The Call to Action

Feature Article | February 23, 2004 by admin

RAG Aktiengesellschaft

RAG Aktiengesellschaft

When RAG AG talks about “myentRI,” it is not referring to a belated entry into the dot-com boom, but the portal infrastructure developed by RAG Informatik GmbH, the group’s internal IT service provider. At its core, this infrastructure is based on SAP Enterprise Portal. It will soon be serving 15,000 employees. RAG AG is an international corporation with extensive mining and chemical interests.
“Our vision is that all employees in the RAG group will use the portal as a digital workspace for their daily jobs,” says Dirk Opalka, who heads RAG’s IT application and communication strategy department. He adds that such a high level of innovation is only possible with professional knowledge management and excellent, large-scale cooperation among workers. The only way to stand strong among global competition is to rapidly turn innovative ideas into market-ready products. Thus, the management’s main focus is on the projected improvements in efficiency of daily work and information retrieval, as well as on making the IT applications easier to use.

Secure portal infrastructure for 15,000 users

RAG Informatik

RAG Informatik

RAG Informatik in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, was charged with the implementation of the portal infrastructure. As an SAP partner, RAG Informatik extended SAP Enterprise Portal (SAP EP) to create myentRI. “myentRI is composed of several infrastructure components that the customer then customizes to meet its specific needs,” says Dieter Pfaff, CEO of RAG Informatik. Stefan Schoch, RAG Informatik’s project manager of myentRI, says the goal was to “create a central access point to all applications and systems in RAG Informatik’s data center. However, we also added other applications, such as Web applications.”
According to Schoch, the myentRI infrastructure enables users to access applications over the Internet using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)-encoded connections. Safeguarding the security of the system was the top priority, so a four-tiered demilitarized zone (DMZ) concept was developed to stop unauthorized access from outside.
The basic portal is another building block in RAG’s portal system. It provides a consistent, personalized interface for a large number of users and forms the entry point from which the users can access applications that they need for their daily work. Thanks to the single sign on (SSO) mechanism, the required level of security is ensured at this point, while also sidestepping the inconvenience of having to log on individually to multiple applications.
Even the basic version of the SAP portal offers iView functions with which users can display specific role-based information directly on their initial screen. “Mostly, this is the same information that users had access to before,” concedes Opalka. However, in the past, there was no genuine process integration, and information was not actively presented to the user. The result of the new portal is the desired increase in efficiency, since employees can go about their daily work more quickly.
Opalka regards the personalized user interface as another crucial step forward. Every user’s digital workspace can be organized to suit the person’s individual working habits. Another basic SAP EP feature is that it is multilingual. “Because of our global structure, that was particularly important,” Opalka emphasizes.

Portal extension for specific roles

The third component in the project is RAG Informatik’s company-specific extension of SAP EP. As Schoch explains, the key feature is that the portal extracts data from specific applications and systems and presents it in a uniform style. With just one glance, the decision-makers have all the information they require. To facilitate this, ERP systems – both SAP and third-party solutions – were connected to the portal. Now, specific scenarios for different user groups and roles can be mapped and encapsulated in subject-specific iViews.
“A typical scenario would be an overview of several cost centers with a traffic-light function,” says Schoch. A yellow or red light would warn the user that a specified threshold value had been exceeded. By clicking on the entry, the user would enter the actual application – for instance, SAP Human Resources (SAP HR) – and could pinpoint the cause of the problem. While the basic portal is intended for the broadest possible group of users, the extended portal is designed for users like Opalka, whose daily work requires both general functions and specific solutions. These include SAP HR, SAP Business Information Warehouse (SAP BW), and SAP Knowledge Management (SAP KM).
For the RAG group as a whole, the complete portal package – consisting of the infrastructure, the basic and the extended portal – is the strategic platform for displaying its existing systems and information. Using that as the cornerstone, the group’s individual companies can adapt their employee portals to their precise needs.
For example, the German coal manufacturer Deutsche Steinkohle (DSK) will first focus on the basic portal and SSO to gain access to the SAP solutions already in place. “RAG Immobilien, our real estate business, has a relatively large number of locations in the field, which can now all be connected to the portal,” says Opalka. Meanwhile, RAG Hosting is looking forward to the SAP portal to replace its numerous stovepipe solutions and finally give employees better access to group-wide systems and processes for managing areas such as financial accounting, human resources, and taxes. Furthermore, the portal is also a medium for improving and increasing cooperation within the group.

Pilot project with 100 test users

The number-one goal for RAG Coal International was to increase effectiveness. This subsidiary was an inviting choice, as a proof of concept (POC) had already been carried out. RAG Informatik went into action, implementing the employee portal for 100 test users in Australia, Germany, and the United States. At the same time, five divisions – RAG Trading, RAG Sales, DBT, DBT America, and RAG Coal International – were connected to SAP EP.
The individual requirements of different employees, such as traders or controllers, were explored in workshops. “For RAG Coal International, the goal was to make the trader’s work easier and to unite all of the activities in one individual workspace,” says Opalka.
In the resulting “trader’s workplace,” iViews gather and assemble all relevant systems and information. Thus, functions like quotation tracking, customer evaluation, and access to Internet information are bundled together, ready for the trader to work with. In the HR department, other functions dominate. Templates guide the employees through all of the formalities when new employees are hired or old ones leave the company, and all the necessary forms are available directly in the HR employees’ portal.

Realistic demo system

The pilot project contained various other steps, including the connection of Internet applications like Yellow Pages with user mapping, collaboration management in SAP EP, and the integration of asynchronous and synchronous cooperative processes using IBM Quickplace and IBM Sametime, respectively. “This pilot project serves as a realistic demo system with which RAG Informatik can test all of the technical parameters like sizing and performance,” emphasizes Opalka.
It has led to findings that flowed back into the development process, allowing for details to be fine-tuned before the portal is installed for the whole group. Finally, all of these conclusions are collected in a portal management handbook that is currently being assembled. Eventually, it will be used as the guide for implementing portals in other divisions of the group.
“Thanks to the pilot project, we are now a lot further along than we would be if we had rolled out the portal for the whole group at once,” says Opalka. The portal’s tried-and-tested success acts as a call to action to the rest of the company: A portal makes sense and the investment pays off.

Problem-free implementation underway

As yet, the implementation of the portal structure has not encountered any major problems. “Several smaller difficulties have kept us on our toes,” admits Pfaff, “but we solved all of them quickly, thanks to the excellent cooperation with SAP.” SAP Enterprise Portal’s evolution to version 6.0 will close the remaining gaps in the functionality.
Getting business partners to grasp the concrete benefits of a portal proved to be more difficult. After all, this is a completely new technology. Pfaff sees parallels to the introduction of the telephone at the beginning of the last century. “Even visionaries had difficulties conveying the importance of a medium that is now taken for granted.”
The pilot project will continue through April of this year. The roll-out plans for the other divisions are already in full swing. “We intend to start the implementation in the individual subsidiaries by the middle of the year,” says Opalka. However, the structure of the group is still in transformation, which may call for plans to be more flexible. “This year, we will begin a portal project in the holding itself. But first we will wait for the results of the pilot.”

Johannes Gillar

Johannes Gillar

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