The organization is Chicago Bridge and Iron Company (www.cbi.com) the vendor or solution provider of choice is IBM (www.ibm.com). Together they made productivity improvement happen in this case study from our Enterprise Search Sourcebook.
Chicago Bridge & Iron Company (CB&I), a global engineering, procurement, and construction company, specializes in large-scale turnkey projects for firms that produce, process, store, and distribute natural resources. The company serves a number of industries including oil and gas, petrochemical and chemical, power, water and wastewater, and metals and mining.
Given the magnitude and importance of these complex,multimillion dollar infrastructure projects, CB&I customers often rank experience high among their selection criteria.
"Much of what makes us successful is the knowledge gained from past engagements and the expertise of our employees, acquired from years in their industries," explains John Shaull, a senior technical analyst for CB&I.
Yet, with approximately 60 locations and 11,000 employees worldwide, one of CB&I’s biggest challenges was sharing that knowledge across the company. Because information was stored in more than 50 project-specific databases along with myriad other sources—customer account and contact applications, document distribution and project control systems, and even local file servers in each office—CB&I employees often didn’t know where to begin a search for project-related information. Project staff had to call or email geographic managers, who would then network with their peers to help find the pertinent information. It was a tedious process that often took days. With customer deadlines looming, many times employees couldn’t wait and would have to develop supporting materials from scratch.
Additionally, with employees reusing procedural forms stored in their email accounts, executives worried that corporate policies and processes might be inconsistently applied. It was an issue that could affect not only a project team’s efficiency, but also its safety.
"The inability of employees to share information was a major challenge," says Shaull. "We lost productivity. We could not leverage gains inefficiencies and best practices garnered from previous engagements. And wecouldn’t effectively show potential clients the full depth of our experience."
Building a Knowledge-Based Organization
In response, CB&I executives launched an information initiative that would help the company evolve to a knowledge-based organization. With this focus, executives hoped to increase collaboration among CB&I employees world¬wide in order to drive greater innovation and continual process improvements.
Essential to achieving these goals was an enterprise search capability that would enable employees to find relevant information from any internal source by simply entering a keyword or phrase.This meant being able to do the following:
- Search a broad range of information sources, including both structured and unstructured data, and enable documents to be viewed through the company’s customized web-based portal.
- Provide highly relevant and refined search results that enable employees to find exactly what they need without having to know where data is located.
- Limitaccess to approved documents only so that employees can’t inadvertently use out-of-date or draft materials.
- Deliver subsecond response times to eliminate delays in obtaining information.
- Manage access according to employee role to provide authorized staff with human resource and financial information when needed.
Additionally, CB&I required a solution that could readily tap information residing in its IBM Lotus Notes and Domino repositories. Selected by CB&I almost 15 years ago, Lotus Notes and Domino software provide the company with advanced replication capabilities to effectively share corporate information with outlying offices, where connectivity may be poor at times."IBM Lotus Notes and Domino provided the flexibility to support the diverse needs of each office, whether it was email, calendaring and scheduling, or instant messaging," says Shaull. "It also allowed us to reach remote locations that we couldn’t reach otherwise."
According to Shaull, CB&I performed a pilot study with products from IBM and Google. Ultimately, CB&I selected IBM OmniFind Enterprise Edition, an IBM Information On Demand solution, for its flexibility, easy-to-use search capabilities, and tight integration with the IBM Lotus Notes and Domino environment. "OmniFind software outperformed Google in its ability to restrict searches—for example, providing access to final documents only and not drafts—and in its ability to web-enable information residing in Lotus Notes and Domino repositories so we didn’t have to rewrite data sources," says Shaull.
The organization also praised the quality and accuracy of the product’s search results. "Anytime we perform a targeted search with the OmniFind software, the research results are always exactly what we would expect them to be," adds Shaull.
Implementation was completed in only a few weeks. IBMSoftware Services for Information Management helped prepare the underlying infrastructure and customize the user interface. According to Shaull, this support helped ensure a trouble-free deployment and accelerate user acceptance. Following a pilot project with 100 employees, CB&I is expanding the service to its 4,000 full-time sales, marketing, engineering, and project management staff members.
The administrative tools help CB&I easily add new search criteria and data sources. In less than 30 minutes, an administrator can incorporate additional content to the search index or update document access rights—without having to make any changes to the applications. "The OmniFind implementation beat our expectations and was in place well ahead of schedule," says Shaull. "Additionally, the administration and maintenance of the software is much easier than we had anticipated."
Increasing Employee Productivity With Information On Demand According to Shaull, feedback from employees has been completely positive. The solution is helping reduce the time to locate information, as well as the time it takes to create standard documents, such as proposals, project task lists, or engineering drawings. In fact, Shaull estimates that CB&I is significantly decreasing data collection fees in its legal department by having easy access to information.
Additionally, the company anticipates that employees will gain new insight into projects and customers. For example, a project team using the search engine may learn that an employee in another office has prior experience with a client.The team could then leverage this employee’s knowledge to better align a recommended solution with the client’s needs.
"With OmniFind software, we can now provide our staff with fast access to documents that they might not have even known existed," says Shaull. "Employees have told us that this is making their jobs easier, which,in turn, is increasing staff productivity and efficiency."
Strengthening Collaboration Drives Greater Innovation Ultimately, CB&I expects that the productivity and efficiency gains will help the company compete in this complex market. Faster access to and development of documents will help improve responsiveness. Increased efficiency will help reduce costs. Effectively leveraging employees’ experiences and knowledge will strengthen service quality, and the sharing of ideas worldwide will help staff uncover new opportunities.
"Using IBM Information On Demand software, we can better leverage our past experience to deliver a higher quality of service to our clients,"adds Shaull. "Ultimately, we believe that this increased collaboration among employees will drive greater innovation and more advanced solutions."
About the Author
ILANA PERRY REYNOLDS is a freelance writer based in Wilmington, N.C.She specializes in information technology and information management.