Fletcher's sets Notes intranet challenge

Longtime Lotus Notes site Fletcher Challenge is gearing up to put the groupware platform to the test as part of an intranet pilot.

Longtime Lotus Notes site Fletcher Challenge is gearing up to put the groupware platform to the test as part of an intranet pilot.

Lotus has been working hard to convince pundits that its flagship product is an intranet solution and not an intranet competitor.

The Fletcher’s project will be driven by the company’s information resource centre (IRC) and IT and organisation development divisions, with a strong emphasis on employee communications. The IRC, which provides a vast library of information via Notes, will be the first division to put up intranet Web pages.

“An intranet is an obvious vehicle for communicating with employees,” says Vera Giles, IRC systems co-ordinator and trainer. “The intranet will probably be based on a Microsoft platform but we are considering Notes version 4.5 (due out early next year) and Domino (the Lotus Notes Web server) for information management-intensive functions such as ours. We could use InterNotes to mark up Notes information in HTML or we could use Domino to mark it up on the fly. From what I’ve seen of Domino so far it is impressive.”

The information resource centre uses Notes to give company executives access to a wide variety of news sources. Its collection of Notes databases, collectively known as InfoNotes, is subscribed to by more than 70 Fletcher executives, including CEO Hugh Fletcher.

Included in InfoNotes are:

* Electronic newspapers and journals including the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New York Times, Sydney Morning Herald, South China Morning Post, Business Week, Forbes and Fortune;

* News wires including New Zealand Press Association (NZPA), Dow Jones, and Reuters;

* Research information including First Call Broker Reports, and EIU Country Forecasts & Reports;

* Special interest databases (SIDs): Fletcher Challenge Week, news releases, energy news, forest product news, building news, financial news;

* Australia/New Zealand business newspapers via Reuters Business Alert;

* New Zealand Stock Exchange share prices;

* A library catalogue of books and periodicals;

* An InfoNotes discussion database;

* Notes CDs (SEC Text, Compustat profiles and World Profiles) and non-Notes CDs (ABI/Inform, TreeCD, Index New Zealand)

“The National Business Review and the Australian Financial Review seem to be what people are most interested in,” says Giles, “and the Stock Exchange is very important, particularly in the wake of the share split. Share prices come through on an hourly basis giving a snapshot of the top 40 companies. A real advantage is that we’re 20 hours ahead of what is happening in the US and UK so our executives can read papers such as the Wall Street Journal before most people in the US do.

“For a one-stop-shop on news about the company, we’ve created special interest databases such as Fletcher Challenge News which has all news stories mentioning Fletcher Challenge and its subsidiaries. If people don’t have a lot of time this is where they come.”

Other SIDs cover the company’s four core industries--paper, energy, building and forests.

Giles says the IRC adds value by filtering, categorising and re-indexing the information as much as possible. It uses Australian third-party software to interface the raw NZPA news feed with Notes and another Australian product, UnderCover, to filter and categorise stories from source databases into context specific/special interest databases.

News from the US is supplied by information providers NewsEdge and Sandpoint, which use the Lotus Notes product Hoover to automate the information gathering process, convert it into Notes format and categorise and filter it into predefined views. Databases are replicated between New Zealand and the US five times a day and have a rolling eight days of information.

Employee benefits director Michael Littlewood says he uses InfoNotes to keep in touch with what is happening in countries where Fletcher Challenge does business. He mainly uses the SIDs but looks at the newspapers themselves occasionally.

“The main newspapers around the world are available to me at my desktop and that’s great. Although I am looking for articles of direct interest, it’s surprising how often you see something of indirect interest or relevant to other people. It’s very easy to send articles to others.”

Littlewood describes the improvement in access to information as “a quantum leap. Not to say that print has been superseded--I still get the Economist in hard copy even though it’s available on Notes.”

He also sees that an intranet would be directly relevant to his line of business. “We’ve developed a personal financial planning programme for all our employees and an important supporting role for that will be the distribution of information on such things as investment performance, changes to insurance rates, new products, or changes in the regulatory environment. I can certainly see an intranet supporting that.”

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