An Extreme Makeover

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 2007-08-05 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

To provide technical assistance and developmental knowledge to fight poverty and disease, the World Bank first had to overhaul its antiquated I.T. system and build a global network.

An Extreme Makeover

Before Muhsin and the ISG group, which numbered more than 400 by 1998, could provide the necessary support for the four Strategic Partnership Programs (decentralization, knowledge sharing, renewal of bank I.T. and implementation of cost effectiveness) that he had spelled out in the September 1997 bank newsletter, he and his team had to rebuild the bank's infrastructure from the ground up. "Obviously, we had to clean this mess up," Denning says. "If we cleaned it up, we'd be more efficient as a lending organization. But we really needed to get our knowledge in the hands of our partners [government, non-government and private-sector organizations, etc.]. Only then could we solve the world's problems with poverty."

In 1997, the bank selected SAP R/3 4.0B (it later migrated to the 4.6C version) as its primary engine for I.T. improvement. With the SAP ERP system, the bank replaced disparate administrative systems and created a unified I.T. environment so that the same business processes could be used in Washington and in the 100 or so field offices. Eight SAP components—SAP Financials, SAP Fund Management, SAP Controlling, SAP Materials Management, SAP Project Management, SAP Project System, SAP Human Resources-Travel Management and SAP Enterprise Buyer—were brought in to streamline procurement, materials management, project systems and financial reporting.

The bank originally budgeted $43 million for the SAP ERP suite, according to internal bank documents, but the project soon was $10 million over budget. In a story that appeared in a number of publications, including the Harvard Business Review and CIO magazine, Wolfensohn was upset by the overrun and summoned Muhsin to his office to explain. Muhsin, in turn, brought in Ken Thornton, then general manager of IBM's global public sector practice, to address Wolfensohn's concerns. The bank president had a long-standing friendship with IBM's then-CEO, Lou Gerstner, and IBM had been brought in as a strategic partner on the ERP implementation.

After Thornton explained to Wolfensohn that 80% of all ERP implementations ran over budget, Wolfensohn made it clear he wanted the bank to be part of that 20% minority. Thornton pleaded with Wolfensohn not to lose faith and urged him "not to blink." Later, when Muhsin ran into the bank president in the elevator, Wolfensohn assured him he wasn't going to blink. He was as good as his word. According to internal bank documents, he got the bank's board to approve the additional $10 million, and ultimately project costs came to $54.3 million.

In the end, Wolfensohn clearly made the right decision. With the SAP ERP system, which was completed in 18 months, the bank consolidated its legacy systems and databases, while reducing cycle time with electronic approval of projects. "For us at the World Bank, the SAP implementation was a very big deal," Muhsin said in a SAP news release.

The SAP ERP project only represented part of the bank's I.T., process and communications overhaul. "We used SAP for all business transactions and brought in Oracle for databases," says Ronald Kim, information officer for the World Bank Institute (WBI). The WBI serves as the bank's capacity development arm, helping countries share and apply global and local knowledge to meet development challenges.

Specifically, Oracle is being used as the foundation for the bank's Record Integrated Information System. This is the repository for all of the bank's official records, reports, e-mails, and audio and video. With Oracle, the bank was seeking database scalability—a key factor in dealing with a large population of users around the world—as well as availability, performance and security. With Oracle's InterMedia database feature, it can also store and manage multimedia data.

In 2002, the bank began soliciting RFPs for a solution that would enable it to better organize and retrieve the millions of documents, many of them going back almost 60 years and written in dozens of languages, stored within its global repository. In effect, this would serve as the business intelligence solution for the bank's global knowledge sharing system. The vendor chosen—Teragram, a multi-lingual, natural-language technology company based in Cambridge, Mass.—makes categorization software that is used in high-demand environments such as large Internet search engines (Yahoo), major news companies (The New York Times), and numerous Fortune 500 companies and financial organizations. The bank chose Teragram's TK240 Version 5, the company's flagship taxonomy management software (software that automatically analyzes document contents and classifies and categorizes them). Typically, bank employees transmit documents to a document management system that uses the Oracle database. Each of these documents is read by the TK240 software, which applies linguistic-based identification to each document and then assigns meta-data tags based on predetermined indicators.

"Teragram was able to create a system that worked across multiple languages for better categorization, storage and quick retrieval," says Yves Schabes, who co-founded Teragram. "The biggest challenge in a large organization is to be able to find information stored in many environments and many offices and many languages. The larger the organization, the more of an issue this is."

The bank also built its own management dashboard, which enables management to access SAP and Oracle data on the Web and update key business metrics. It brought in Lotus Notes as its e-mail and collaboration tool, and a repository of documents in Lotus Notes databases, according to the WBI's Kim. IBM's Domino.doc, a commercial IBM Lotus product, was acquired primarily for content storage.

Web technology, which the bank characterizes as "the interface of choice for knowledge sharing," was also critical. Beginning in 2003, the bank began what it called the Internet Services Program (ISP), a multi-year project to upgrade its Internet capacities. To support this, it acquired IBM WebSphere Servers and WebSphere Portal Servers; Netegrity Web security software; iPlanet Directory Server; and Vignette content management software.

For online collaboration, it uses Lotus Sametime, a commercial product that provides collaborative tools and workspaces. Google is used to retrieve information from the bank's internal and external Web sites, while Epublish, a home-built Web publishing tool based on the Vignette content management software, is used for content caching.

Next Page: The Ouagadougou Factor



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Associate Editor

Brian joined Baseline in March 2006. In addition to previous stints at Inter@ctive Week and The Net Economy, he's written for The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., as well as The Sunday Tribune in Dublin, Ireland. Brian has a B.A. from Bucknell University and a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

 
 
 
 
 
 

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