Technology

IT Systems Management Deals with Access Baggage

Also: building your own supercomputer; Web-site recycling; visual searching; and product lifecycle management.
CFO StaffSeptember 17, 2001

IT Systems Management
Access Baggage

Until recently, a new employee at oil giant BP (www.bp.com) might have had to wait five days for access to email, file servers, intranets, and other IT systems. Multiply five days by the more than 20,000 employees who joined the company last year, and you’re left with an annual loss of hundreds of worker-years.

To help employees hit the ground running, BP turned to user access management (UAM) software, which automates the granting and removal of rights to internal systems. BP has begun a partial global rollout of enRole, a UAM product from Access360 (www.access360.com). Paul Dorey, BP’s director of global security, expects that enRole will “reduce the time to create access from five days to 10 minutes,” which could save BP millions each year by putting new staff to work sooner.

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Software from companies such as Access360 and BMC Software (www.bmc.com) enables a single HR administrator — rather than one gatekeeper for each IT system — to enter a new employee’s details into the software via a Web browser. This unleashes a bevy of “connectors,” or chunks of programming code, that instruct an operating system or application to set up a new user name and password at the appropriate access level.

Security is another benefit of UAM software, says Jim Fullarton, a marketing manager at BMC Software. He cites the case of One2One, Deutsche Telekom’s mobile phone subsidiary. BMC began by reconciling the number of users that One2One’s HR department said it should have with the actual number of “live” users on its systems. “The company apparently believed it had 11,000 users,” recalls Fullarton, “but we actually found 6,000 to 8,000 on the network.”

Many phantom users — and your IT systems probably have a few of their own — are simply legitimate, alternative identities for authorized users, but many others are lapsed or unauthorized. Determining which is which, if done manually, requires someone to sift through old authorization forms, and many companies don’t always bother. The result, says Mark Edge, Access360’s European sales vice president, is a lot of “opportunities for someone to misuse an account that wouldn’t typically be tracked or picked up.”

UAM software essentially removes this risk by creating a single, central repository that covers all users and the access privileges that they’ve been granted on different systems. If an employee is fired, the company can withdraw access rights within minutes, confident that the individual can’t take revenge by abusing an overlooked user name and password.

Companies that haven’t invested in UAM software may change their tune when they take on new business partners, according to Christy Hudgins of research firm The Burton Group. Business-to-business ecommerce demands that firms open their systems to partners, but many will not do so, notes Hudgins, “until it’s clear that both parties have built or outsourced automated systems that can strip terminated employees of access privileges.” That may be one reason for the prediction, by research firm Gartner, that 40 percent of leading-edge firms will install UAM tools by 2004. —Anthony Sibillin and Dave Cook

IT Resources
Build Your Own Supercomputer?

At the beginning of the 20th century, American college football players frequently employed a technique called the flying wedge. The ball carrier’s teammates would surround him, arms linked, and the entire team would rush downfield en masse, running roughshod over individual opponents who dared try to stop them.

The flying wedge has since gone the way of the slide rule. The idea of “strength in numbers,” however, is finding new currency within cash- conscious companies whose computing needs continue to grow. Their latest resource: hundreds if not thousands of desktop computers that sit idle all night (and, often, much of the day). Their goal: Link the computer processors to create a “cluster” that can work as one — in effect, a supercomputer.

Since 1996 aircraft engine builder Pratt & Whitney (www.pratt-whitney.com), a division of United Technologies based in East Hartford, Connecticut, has been using a network of more than 5,000 Sun Unix workstations to accelerate the process of designing aircraft engines. According to director of information technology Nancy Davis, the cluster approach has worked so well that Pratt & Whitney will extend it to 20,000 desktop PCs.

Either software or a dedicated central computer must coordinate the workloads of the computers in such a network, and ideally those computers will be configured identically. But many companies don’t have the IT muscle of a Pratt & Whitney to design and support such a system.

They might look for a helping hand from IBM, which was awarded a patent last year for a “task distribution processing system and the method for subscribing computing tasks during idle time.” Oracle has also joined in the game; the latest version of its 9i database application, released earlier this year, allows computers to be added to a cluster incrementally when computing needs increase.

