Custom Content Solutions
Royal & SunAlliance uses OneSource and Applink to create just such an integrated information environment for its underwriters. The company is a commercial insurer, which means that risk analysis of a prospect requires not only detailed financial and operational data, but also external information about the prospect's business environment, markets, competitors, etc. Chris Hart, the firm's operations manager for professional financial risks, explains that Royal & SunAlliance have OneSource content hardwired into a Lotus Notes underwriting application. Underwriters can click on individual OneSource data items to import them into a "rating engine" matrix, which also contains the prospect's information. Hart says that his firm's business process is enhanced by the proximity of the information, "If we didn't have this system, the underwriters would be underwriting a risk blind. They need to have at their fingertips information tools that allow them to be as knowledgeable as possible about a company that they are about to insure." The beauty of OneSource according to Hart, "is that they have it at their fingertips, and the benefit of Applink is that it does it all for them."
Royal & SunAlliance's OneSource application was co-developed with OneSource designers. It manages the common underwriting data requirements, but that's not the only way in which the underwriters can use OneSource. For example, underwriters turn to the OneSource Business Browser, a user-friendly search interface, when it's necessary to conduct research outside the structure of the rating engine.
Sales and marketing remain the common departments in which desktop content is now used, but it is spreading throughout the enterprise, including labs and other areas that rely on scientific and technical data. This latter group is the particular province of Dialog, which—in addition to substantial business content—offers a formidable collection of scientific, technical, and intellectual property databases. According to Cynthia Murphy, Dialog's senior vice president for strategic marketing, Dialog has been a fixture in enterprise libraries for 30 years, however science and technical information offers "an area of tremendous growth for Dialog and we're seeing it in a variety of corporate environments." Murphy says Dialog has tools clients use out of the box along with an internal group that creates custom solutions for clients. In fact, Murphy says that new business often takes the form of application development.
As examples, Murphy cites applications that Dialog has developed for patent searching, national security, and petroleum searching. For the U.S. Patent Office, Dialog created a desktop interface to patent literature for patent examiners, who can construct intellectual property searches with a customized interface using formatted screens. For several government agencies, it was a unified access to news and research on terrorism, providing both archival content and real-time news; the latter comes via Dialog NewsEdge, an aggregator of realtime news content with deep coverage of current events, politics, technology, and industry sectors. For Shell, it provides an interface to geological and petroleum research databases.
Content Without Limits
For engineers and scientists at Shell, scientific and technical information is essential. To bring it to the desktops of the technical staffs, Dialog and Shell co-developed a custom interface to Petroleum Abstracts and GEOREF—two important databases covering petroleum technology and geology, respectively. The interface is specially adapted to technical literature searching, and contains user-friendly elements like pull-down menus for selecting longitude and latitude, according to Frances Brown, who works as manager of the EP Library-Houston (The library is part of the Services Integration Group of Pitney Bowes Management Services, which provides library services to Shell.) The system serves 300 petroleum engineers, geologists, and geophysicists at Shell offices around the world. Brown says the interface, "provides the technical staff with the ability to do their own searching at their desktop, and some people just want that freedom to do the searching on their own. The technical staff are definitely using it, and they're very pleased with the application and its ease of use." Brown adds that Shell technical employees continue to turn to the library for complex or esoteric searches.
FluentMedia, a division of the Tribune Company (a major media firm with newspaper, television, and Internet properties), was established to leverage the Tribune news content through syndication. In addition to content from Tribune properties, Fluent- Media distributes other news and business sources, enabling it to be a broad-range content supplier. FluentMedia has several topical and sector-oriented feeds for off-the-shelf needs, and also works with clients who want customized applications.
Like Dialog's Murphy, John Twohey, FluentMedia's general manager, sees the demand for customized desktop content spreading throughout the enterprise. He describes a recent FluentMedia collaboration with a large national bank, "The project has been to distribute news, commentary, and market data to every single desktop, regardless of job function, because they've concluded that raising the collective IQ of your whole organization is a smart management practice. There's no reason to limit this information to one slice of the workforce."
Twohey describes another custom distribution project that reaches beyond the enterprise itself. For a large insurance company, FluentMedia developed an extranet application, where the company's major clients can obtain information and news on risk management. Twohey explains that it's another example of distributed information serving the increasingly important function of customer relations management, "This is a value-add in the eyes of the insurance company, creating a resource to which their customers can turn for relevant, up-to-the-minute information, compliments of the insurance company."
The Future of Desktop Content
Customized content distribution is evolving into a must-have infor-mation application. The trend is two-fold. First, it's on its way to becoming a standard information tool. FluentMedia's Twohey predicts that "within five years, it will be commonplace for employees in every corner of a big corporation to have this kind of access." Nor is it limited to big business, but is occurring as well in small businesses, in private organizations, and in public sector enterprises of all types. Second, it is not confined to a few departments. As Twohey continues, "There's a clearly visible trend in which employers are choosing to deliver mission-critical market intelligence to the desktops of as many people in a company as possible. What you're seeing these days is the democratization of business information access."
Such availability of information is, in turn, changing the business process itself. According to OneSource's Schumacher, "The distinction between the front-end, sales and relationship management, and the back-end, consulting and analysis is blurring. More and more of the analytical process is being incorporated into the early interactions with the customer. In part that's because the business information needed to make those decisions can be brought together in a single application." Factiva's Sabosik points out, "Your decisions come faster, which means that your business cycle speeds up." Finally, she concludes, the new information does indeed enable a new kind of knowledge work: "It changes the way people think about doing their jobs, and it really does begin to define the scope of the knowledge worker."