Achiever winner: Notes gives intranet personal touch

Notes/Domino helped create a customizable, collaborative intranet at URS Corp. The project's success earned it one of our Achiever Awards, presented today at Lotusphere.

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If you're a news junkie, a stock investor or a sports fanatic, odds are you've created a My Yahoo page to help you track your favorite publications, companies or teams. The Web interface allows users to define the content that they want to see and then format it in a style that best suits their needs.

That same customization principle now guides the Notes-based intranet at URS Corp., the San Francisco-based technology design, engineering and construction firm. And the appoach makes sense, since each of the business' 25,500 employees -- located in 20 countries -- have documents, databases and Web links that are pertinent to their individual jobs and which they need easy access to.

URS' intranet, called The Sourse, didn't always give employees the level of flexibility that it does today. While the intranet caught fire when it rolled out in 2001, employees still demanded faster access to their most-used applications, as well as alerts when forms or documents changed, and the ability to tap restricted Notes databases.

URS embarked on a year-long effort to enhance The Sourse, putting personalization at the heart of the project. The result is a customizable intranet that gives employees the ability to create a page designed around their job function and their preferred way of working. This project has been so successful that it's earned one of SearchDomino.com's Achiever Awards for excellence in the use of IBM Lotus technology. URS and this year's other winner,the Virginia Commonwealth's Attorneys' Information System, will receive their awards at a ceremony on the exhibit show floor at Lotusphere.

The URS effort involved a four-member design team and six months' worth of Domino development time. After the group scoped out the project's specifications, senior software developer John Vaughan started coding. He worked in Domino Designer 5, represented all data as XML stored in Notes documents, and wrote in several languages. In LotusScript, Vaughan created and maintained user data, as well as controlled the functionality of the Notes-based user interface. He used Java for the Web agents that process user data, and he built the interface with JavaScript and XML.

The development effort required Web-enabling all Notes databases. The biggest challenge, according to the URS team, was creating a common interface for users working in the Notes client or a Web browser, as well as enabling seamless data synchronization between the two access points.

"One of the tricky things was if you made a change in a browser -- say, added some bookmarks and created links to databases or Web sites, and then 30 minutes later you switched [to the Notes client]," said Linda Davis, the Notes development manager at URS who led the project. "Everything had to sync."

In May 2003, URS flipped the switch on My Sourse, the intranet's personalization component. It featured two primary components: My Sourse Links and My Sourse Options.

My Sourse Links gives users a "favorites" section, which lets them highlight four frequently used resources (such as the travel reservation system, a Web link or a Notes database). It also links employees to relevant internal discussion forums and allows them to get into limited-access Notes databases that, initially, they couldn't tap into through the intranet. For instance, some employees wanted to access a template in Notes used to reserve conference rooms; others wanted to link to group calendars, project databases or help desk data stores.

The second element of the project, My Sourse Options, now lets employees subscribe to alerts notifying them when changes are made to their frequently used resources. This really came in handy as URS was installing a new accounting system and was frequently replacing administrative forms. With My Sourse, users also have the ability to customize their interface.

In a company that's grown rapidly through acquisition (URS' work force has grown about 15-fold since 1996), the intranet has evangelized the benefits of Notes/Domino to those employees who may have been more familiar with other messaging and collaboration systems.

"The neatest thing to me is when somebody uses [My Sourse] in a way you didn't expect them to use it," said developer Vaughan. He said that one employee who was given the task of answering his boss' e-mail realized he could create a link to the Notes inbox through MySourse. That's a use Vaughan never anticipated when he was writing the My Sourse code.

After an upgrade to ND6.5, plans will get underway for version 3 of The Sourse. But already, URS says, its workers are more productive, its projects are more successful, and employees are interacting like never before, thanks to this Domino-based system.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Article: Achiever finalist: Notes brings order to the court

Special coverage: Lotusphere '04

Dig deeper on Domino Resources - Part 2

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