Commerce tests reports portal

Agencies that generate pages and pages of accounting reports could benefit from the eReportsPortal, a Web-based management tool that has proven effective in beta tests at the Commerce Department.

Systalex Corp. announced the new product last week at a knowledge management conference in Washington, D.C. The Rockville, Md.-based reseller created the system using Microsoft Corp.'s SharePoint Portal Server software. It allows users who need to generate custom reports to survey their agencies' databases and see if the report they need has already been run, saving the time and money of duplicated efforts.

Commerce has been beta testing the product with good results, said Robert Bair, Commerce's deputy director for financial systems in the Office of the Secretary.

"The problem that we have to solve in the Department of Commerce is that we have implemented a very complex financial management system, and it requires people to do a lot of accounting operations that yield accounting report results," he said. "There is no way to manage a complete set of financial management reports that people can draw on or have access to, or control access." The system, called the Commerce Administrative Management System, or CAMS, is used across all but three Commerce divisions, he said.

A longtime Systalex customer, Bair agreed to try the eReportsPortal at his office in Gaithersburg, Md., where about 12 people use it. The system displays a library of the financial management reports that have already been generated and allows access control so that only users who need to see certain information can get to it.

Because it is Web-based, the solution is platform-independent, another critical factor when trying to integrate existing systems, Bair said. "We run Oracle [Corp. solutions] on Unix boxes here, but across the department, we have a wide array of vendors and systems," he said.

Systalex developed the system on its own in response to Bair's need to manage archived data, and he said he is pleased with the quality of the result.

"It's a nifty way to manage a wide array of data and reports coming out of enterprise systems. Those systems normally don't provide that kind of control," Bair said. "We have not yet made a decision or a buy to use it out in the bureaus. That's probably a next-year event, and that's budget-driven. It's a wonderful solution."

Weipo Liao, president and chief executive officer of Systalex, said the objective in creating the eReportsPortal was to transform collections of legacy systems that churn out reams of paper reports into solutions that span the life cycle of reports, from their initial creation to the archiving of old data.

"We saw redundant and unnecessary funds get spent in the reporting area," Liao said. "People still rely on reports, hard copies, but only because they don't have access to the reports elsewhere."

Some reports can cost $50,000 or even $100,000 to create, he said. Systalex draws much of its business from the commercial sector but sees the government as a fertile field. "Federal government [agencies] are generating tons and tons of reports, and they would benefit from this," he said. "They want to commercialize government business, which is pretty tough."

Systalex is slowly moving from being only a reseller to a solutions developer, he added. Next year, the company plans to introduce a companion to eReportsPortal that will allow portal-based management of archived files.

New Orleans-based consultant John Ortego agreed there is a need for a tool like the eReportsPortal. Generating custom reports can require querying several databases, each with millions of records, plus the cost of paying experienced employees to ensure a report includes all the needed information.

"There is a lot of duplication. The cost is in the machine time that you use to generate a report," he said. "The other hand is, reports don't store for free, and there comes a database cost. If you store them as a rule, then this may have some value."

"If you're looking across all the bureaus of the Department of Commerce, [the cost of report generation] would be substantial," Bair said.

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