CATEGORY: Enterprise Information Portals

REVIEWER: Kenneth Brzozowski, vice president project office, CIGC Technologies for Merrill Lynch.

BACKGROUND: Merrill Lynch is one of the world's leading financial management and advisory companies with offices in 44 countries and total client assets of approximately $1.8 trillion. As an investment bank, it is the top global underwriter and market maker of debt and equity securities and a leading strategic adviser to corporations, governments, institutions and individuals worldwide. Through Merrill Lynch Investment Managers, the company is one of the world's largest managers of financial assets.

PLATFORMS: The Business Engine Network (BEN) is a Web- based application that runs on Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle Database, Internet Explorer and Netscape.

PROBLEM SOLVED: A global IT labor shortage forced Merrill Lynch to outsource much of its IT work, but implementing the BEN allowed the company to better allocate internal IT resources, regardless of their physical location. When outsourced labor was required, the BEN provided insight into project progress. Using the BEN, project managers can view the number of resources allocated to a project, how staffing levels change over time and a project's progress. Vendors must report time sheets online, calculating costs instantly with the BEN's budget management functionality. The BEN standardized Merrill Lynch's relationships between the company's IT organization and its business units. Standardized procurement, planning and project management makes it easier to manage projects and resources between business units.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Initially, the BEN was deployed in Merrill Lynch's Technology Group to gain insight into our outsourced resources. Now, we have successfully integrated the product within our ERP systems ­ Oracle Financials and PeopleSoft ­ and are seeing the benefits of increased productivity of our virtual project team members. We will continue to use the BEN to improve reporting capabilities, collaborate across departments and across continents.

STRENGTHS: The BEN's strength lies in its collaborative capabilities. Anytime, anywhere access allows users to log on to the BEN from any Web browser. By providing personnel with real- time access to the same documents, the BEN saves time and money by providing a single source of information. Users also know when other team members accessed specific documents, allowing them to recognize who made specific alterations.

WEAKNESSES: Maximizing the full benefit of the BEN requires executive sponsorship and a willingness to introduce new business processes to support new technology. The BEN can only be truly successful if executives are willing to do this.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Merrill Lynch mainly needed to implement software with the capability to provide everything from project planning tools to the technology needed to bring projects to fruition. Merrill Lynch reviewed products from ABT, Artemis, Oracle, Niku, Primavera and others, and found Business Engine best suited its needs.

DELIVERABLES: The Project Financials Manage-ment module simplifies complex financial calculations, saving clients valuable time previously spent on manual analysis of project-cost estimates and actual time and expenses. The Time and Expense Management module provides a Web-based interface that routes time and expense sheets for approval and provides automatic status reports. The Services Procurement and Vendor Management module streamlines B2B collaboration processes such as sourcing, negotiating, contracting, reviewing deliverables, tracking project status, invoicing and payment.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Business Engine offers a full complement of professional services, including installation, implementation, management consulting, transition management services, customer support and training. Business Engine developed a Transition Management Method-ology in which consultants identify organizational challenges and maximize return on investment based on specific user needs. Business Engine's customer service allows us to review answers to questions, access product downloads, submit knowledge-base articles, submit questions to customer services through e-mail or interactive online help, submit incidents and review the current status of outstanding issues.

DOCUMENTATION: Business Engine provides comprehensive online and hard copy manuals detailing the features and functions of the BEN's different modules. However, instructor-lead training, which Business Engine provides to all new customers as part of its "Transition Management" methodology, is recommended to realize the full benefits of the BEN.

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