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Case Studies 

Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server delivers access to project management information easily and efficiently

Bord Gais
Published March 2003

Bord Gais Eireann is spending 1.4 billion euro building out its transmission network to meet the projected demands for natural gas in Ireland up to the year 2025. These infrastructure developments will effectively double the size of the distribution network. Engineering projects are outsourced to external project consultants that are responsible for the design, procurement and construction management. Project management required that documentation of all types should be available to the relevant people from a central repository. This was achieved using some bespoke software with SharePoint Portal Server and SQL Server.


Situation

Bord Gais Eireann (BGE) took a decision in May 2002 to update its paper-based project management systems to an automated documentation system that would yield substantial benefits to the company. PM Centrix won the contract to build the necessary infrastructure to support these ambitious objectives.

In many parts of the country, construction projects were proceeding with different construction teams employing a wide range of contractors. The Transmission Business Unit (TBU) within BGE is responsible for the design, management and transmission of natural gas within Ireland. The challenge for TBU was to capture, control and make accessible all documentation relating to these projects for project control and ongoing operational use.

Different documentation standards, slow document delivery systems and complex filing requirements made project management both complex and very inefficient. The cost of managing these systems was high and the document processing times were slow often resulting in further project wastage and inefficiencies. The company took a strategic decision that electronic document management should be deployed.

PM Centrix proposed the concept of a centralised document repository that would be accessed through a common portal with users deploying standard browsers and appropriate viewers for the different file types. Using the same portal, consultants and contractors would upload documents using a prescribed standard. All the documents were to be stored and made available to the system's users by deploying Microsoft SQL Server in the background.

Stuart Hales, BGE Project Engineer said, "We knew that electronic document management would be necessary given the volume of documents that we needed to manage. These documents may need to be available for up to 50 years. Therefore, if we are going to commit to a platform we need to be sure that it has a major name behind it and that it can be supported for many years to come. We had been looking at SharePoint Portal Server for some time and liked what we saw. It appeared to be a good fit for us".

Solution: Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server and PM Centrix

PM Centrix proposed some bespoke software development combined with Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server 2001. The project had to be completed within a short period in order to be viable. Some of the engineering projects were already underway and there was very little time to train personnel due to the normal daily demands of their jobs. Lengthy roll out and iterative development processes were never an option. These constraints necessitated a blending of existing systems and the new elements of the electronic document management system without affecting the day-to-day procedures.

Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server was chosen as the hub of the new system because it integrates seamlessly with other Microsoft products including Office, Internet Explorer and Windows operating system. This made integration with existing systems much easier reducing the need for extensive training as the operational staff were already familiar with these applications.

BGE established document standards that had to be adhered to by all documents, entering the system electronically or manually. This required the documents to be profiled externally as the limited bandwidth did not make it feasible to set up SharePoint Portal Server as an extranet. The external project teams used a custom profiling application developed by PM Centrix to make all documents adhere to the agreed document standards. The profile was held in XML format that duplicated the equivalent profiles found in SharePoint Portal Server.

Microsoft's SharePoint Portal Server acted as a repository for all project documentation. PM Centrix developed a custom indexing application that was used by each of the project consultants to profile documents according to the agreed standards. Once the documents were profiled, they were stored and could be accessed by the relevant users.

Benefits: Fast development

There were very strong time pressures on PM Centrix to implement the automated document system very quickly with minimum interruption to existing systems that continued to operate during the installation period. The fast implementation and training was made much easier by integrating standard office productivity tools that users were already familiar with, especially the deployment of a browser as the main interface into the new system.

"Once the documents were checked into SharePoint Portal Server, they were immediately available for use. Using the subscriptions facility within SharePoint Portal Server an engineer or document controller can subscribe to specific categories of documents they are interested in and get an automatic email notification if a new or changed document has been checked in", said Stuart Hales, BGE Project Engineer.

Increased productivity There has been a significant impact on the operational effectiveness of the business resulting in many benefits. Access to documentation has been reduced from hours to seconds using electronic document retrieval methods.

Reduction in costs Increasing the effectiveness of users has had a positive benefit on a wide range of expenses. Time is money both in terms of being able to work quicker and in being able to work smarter and react to problems in a more timely manner which in some situations can have a very significant impact on operational costs. Storing documents in electronic format saves on the volume of paper required and on the amount of photocopying required which also impacts on time. Reducing the volume of paper also reduces the amount of space required for filing.

Document retrieval Commenting on document retrieval, Hales said: "where SharePoint Portal Server really comes into its own is on document retrieval. Keyword searching and full text indexing has reduced the time to access key project documents from hours to a few seconds."

Summary

BGE estimates that there will be up to 400,000 documents stored and fully indexed by the time the projects are completed which will require an estimated 6 terabytes of storage. Longevity and easy retrieval will ensure that this project stands as a monument to a fast successful installation that will live long into the future. The deployment of SharePoint Portal Server helped PM Centrix also helped BGE to minimise the training effort required because SharePoint Portal Server integrated easily with the other Microsoft products that users were already competent in using.


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