CATEGORY: Enterprise Information Portals

REVIEWER: Ted Friel, CIO of ePlus.

BACKGROUND: ePlus is a leading provider of supply chain management solutions. We offer strategic and financial sourcing, automated procurement, online asset management, asset disposal and e- based professional services to our customer base. Our e-business solutions streamline operations and significantly reduce costs associated with asset procurement, management and disposal processes.

PLATFORMS: ePlus runs Microsoft Windows NT, SQL Server, Oracle, Sybase IQ and Btrieve.

PROBLEM SOLVED: ePlus will help customers reduce time, costs, errors and rework surrounding invoice reconciliation and payment. Through electronic presentment of invoices and supporting information, and by facilitating the invoice reconciliation and payment decisions process, the ePlus solution drastically simplifies and speeds up the painstaking, manual, paper-driven process of invoice reconciliation, saving our customers both time and money.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: ePlus' Portal customers will have Web-based access to current, past-due and paid invoices and supporting documents including purchase orders, vendor invoices and asset lists. Once all internal approvals are obtained, final decision-makers trigger payment. The solution will shorten reconciliation time, reduce errors, improve collections and speed payment by controlling billing process workflow and payment electronically through a single interface. The Sagent Portal pulls together, from disparate systems, previously hard-to-access information in the bill-paying process and facilitates easy consolidation to help customers quickly and intelligently make decisions about what bills to pay and when.

STRENGTHS: First, the Sagent Portal is part of a complete suite of products. We needed to solve everything from creation of the data warehouse to providing a single, easy-to-use interface for our customers, partners and employees. Rather than stitching together products from multiple vendors, we chose to use Sagent's products and reduce implementation time. Secondly, Sagent Portal facilitates decision support. ePlus chose the Sagent Portal solution because it dynamically links disparate information that could not be easily linked before. This capability is crucial to facilitate near-time/real- time online bill payment. Sagent also satisfies ePlus' need to integrate Web applications with non-Web information stored on Citrix. By linking together typically unconnected information, ePlus can offer businesses the information they need to streamline and improve the bill payment process ­ and provide internal staff with information to better manage customer accounts. For an ASP such as ePlus, Sagent tools will facilitate outsourcing the storage, management and processing of asset management and bill paying information to mid-market customers, vendors and financial partners. Additionally, by providing this single Web-enabled interface for its customers, ePlus gains a vehicle through which it can provide additional customer services and benefits.

WEAKNESSES: As with other portals, the Sagent Portal is an early product in the still emerging and evolving portal technology sector. Sagent needs to add more "out-of-the-box" portal functionality. While Sagent has been supportive in customizing the portal environment with us, the product could use more wizards and better documentation. The product's promise, however, far outweighs the peril of using new technology. Sagent plans to add more wizards in the future to lower the users' required skill levels.

SELECTION CRITERIA: ePlus selected Sagent Portal because it works as part of a complete solution. Eliminating the task of integrating products from several vendors saves us both implementation time and software dollars. In addition, Sagent Portal is built on XML, which will help us integrate our customers' many disparate data sources.

DELIVERABLES: The main deliverable for this project is an ASP-hosted electronic bill-presentment and payment solution. Users can make bill-paying decisions by viewing current, past-due and historical invoices, credit transactions and customized invoices organized by customer-selected items such as cost centers or profit centers. Users, following their internal approval processes, can also initiate payments electronically from the same interface.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Sagent is providing the on-site technical support and training to help jumpstart the project and get us over the initial learning curve.

DOCUMENTATION: Sagent provides a set of printed and online documentation for the decision support product line. Because customization work is required for creating a portal environment, documentation is needed to use this product.

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