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Cutting Through the Clutter

Desktop business systems at last begin to succeed in taming the profusion of Websites, cyberpasswords, and software.

Over the past few years, the proliferation of virtual publishing tools has made it fairly easy for the average person to construct, populate, and maintain a Website. While this would seem to be a good thing, there is one minor downside to the trend: the proliferation of virtual publishing tools has made it fairly easy for the average person to construct, populate, and maintain a Website.

It’s so easy to put up a Website that everyone seems to have one. According to a recent Pew Internet and American Life Project survey, fully 13 percent of U.S. Internet surfers now have their own home pages, which works out to about 7 million individual Websites, or one for every person in Massachusetts. Ten-year-olds now have their own home pages.

This desire to get something up on the Web is not confined to bloggers, either. Many businesses have a crush of external and internal corporate Websites, first spawned by the dot-com frenzy of the 1990s. Typically, the internal sites are grouped around lines of business, departments, functions, even new-product releases.

Like Oobleck, this space junk has gummed up the works. Take the case of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America. Three years ago, its senior executives began assessing the organization’s explosion of internal sites. The results were startling. “We had nearly 2,000 sites,” recalls Sunil Rajpal, senior vice president and associate segment executive at BofA. “Every Windows engineer thought they should have their own Website on their PC.”

To get a handle on this virtual sprawl, which also diluted the bank’s branding efforts, BofA turned to portal technology. Portals, which combine information, dashboards, and intranet links into a single desktop display (a la Yahoo), enable workers to access different applications, databases, and Websites from one screen. Deploying a portal developed by Austin, Texas-based software provider Vignette Corp., BofA began to consolidate and otherwise deep-six nearly 1,200 of its former intranets. By next year, says Rajpal, it should be down to about 300 internal Websites.

“Desktop of the Future”

Bank of America is not alone in its desire to eliminate ‘Net flotsam. In a recent survey conducted by the Society for Information Management, technology executives listed Website-complexity reduction among their top 10 IT initiatives for the coming year. Self-service sites for benefits administration have been around for years, of course. But lately, companies have been deploying more-expansive portals in some very creative, muddle-reducing ways.

Mazda North America Operations, for instance, has rolled out a portal for sales and customer-service field managers overseeing the automaker’s 700 North American dealerships. Built with applications from Plumtree Software Inc., the portal dramatically reduces the time it takes Mazda field managers to collect performance data, track sales targets, and otherwise prepare for review sessions with dealers.

In a similar vein, diversified Houston-based energy specialist Halliburton Corp. has merged several enterprise-resource-planning (ERP) functions into a customer portal serving some 5,000 registered users. Among other things, myHalliburton.com allows engineers to search a database of more than 3,000 data sheets and best practices for energy exploration and drilling. The gateway enhances collaboration between customers and employees, and allows accounts-payable staffers to check invoices and field tickets, speeding the resolution of account disputes.

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