REVIEWER: Henry Curra, e-business coordinator for Poten & Partners.

BACKGROUND: Established in the 1930s, Poten & Partners originated as a ship brokerage firm, bringing together owners and charterers to arrange transportation of crude oil and petroleum products. Shipping and commodity brokerage are two cornerstones of Poten's commercial services. Poten's consulting services provide commercial assessment of markets and assist energy and ocean transportation industry clients in implementing short- and long-term programs. Today, these services relate to trading and transportation of crude oil, petroleum products, natural gas and liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas and other commodities.

PLATFORMS: Microsoft Windows NT on a dual-processor Compaq server utilizing Microsoft SQL Server for the InfoImage Freedom database integration. The Freedom portal's federated architecture utilizes Microsoft's .NET enterprise architecture.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Our worldwide client base and the types of services provided presented several truly unique customer service challenges. Providing clients with the ability to pinpoint the location, type, condition and availability of ships was necessitating approximately 25 tailor-made e- mails/reports a day for our clients. This process required frequent phone calls and faxes all over the world to support clients' needs. By implementing the InfoImage decision portal, we have placed the personalization of our extensive information into the hands of the clients. We are now able to give clients the data they want to see when and how they need it.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Our portal has effectively given our customers the ability to point and click for real-time access to vessel positions, transactional data on vessels' past and present trading status, extensive news and the ability to access detailed information relating to voyage operations from our back-office systems. The client is able to graph the data, print highly specific reports and access, in a structured way, a wealth of related analyses from Poten's consultancy services. Our consulting clients now have a flexible, customizable platform for receiving reports and publications as well as detailed data on energy imports/exports and prices by terminal and ship and supporting information on plant, terminal and pipeline infrastructure. A collaboration object designed to improve the flow of documents and ideas between Poten and our clients and colleagues gives users search functionality, document revision control and the detailed index necessary for large and complex documents and projects in a secure environment at the project-folder and document levels. We are in the process of upgrading the InfoImage software to 3.1, which will give us the Knowledge Explorer for advanced search capability and move us to the Microsoft Windows 2000 operating system.

STRENGTHS: The enterprise-wide scalability of the InfoImage decision portal architecture has been invaluable to us. Our organization spans continents and countries and includes our customers' and vendors' organizations. The ability to effectively grow our portal across our value chain has been of paramount importance to the success of our e-business strategy. In addition, the Freedom portal's Microsoft- centric architecture gives us superior integration capabilities and easier maintenance.

WEAKNESSES: Currently, the Freedom portal does not have a simple Web-based administrative interface for nontechnical administrators to add users' roles to the portal.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We determined that we needed a solution that would: give our customers access to structured and unstructured data quickly and easily, integrate with document repositories and other sources of unstructured data, provide personalization, integrate with Web-enabled applications, integrate with our customers' back-end systems and grow with us as our needs evolved. We reviewed products from five or six vendors, and we selected InfoImage because of their federated architecture, Microsoft-centric technology, track record in implementing enterprise-wide portals and partnership approach to doing business.

DELIVERABLES: The portal provides real-time access to ship positioning, vessel specifications, fixture status and history and related charting tools, vessel operation details, 75 categories of news and easy access to Poten's research reports and publications.

VENDOR SUPPORT: The support we have received form both InfoImage's help desk and their development staff has been excellent. When we place a call there is a definite sense of ownership and they provide consistent and constant feedback until the issue is resolved.

DOCUMENTATION: Our technical team has successfully utilized the documentation to support the portal. InfoImage did create some custom documentation for several of the portal objects that were created specifically for us.

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