Shell and IBM partner to sell gas online

A collaboration between Shell Canada and IBM to develop a business-to-business e-commerce portal has begat another, unexpected partnership: members from the vendor and the customer teams just got married.

Executives from Big

Blue and the oil giant mentioned the recent nuptials at PartnerWorld Canada 2004 on Thursday as an example of how well the two organizations came together to create Electronic Customer Access to Shell, or eCATS.

“”It’s someone from IBM marrying someone from Shell, it’s an American marrying a Canadian . . . talk about globalization,”” said Roger Milley, IT eBusiness leader for Shell Canada.

Shell brought IBM into the project two years ago, when the company wanted to create an online tool to sell gas and lubricants to trucking firms and other enterprises. The finished site allows customers to facilitate orders, price orders, view reports, browse Shell’s product catalogue and make customer requests. The incentive was to replace the traditional way of dealing with Shell’s customer sales representatives by phone, Milley said.

Although sponsorship for the project came from Shell International in the U.K., Milley said the product was developed and hosted in Canada because Shell has a research facility within the University of Calgary, which was considered close enough to IBM’s software lab in Toronto. The project team, which at one point included 55 concurrent people in Calgary, had only six weeks to prepare eCATS for a rollout in Canada and at Shell’s operations in France.

IBM Canada project manager Sharon Hurtung said the team was structured into two overall team leads (including herself and Milley) as well as a team leader for each of the areas of work or “”domains”” like architecture, development and testing. While Milley specialized in dealing externally with all the various stakeholders at Shell, Hurtung focused internally on the technical delivery aspects. “”That really allowed us to deep-dive into every area of the project,”” she said.

Milley said it was important to create a corporate culture within the eCATS team that was unique to the group, instead of an “”us and them”” relationship that characterizes many other IT projects. “”We brought in IBM as kind of a regiment,”” he said, describing Big Blue as somewhat more consistent in its approach. “”Shell was like the wild horses, running free.””

The teambuilding approach was based on a meeting schedule that included a “”six week rule”” where an event would bring stakeholders from around the world to discuss milestones and plan next steps. “”We were communicating a lot with people via teleconference, but after five or six weeks even that started to break down,”” she said. “”People were starting to get a bit snippy with each other.””

The team leaders tried to keep morale high by holding 20-minute ceremonies marking the transition of one stage of the project to another. The development sub-team, for example, would be on hand to cut cake slices when it was time to hand the site over to the testing group. Hurtung also noticed many people at the Calgary site leaving to get food on their lunch hour because there was no cafeteria or restaurants nearby. After an analysis, she determined it was “”cost-neutral”” to supply the team’s lunch every day. There were also “”all hands”” meetings every two weeks with the entire team to go over their progress. Formal events would also be complemented with more social activities. “”I can tell you that bowling is a very cheap way to encourage teambuilding,”” she said.

Milley told ProjectWorld attendees it was important to realize the limits of project partnerships, and where the buck stops.

“”Don’t adopt the blame-the-vendor strategy,”” he warned. “”Ultimately we have to accept the blame and recognize that we’re bringing in someone to complement our efforts. That creates a much healthier environment.””

ProjectWorld 2004 wraps up Friday.

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