Revios Reinsurance turns intranet into desktop

The North American office of an international reinsurance firm is taking content management out of its IT department’s hands and putting it in server-based “”work spaces”” available to its users.

Revios Reinsurance said it had

adopted Microsoft’s SharePoint Portal Server 2003 and Windows SharePoint Services to provide sites for team collaboration and knowledge sharing. The company, which provides life insurance services, worked with Microsoft reseller Cyberplex to implement the software. Revios is based in Cologne, Germany, but runs its Canadian and U.S. operations out of Toronto.

SharePoint is a collection of tools that allow users to share information in a common area using a simple “”Save As”” command. Microsoft first introduced the technology two years ago at Comdex Fall in Las Vegas and has since made it a free add-on to Windows Server 2003.

Paul Tomlinson, Revios’ regional vice-president of marketing, said he is in the process of “”conscripting”” contributors from various departments to provide content for the portal that will be available company-wide.

“”Whenever I see something being distributed in the company via e-mail, I remind the person who is distributing it to also put it on the portal as well,”” he said. “”Certainly there’s going to be some resistance to something new, but what I envision happening is to see our usual desktop (interface) replaced by the portal.””

Revios has had an intranet for some time, but it wasn’t being used as a tool to keep staff informed of important legislative or regulatory changes in the insurance sector, Tomlinson said. The intranet was also maintained by the company’s IT staff, which meant the content wasn’t very current.

“”We (also) had a server that we affectionately called the G-drive, which was a repository for any number of files — from correspondence to Excel spreadsheets to any number of other files,”” he said. “”It became a huge file, and because of that it wasn’t as friendly and accessible.””

Microsoft Canada’s Office System product manager Mike Bulmer said SharePoint is proving popular with users because it takes advantage of existing Windows applications they’re already familiar with, including Word and Excel.

“”It allows the end users to get together and work together in a way that’s natural to them without having to burden IT guys to build these little places or give them F drives that people used in the past,”” he said.

Chris Trauzzi, with Toronto-based Cyberplex, said Revios is a good example of the kind of large enterprise that turns to the channel to help solve their collaboration needs.

“”They know the technology is available to take on part of the solution but they need to sort of improve the offering,”” he said. “”More often than not it’s putting some sort front-end side of a back-end system that’s doing some information processing but not spreading the information to the users.””

Version control is another problem that comes up, especially in the insurance industry, Tomlinson said.

“”When files were being shared among the company, there was always some confusion as to which was the last file,”” he said. “”Through the portal, we are able to place the final document in a document library that pertains to the department using it.””

Bulmer said Revios shares these challenges with other firms.

“”You can open up your e-mail, but you don’t know if that’s the most recent version,”” he said. “”The other thing that happens in this information worker economy is, people pack up and go. If the information is stored on their laptop, that information goes with them.””

Tomlinson said the portal will continue to develop based on the interest of different departments within the company.

“”I think there’s a bit of rivalry going on there, where another department has come up with something really neat, and that department’s psyched, so the other department will become aware of that or be referred to it, and they’ll build off of that as well.””

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