“Clusters have been on a slow growth path over the last five years,” says George Demarest, Oracle’s director of database marketing, because “dealing with clusters is a pain in the neck.” Adds Demarest, “We’re at the point now, though, where you can just add computing capacity and not worry about extra work to do.” —John P. Mello

Ecommerce
Web-Site Recycling

Many businesses that need desktop computers, servers, and networking hubs and routers — especially businesses in Asia — already buy recycled rather than pay retail. But what else might be available secondhand — intranets? Online shopping carts? Advanced site searches?

The Website Recycling Co. (www.webreco.com) offers the wares of defunct or cash-strapped etailers, portals, and content publishers; most of the sites come complete with domain name and software, as well as hardware. Users can browse each site and access detailed site evaluations and technical reviews, or they can shop à la carte. Gage Andrews, Website Recycling’s president, helps dotcoms to recover “more than 1 or 2 cents on the dollar” by matching them with companies that might not want to pay list price for custom source code.

Web sites on the brink can also turn to Recognition Group (www.recognitiongroup.net), a New York advisory and investment firm that, among other things, helps ebusinesses recycle their assets. Kaleil Isaza Tuzman, a Recognition Group managing partner, has seen a few ups and downs himself: He’s the former CEO of govWorks, whose rise and fall was chronicled in the documentary film Startup.com.

While struggling to unload its intellectual property and proprietary hardware, govWorks hired a small firm that worked on restructurings. “But they had no exposure in the technology marketplace,” says Tuzman, “so there were a lot of questions about how to market the assets.” Valuing those assets raises some questions, too; before you buy, a little tire-kicking would be in order. —John Edwards

Search Technology
Get the Picture?

Webmap Server Finance, developed by Boston-based WebMap Technologies (www.webmap.com), transforms any Internet, intranet, database, or extranet information repository into an interactive visual map. “The amount of information available to financial decision makers continues to grow exponentially,” says Pattie Maes, an associate professor at MIT’s Media Lab and a member of the advisory board for WebMap Technologies. “It’s important to give these people an intuitive way of rapidly accessing and organizing facts.”

WebMap replaces standard alphanumeric user interfaces — think of the home page of Google or most other search engines — with a topographic- style contour map. The map is divided into territories such as industries, funds, markets, and companies. From your original bird’s- eye view, double-click on a territory, and you zoom in on a new full- screen image, divided into contoured subterritories. You can continue to zoom in on multiple contoured sublevels until you’ve focused on specific data. The closer the relationship between different types of content, the closer they appear on the WebMap display. The more traffic an area gets, the more “mountainlike” that part of the display appears.

Rather than forcing users to adjust how they work with information, the WebMap interface accommodates the human thought process, notes Maes: “People are good at recognizing visual patterns, so WebMap lets users view data interrelationships at a glance.”

Standard search engines and portals, adds Maes, offer little or no context and often take users down paths that may not lead to relevant information. That’s why the WebMap technology helps boost employee productivity, claims CEO Michael Iron: “WebMap lets employees spend less time looking for the information they need and more time interacting with and acting upon it.”

WebMap Financial Server works with Windows 2000, Unix, and other major operating systems. Site licenses start at $75,000; the final cost depends on the number of employees using the technology. —JE

Product Development
Keeping Up with the Edisons

Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration, America’s most famous inventor once said. But it’s only a first step toward getting the right products to market sooner than your competition.

Product lifecycle management (PLM) endeavors to lower the cost of developing new products, bring them to market faster, cut the cost of managing suppliers, and reduce project overruns, workarounds, and failures. “New product development is the blood that fuels the life of a company,” says Phil Davis, vice president of strategic direction and marketing for BetaSphere (www.betasphere.com), a PLM software maker. “Companies are spending 50, 60, 70 billion dollars a year in developing new products.” BetaSphere focuses on software and services that help determine what customers want from a product, how much they’re willingto pay, and what they’d change.

Jim Bell, director of product marketing for PLM software maker MS2 (www.ms2.com), notes that “there’s really no application for the product group to manage the definition, development, and marketing of their products and services.” For a lot of corporations, he adds, that’s “their primary source of competitive advantage.”

PLM products could have a significant impact on a company’s balance sheet. According to AMR Research, better PLM could create $106 billion in new operating margins for US manufacturers. Jack Maynard, research director for Aberdeen Group, adds that “design review times can be decreased 50 to 80 percent, and errors can be reduced an order of magnitude.” —JPM

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