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Software firm opens door to SAP portal

Several hundred employees at software provider Getronics US are currently testing the company's new portal from SAP Portals. Getronics has found a little end user reluctance toward the new Web-based gateway.

Getronics US knows that a corporate portal, a Web-based gateway to applications and corporate information, can empower remote employees and foster interaction between suppliers, customers and partners.

The Billerica, Mass.-based software and services vendor, which has used SAP's ERP software for years, didn't originally select SAP Portals Inc. for the project. But Getronics ended up in the hands of SAP Portals, headquartered in San Jose, Calif., after the SAP subsidiary acquired TopTier in April 2001.

After looking at similar products from Oracle and Plumtree, Getronics went with TopTier because of its functionality. Three main features stood out in TopTier's software: the user-friendly interface; its drop-and-drag approach to adding information to the work area; and its reliance on iView, portal content components formatted for use in SAP products, according to Glen Slater, vice president of e-business for Getronics US.

The company's pilot portal program rolled out in February with 600 employees, and by late October, all 4000 of Getronics' U.S. employees will have access to the portal. It is initially being used for collaboration and business-to-employee activities, such as expense report submission and self-service human resources forms, Slater said.

The implementation of the SAP portal software went well, according to Slater. Yet there were some challenges in integrating the portal to back-end software, which will allow employees access to a range of back-end applications through a single interface.

"Integration...turned out to be a tough task," Slater said. But the value of having an integrated system is high, as it allows employees to be more efficient. The integration took approximately six months to fine-tune to get the initial pilot phase launched, he said.

Getronics is finding that the biggest challenge to the portal process may be cultural.

Getronics' employees had a mixed reaction to the portal, mainly because of changes on the process side, such as submitting an expense report electronically, Slater said. The portal also does not yet have a lot of content, but Getronics hopes to create a robust workspace for its employees in the future.

"Having an old dog learn new tricks is probably the most difficult part of it," said Howard Sholkin, director of corporate communications and a user of the pilot program. But once the benefits of the system become apparent, it's just another way of handling functions, he said.

"You have to be willing to pragmatically look for benefits over time," Slater advised. "This is not a quick hit; it's something that will evolve. There are a lot of cultural aspects." Companies that have been paper-based may feel challenged by automated processes, both on the management and employee side, he said.

Additionally, the infrastructure must be carefully planned and understood, especially to enable remote employees, Slater said.

Slater said that the portal will definitely save money in the long run, especially with the automation of employee processes.. He declined to provide the cost of the portal system or precise ROI estimates.


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