Expert Reporting

Portal-based solution benefits Intertek, its customers, and the environment.

by Minda Zetlin, May 2011

Zodiac Pool Systems is one of the largest manufacturers of pool equipment in the world, with operations in North America, Australia, South Africa, China, and Europe. Shajee Siddiqui, director of global product safety and compliance at Zodiac Pool Systems, oversees product safety and regulatory compliance across all of those locations.

It’s a tough job that used to be even tougher before Intertek—Zodiac’s vendor of choice for testing, certification, and reporting on many of its products—launched the customer interface My TestCentral, built on Oracle Portal.

“We would have to wait for the hard copy of Intertek’s reports to come in the mail,” Siddiqui says of the old days before the launch of the system. “They might get lost in the mail, or in our company’s mail system. It was really difficult if I was traveling. I would have to get someone back at my office to go find the document, scan it, and e-mail it, or fax it to me. It was a five- or six-step process.”

Delays like these could affect a product’s whole lifecycle. “We don’t let any product go to market unless it has met all compliance requirements,” Siddiqui explains. “It’s a critical part of our process.” Product managers, often under intense pressure to meet product launch deadlines, would ask him, “When will we be able to go to market?”

In the past few years, Intertek’s executives have been able to deliver stunning efficiency gains for many of the company’s customers with the new Oracle system. Working with Oracle Consulting, developers at Intertek’s Commercial & Electrical division created My TestCentral, enabling online access to more than 20,000 reports a year for Zodiac and thousands of other customers.

Now, customers can sign in to a Web interface from wherever they happen to be and get test results and reports—eliminating the inefficiencies of the old process and giving customers access to vital information whenever they need it.

“I can be sitting in a new-product development meeting with my laptop, and tell people then and there that we have the results,” Siddiqui says.

The success of the My TestCentral system inspired the creation of another portal at Intertek, called Report Manager. Both systems are hosted by Oracle On Demand, saving Intertek roughly US$250,000 a year in paper, shipping costs, and labor. The company has also reduced its carbon footprint by eliminating 161 tons of paper and 36,000 courier shipments a year. For these achievements, Oracle awarded Intertek the Enable the Eco-Enterprise Award for 2010.

“It’s exciting to find something that provides significant internal benefit and also benefits customers,” says Dean Davidson, vice president, business process management, at Intertek. “And it’s better for the environment. It’s a trifecta.” 

Access and Security

For more than 125 years, companies have depended on Intertek to test products and processes for safety, quality, and regulatory compliance. With experience in auditing and inspection, testing, quality assurance, and certification, Intertek has expertise, resources, and global reach to support customers through a network of more than 27,000 staff in more than 1,000 laboratories and offices all over the world.

But that long history entered a new chapter when management turned the page on inefficient, paper-based processes.

The creation of My TestCentral began in 2005, when Intertek’s Commercial & Electrical division wanted to give customers Web access to test reports, and build a system to store these reports. With more than 20,000 reports a year, averaging 65 pages each, eliminating the cost of printing multiple copies, shipping them to customers, and storing them would make a significant difference to the bottom line.

Moving to a Web-based approach for delivering reports could also provide a competitive advantage by giving customers access to reports the moment they were completed. “Within our market, our number-one value proposition is speed of delivery,” Davidson explains.

But management quickly realized that security would also be a top issue. It was absolutely critical for customers to get access to the reports they needed, and for that access to be restricted to the right people. So identity management and security was a top priority for protecting trade secrets contained in Intertek reports.

Intertek had a long-standing relationship with Oracle, so it made sense to return to a known vendor for the new project. But beyond the pre-existing relationship, Oracle’s reputation for security contributed to the case for choosing Oracle, says Sherrie MacNeill, global business systems manager at Intertek.

“Oracle is noted for its databases and for having extremely strong security,” she says. “We have clients accessing this information who need to control who can see what. If we were working for two competitors, think how awful it would be if one customer could see another’s confidential information.” 

No More New Filing Cabinets

To keep that from happening, MacNeill says Intertek management turned to Oracle Portal 11g, hosted by Oracle On Demand, a cloud-based solution that would deliver both the functionality and scalability required to streamline the reporting process and the security to safeguard vital information.

