Amway's mission is to be the best business opportunity in the world for the millions of independent agents who sell our more than 450 home, nutrition and wellness, and personal products. To achieve this, the research and development (R&D) department must develop new products in a streamlined and cost-efficient manner. The scope of the challenge is considerable: the R&D department consists of 550 engineers, scientists and quality assurance staff working on more than 1,000 projects at a time.

Efficient and effective R&D requires fast and easy access to information about current products, since product specifications, formulas, design criteria, production schedules, costs and sales trends are the raw materials of creative design. In the past, information access at Amway wasn't easy ­ data resided in at least 15 disparate repositories such as a data warehouse, and supply chain and accounting systems in different departments. When scientists needed production or financial data, for instance, they had to request paper reports from each department, which could take days to be processed. They could, on occasion, directly access these systems if they learned the interfaces ­ not a good use of their time.

Clearly, poor information management was costing Amway money, both from lack of R&D efficiency and lost opportunity for new product development.

One solution to the problem is Artemis, a business intelligence and knowledge management portal tailored to the R&D division. A browser-based intranet application built on Lotus Domino, Artemis takes its name from the Greek goddess of the hunt, enabling R&D staff to quickly find the product information they need. It also includes knowledge management features such as collaboration and a database for locating company experts.

Artemis started with the goal of saving each R&D employee one hour per week. An easy-to-use portal, Artemis would abstract structured product data from legacy systems and create dynamic reports from users' search criteria. Information access would drop from days to seconds or minutes, enabling fast what-if investigations needed by product developers.

The first challenge was gaining corporate buy in. Though everyone agreed with Artemis' goal, information gatekeepers across the company were hesitant to relinquish control. Steven Klemm, director of engineering and research, was instrumental in gaining support when we presented a simple working prototype of the portal to a supply chain executive committee. The visual showed an Amway core product at the center, surrounded by one-click access to all product data. Next we turned to our development partner, marchFIRST (formerly Whittman-Hart), to work out the feasibility of the application itself.

The first question was whether we should build or buy a packaged portal solution? marchFIRST suggested that Domino would best leverage existing resources such as our intranet and data warehouse. Domino's strong security features, easy integration with legacy systems, built-in agents and a fast search engine along with powerful knowledge management capabilities were all instrumental in making Artemis a success.

With a budget of less than $250,000, we worked with marchFIRST and our users to complete Artemis over three phases of eight to twelve weeks each, going live in January 2000. The portal runs on Domino 5.0 on a fast, dedicated Windows NT server. Each night, Domino sends agents out to our Sybase data warehouse and builds or updates an information document for each Amway product stored in a Domino database. R&D staff do full-text searches against this database to locate products they're interested in, then Domino queries the data warehouse for details. The only non- Domino part of Artemis is an $800 Java utility, called PopChart Live, used to create the trend and pie charts within the final document the user sees.

Artemis' collaborative features include a time accounting function for the R&D staff. Used to help calculate IRS R&D tax credits, this system has a gated section where managers can analyze big-picture R&D trends. Artemis' event- reporting database also tracks project content and status, features that help staff to locate colleagues with specific expertise. Domino's strong messaging alerts staffers via e-mail when their projects are updated.

So far, Artemis has been well received. After a staged roll out, all 550 R&D staffers now have access. Initial user surveys tell us that 60 percent are saving 30 minutes or more per week ­ 165 hours per week total. We expect this to rise as links to more information are added and users gain comfort with the system, but even at this level Artemis is a success.

What have we learned from the portal project? Most importantly, don't assume you know what business users need. We found an iterative development cycle works best, and we constantly queried rank-and-file users on their thinking and business needs. We advise having many user meetings and much paper prototyping before you begin to code. Don't forget to add business intelligence nuggets for management, such as executive-level reporting, to foster high-level support for the project.

Remember, users just want tools to do their jobs better without having to become computer experts or wade through a sea of data to get what they need. We believe Artemis fills this need exactly. Another indication of Artemis' success is that because it was developed in modules, Artemis' components are beginning to be used by other Amway departments.

The Artemis Product Solution

Artemis is a product-oriented business intelligence and knowledge management portal for Amway's R&D staff. A browser-based application running on the company intranet, Artemis is built from Lotus Domino 5.0 on a dedicated Windows NT server. Using Lotus' agent and full-text search engine technology, Artemis pulls data from disparate corporate sources and generates dynamic reports in response to user queries.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Information Management content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access