When corporate portals were first introduced, they were designed to make it easy to access information across the enterprise. That's beginning to look like a meager, low-level ambition. In 2004, health care provider HCR Manor Care began developing a pioneering process portal, setting a formal goal to help employees "do the right thing, the right time, the right way."
With more than 500 facilities and 60,000 employees, the company had many people handling the same jobs and trying to achieve the same outcomes. Developers recognized that a process portal was the right approach because they "understood the trends in the [IT] industry and the logical perspective that processes run the business," says Ken Kutz, senior manager of Web development.
Indeed, the company has put into practice what many vendors are in the early stages of promoting. The idea of delivering composite applications and processes in role-based environments has figured in SAP's plans for NetWeaver, BEA's purchase of Plumtree, IBM's recent acquisition of Bowstreet and Oracle's purchases of PeopleSoft and Siebel.
HCR Manor Care's portal is built on what Kutz calls the "three-legged stool" of business process documentation, interpreted metrics and knowledge management facilitation. To build the first leg, the company created a taxonomy organized by business process. Pilot projects began in the human resources department, where major processes include recruiting and hiring and minor processes include direct deposit and benefits enrollment.
The portal interface provides a hierarchical tree view of processes and subprocesses along the left side of the screen, with each user's view customized to his or her role and access privileges. As users click down each step in a process, instructions are detailed in the center of the screen, and links to related application screens, reports, tutorials, policies and supporting reference materials appear along the right side of the screen.
Much of HCR Manor Care's HR process documentation went live in 2004, easing training and improving consistency across the company, but the other two legs of the portal didn't come into play until more recently. Process metrics added last fall put performance in context with a technique known as range-based substitution. Instead of just showing a figure, for example, the portal can display a "help others improve" link to teams that are performing well and a "learn how to improve" link to those that are lagging.
These interpreted metrics trigger the knowledge management facilitation, as the teams that are excelling are automatically linked to best-practice submission forms. The teams that need help are linked to appropriate tutorials, best practices and reference materials related to the lagging metrics. "This is how we get to the higher level goal of improving key business indicators by facilitating positive behavior change," Kutz says.
Although the portal is still in the early stages of deployment, it's an impressive achievement even without ROI stats. The environment is almost entirely homegrown, built on ASP.Net 1.1, Microsoft IIS and SQL Server 2000 using a Microsoft portal reference application. The underlying content management system and business process documentation systems are also homegrown. Taking a componentized approach, processes are broken into discreet steps that are reused in multiple processes; as steps are revised and improved, the changes are reflected in all related processes. Among the few portal components supplied by vendors are the Endeca Profind search engine and the MicroStrategy reporting tool.
HCR Manor Care's portal is about much more than access to information, but even by that measure, the process approach offers an edge. Instead of searching though directories and portlets to find what's needed to complete a process, users need find only the task they're after and they're linked, step-by-step, to the appropriate applications, contextualized metrics, and supporting documentation.