Quaker Chemical's Collaboration Formula

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An online collaboration system is helping Quaker Chemical become more efficient. Now the chemical maker needs to convince all employees to use it.

To Cathy Nelson, new technology provides a gift of time: an extra five hours each week, to be exact. That's the time Nelson, director of customer service at Quaker Chemical, used to lose while handling a frustrating jumble of phone calls and e-mails when a customer wanted to return a 55-gallon drum of a chemical. Aside from the hassle, the clumsy process cost the company money.

PDF Download "I knew we had to do something," Nelson says. "We had returns showing up at our door and no one even knew the material was coming in." For Nelson, an online file-sharing system for tracking 10 returns a month is a "lifesaver." Now, the minute a customer service representative adds a return form to an online file, everyone involved in the process is notified by a flashing alert box on their computer. The employees—including the warehouse worker, lab tester, and plant manager—can access the file with a click of a mouse.

Nelson's new collaboration method, which cuts the time it takes to do a return by about three days, is only a snapshot of how a knowledge-management system is used by the Conshohocken, Pa.-based maker of specialty chemicals. Launched in 1999, QBI, or Quaker Business Intelligence, is a global intranet, anchored by collaborative software from Intraspect Software of Brisbane, Calif. Quaker uses QBI to gather information stored on workers' computers and in their heads to help make better business decisions.

The question of how employees could share data has vexed managers since the PC revolution of the 1980s. Sure, a worker could stuff a ton of data in all sorts of formats on a hard drive. Networks connect people via e-mail, where some of the information is shared. But a larger question persisted: How does a company turn reams of data into useful information? Collaborative software aims to solve that problem by allowing employees to work together and share files.

At Quaker, QBI is intended to help solve problems: whether that's figuring out why sales are down within certain mills in North America, helping to develop new chemical formulas for automakers or tracking down 55-gallon drums of chemicals returned by customers.

This article was originally published on 2002-05-15
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