Have It Your Way

Manufacturers are tapping into personalization technology to increase the value of information.

In simple terms, Vince DeLuca is a plumber. That is, if you consider the information he is sitting on to be the size of the Atlantic Ocean and his customers to be as numerous and diverse as the population of the East Coast. In reality, DeLuca is manager of Business Intelligence for Akron-based Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.'s North American Tire Div. And that means he must build and maintain pipes that lead from heaps and heaps of disparate information to the many executives, managers, and staff members who need that information -- presented in unique and meaningful formats -- to do their jobs. And they need it faster than ever before. "My biggest problem -- or challenge -- is keeping up with the demand to get more information in there," DeLuca says of the division's information-management systems. To meet that challenge, DeLuca and many other manufacturing leaders who manage information are turning to personalization technology-systems that divide and distribute information based on unique user need. Some personalization systems are consumer-based and supply information to unique Web sites for customers, while others may deliver information internally via an intranet or to key customers through an extranet. Goodyear's North American Tire Div. is implementing Computer Associates International Inc.'s Jasmine ii Portal, running atop a data warehouse system, to deliver personalized information internally. The division was a beta test site for Jasmine ii Portal, which was released in October. "The great advantage of the portal is that it allows you to bring so much information into one interface," DeLuca says. "You can use a portal to bring together information without a data warehouse, but what [adding the data warehouse component] does is connect disparate information." DeLuca gives the example of matching human resources and sales information. Perhaps this matched set of data is needed by only one manager for one project, but having it -- and getting it quickly -- will give that manager a competitive edge. "All of a sudden, the business becomes transparent, and that is very powerful," DeLuca says. DeLuca believes personalization technology is vital to keeping his division competitive, and recent product releases and alliances show others in the manufacturing sector agree. Oracle Corp.'s new Oracle 9i database, which is in beta testing, includes a strong personalization component. Material promoting the new database keys in on a technology challenge faced by companies that use Internet-based systems to interact with internal and external customers: managing vast amounts of information while maintaining a one-to-one relationship. Dell Computer Corp., a personalization pioneer and driver of the Internet-based one-to-one relationship concept, has gotten so good at personalization that customers want to buy that service along with their servers. The Round Rock, Tex.-based company has responded by forming an alliance with Austin-based Vignette Corp., an e-business application provider. Vignette V/5 applications will supplement the homegrown personalization systems Dell began developing in the mid-'90s, which today support 50,000 Web sites in 14 different languages for premier customers. In addition, says Patrick Vogt, director of the Relationships Online Group at Dell, the Vignette agreement will allow Dell to begin offering personalization services along with the computing power to support them because the market is demanding it. Both DeLuca and Vogt say personalization products have come a long way. "The tools have become so flexible, it's kind of up to our imaginations on how to use [personalization]," DeLuca says. "That's one of the things that would determine your competitive advantage -- how many ways you can imagine using it."

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