Intertek also uses Oracle E-Business Suite for core enterprise resource planning functions and can do internal validation of the reports distributed through the portal. This ensures that no document is ever posted to the wrong place and that only the right people have access.

Customers also use the portal to reduce their own paper usage by giving their manufacturing partners access to needed information. Back in the paper world, a customer would receive one copy of a document but might have to distribute that information to multiple manufacturers who also needed to see it. Now they can set up a community of people who need to see the document within the portal.

With the new system, customers can access report data from a single online location, regardless of where the end user is sitting. For example, a large international company may have dozens of locations around the world, each engaging with a local Intertek office. But there may be one manager at a headquarters location who wants to control and monitor all these activities and all the work Intertek performs. Because everyone at all locations can log in to the same portal, no one is left out of the loop.

One of My TestCentral’s biggest benefits is that it vastly decreases the number of paper documents customers must store. Siddiqui recounts how after a product is certified by Intertek, a field inspector may pay an unannounced visit to the Zodiac manufacturing facility to ensure that a product’s design, construction, and quality are maintained.

When that happens, Zodiac is required to have the most recent revision of certification files or listing reports available at the facility, because that document describes how the product is made. Now, staff members at Zodiac have immediate access to these documents through My TestCentral and no longer need to retain a hard copy.

“We used to have a room about 8 by 10 feet set aside just for storing records,” Siddiqui says. “I still need an area to keep old files, but for the last five years I haven’t had to continue ordering filing cabinets every year, and I don’t have to keep asking management for more physical space.” 

The Power of Tracking

After the success of My TestCentral, Intertek IT executives began wondering if there were more ways that Oracle Portal could help cut down on paper. The result was Report Manager, another custom-built portal, this one for internal use. This solution not only allows Intertek employees to reduce paper usage, but it has dramatically improved efficiency—merely by giving the workforce the means to track each report at every stage of its creation. 

“Now we have end-to-end tracking for every one of our reports through Report Manager. Each little step, from when the document is first started to its issuance to the customer, is visible now, and that’s huge for us,” Davidson explains.

Report Manager also saves time by connecting Intertek employees from all over the globe. That helps speed projects along when tests are performed or reports are written and reviewed in multiple locations. Better yet, it allows projects to be routed away from overburdened locations to ones where engineers have fewer projects—increasing engineer utilization in a human version of the process that makes cloud computing more efficient.

The portal also helps efficiency by ensuring that everyone working on a report is using the most up-to-date version of the listing or requirements. Put all these elements together, and the efficiency gains are impressive: the average time to produce a report has fallen from 25 days to 12 days. Thanks to Report Manager, Intertek now tells customers to expect reports within 15 days—a powerful selling tool.

Siddiqui says that for Zodiac, one of three or four major manufacturers in the highly competitive swimming pool equipment business, getting reports quickly can make a huge difference. Typically, swimming pool builders like to start their season well stocked with whatever they might need to complete that season’s jobs. So they often do all their buying for the year at an industry show just before the season begins. Miss that show, and those few preseason weeks, and you’ve lost all of that business.

“Speed to market is absolutely critical, and the certification listing is such an important element of bringing a new product to market that if it’s delayed by even a few weeks, it can cause us to lose an entire season,” says Siddiqui.

And that’s where the combined effect of Report Manager and My TestCentral delivers a powerful benefit. “Seven or eight years ago, once a product was tested, it might take several weeks to get an official report,” Siddiqui says. “We had an Intertek engineer here week before last, and within three or four working days, I had the report.”

“We’re extremely satisfied with the efficiency gains that we’ve been able to deliver to our customers through My TestCentral,“ Davidson says. “The substantial reduction in our carbon footprint and the cost savings that we have realized are just icing on the cake.” 

For More Information

Oracle Portal 11g
Oracle On Demand
On Demand Makes Sense
  


Minda Zetlin is coauthor with Bill Pfleging of The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don’t Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive (Prometheus Books, 2006).