using return on investment calculations tries to make it more scientific than it is.”

Keeble explained that Enterprise is actually using the technology to prove the effectiveness of E&P spending. To show that IT helps reduce, for instance, exploration risk. Alan May, Trade-Ranger, warned “We are trying to create new infrastructure for industry but the technology isn’t ready for prime-time yet. In the asset trade marketplace, we want to bring as many buyers and sellers together as possible. We also need to capture sufficient data, in terms of knowledge shared or gained, to improve the supply chain.”


Linda Sarandrea, Petrocosm agreed “It’s all about squeezing inefficiencies out of the supply chain. It’s important to address the independence of different types of players. It’s not just big integrated oil company ownership. Many suppliers feel threatened and both buyers and suppliers need to own the process. A B2B supplier search the technology, the process and serve it all up to customers. Business, knowledge management, procurement must come together. Service companies must see apply the process to themselves and ask ‘how can I drive cost out of my own system?’”


Don Vines from Iona Technologies summed up “The Enterprise Information Portal is a unifying view of enterprise information, applications and processes to enable delivery of goods and services independent of geographic location. Portals represent convergence of internet, intranet and extranet.”

$14 billion

If you are still not convinced by the need for an EIP, reflect on this. A Merrill Lynch study puts the market for corporate portals at $14 billion by 2002. An estimated 80% of Fortune 500 companies will deploy EIP in 2000.

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