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Full speed ahead on the intranet.

For the finance function, powerful IT solutions are vital. And so, as Bob Tucker, CFO at Earthport, points out, it’s incumbent on the finance function to install the right systems. In his case the right system is a new intranet that facilitates global financial and business management.

Earthport provides a payment infrastructure for the banking sector, which enables customers to pay for goods and services on-line using cash and credit cards by linking into the banking system. It has grown significantly in the past 12 months (35 employees in January 2000, to 180 by the end of January 2001) and this, says Tucker, has increased the pressure on management to make the right decisions quickly.

“To grow a business safely and avoid having to take drastic reactive measures to cut costs you need an early warning system,” Tucker says. “And to make informed decisions fast you need access to up-to-the minute information.”

This is where an intranet comes in. It cuts down paperwork and makes sharing information easier and more dynamic for the whole business. And, by enabling information to be shared through secure extranet access as well, an intranet can improve supply chain management, client relations and e-procurement. It also speeds up data input because employees are using familiar software and on-line tools and a minimal amount of retraining is necessary.

In Earthport’s case, alongside a financial system for the general ledger, Lawson Financials provided the company with a suite of products, which work in a web browser environment, to collect, distribute and manage information across an intranet. “It’s a marriage of the old economy into a new delivery system,” says Tucker.

The software also contains purpose-built repositories, which allow users to capture data at the level of detail appropriate for them. Employees enter timesheet details and claims for expenses on-line. The system then feeds this information into the relevant databases. This data can then be viewed in a number of ways: by project managers who can instantly see how much each project has cost so far; or accounts who need to bill for time spent on particular projects.

Barbara Richmond, group financial director of multinational Croda International, also has a hands-on approach to IT implementation. From unifying e-mail policy when she joined the company four years ago, to the installation of a global intranet last year, Richmond has not only initiated policy but helped specify systems.

Richmond recognised that an effective global intranet demands more than just a multi-currency system. “We wanted to tap the power of our corporate information by drawing together all the product details, technical skills and knowledge of our international operations,” she says. “We were looking for a solution that gave our employees leading-edge technology that is continually developed in terms of capabilities and ease of use, and always up-to-date. It also had to significantly reduce paperwork and administration.”

Based on recommendations from its web site partner, Croda decided on Active Intranet as the core technology in its solution. “We weren’t simply looking to put a nice front-end on our back office,” says Richmond. “We wanted a dynamic communications tool that could be exploited quickly without much technical effort.”

Gone are the days when IT systems took years to develop and dedicated teams of IT experts to operate. Both Croda and Earthport’s intranets were up and running within weeks and both companies began to realise the benefits within a very short time. In fact, Croda claims that its intranet could be built, updated and maintained by any reasonably computer literate Croda employee.

Richmond says she likes the way in which Active involved its customers in the implementation. Active Intranet is also modular, which means it can be adapted to fit requirements and then changed as the company expands and evolves. This scalability is important for Richmond who has always had expansion in mind.

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