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The LAN brain exchange.

As is true for many service organizations, our business is solving people's problems, and our only resource is smart people. Our products are all the solutions developed by all the smart people all over the organization.

The challenge we and other service companies face is how to capture all this knowledge--how to collect, organize, disseminate, and retrieve the expert solutions smart people have developed for clients throughout their organizations--and how to use technology to help us do this.

Our organization, like most, has made many efforts to collect professional expertise. We've set up libraries and information centers. But to get information into and out of an information center is a very slow process. And with 40,000 people all over the world, it's hard to sift through all of that information. Technology helps us do it better and faster.

In the service business, technology must empower end users. Client problems are best solved by those who work closest with them. So we look for technologies that we can push deep into the organization into the hands of our client service people. Instead of having a central organization that puts technology out into the field, we throw technology out into the field and watch applications come back up.

So, in finding a way to develop our corporate knowledge base, we needed to have something accessible to everyone in the firm. We decided to use our newly installed local area network. We found a product that we thought would do the job, and installed it over a year ago on every computer for every auditor, accountant, tax expert, management consultant, secretary, administrative assistant, and, of course, our chairman. The program has been extremely successful. About 4,500 people here in the U.S., 50 percent of our professional employees, are using the program each day to access our knowledge base.

Finding hot topics

One of our most exciting applications is what we call hot topics. If we look under "hot topics" for the financial services industry, for example, we have all kinds of information about community reinvestment, financial information disclosure, and money laundering. Because this information bank is accessible from every desktop, both to put into and to take out of, anyone in our entire financial services practice can enter a new analysis or an article, and within 24 hours it's visible on every other desktop throughout the firm. So, instead of assigning one person to follow developments and send out faxes and memos, anybody anywhere who has a hot idea types an analysis into a desktop and it's available on every desktop the next morning.

We can have other views of the same data. Research, for example, is a compilation of all the hot topics that have occurred over the past six months. Our knowledge base is simply a data base with multiple indices.

We also use the system as a library of corporate documents. Proposals. Memos. Analyses. For example, the library for employee benefit services contains every document on employee benefits that's been prepared by anyone in the firm. Every proposal, memo, client letter is imported into the knowledge base rather than into a filing cabinet. Any member of the employee benefit practice anywhere in the world has direct access to all of the filing cabinets of every employee benefit consultant anywhere in the world.

Needless to say, the system dramatically transform the way people work. Before this knowledge bank was in place, a consultant would come back from dealing with a client with, say, a 401k3 problem. The consultant would first look up the regulation and try to understand it. He'd go around the office and ask other professionals if they knew of someone who had done anything on 401k3s. He'd probably end up calling somebody in another office, only to learn that person left the firm. Now, with our new system, this consultant can collaborate with people all over the country in finding an answer to his problem.

So, with the information technology system we're using:

* We don't lose knowledge because it's captured at its source when it's created.

* It's now retrievable by people on a variety of indices, whether it's by IRC section, author, office, or client.

* It's available to everyone regardless of his or her geographic location.

By empowering people with a tool like this, you get much greater buy-in because the end applications are much closer to the needs of the users. And you get a far more effective system. You also win organizationally because you have hundreds of programmers developing applications to share information. Of the more than 200 different information-sharing applications built in this environment over the past year, less than a dozen were developed by our central MIS staff.

And so the real value of this technology is end-user control. If you can give the technology to a broad number of users and allow them to build their own solutions, you'll get better solutions and better use of the system.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Financial Executives International
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Special Report: Information Technology; Price Waterhouse use of software for local area network to provide employees with information technology
Author:Laube, Sheldon J.
Publication:Financial Executive
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Previous Article:Major technology trends for the 1990s.
Next Article:Perform as smart as you are.

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