TAB bets on plug 'n play solution

Stripped-down software applications wrapped in black box appliances that plug into the corporate intranet are proving a winner for NSW TAB.

TAB is using the new devices, developed by Melbourne company IntraCom Australia, to electronically deliver employee timesheet, leave and expense forms.

The plug 'n play boxes address a class of business solutions which need to interface with core enterprise resource planning systems and normally involve substantial development overheads.

The project came in at about 50 per cent of the cost of more traditional solutions. "At a cost level, it really left all our other options for dead," said TAB group e-business manager Ben HeapThose alternatives included the longer timeframes and more complicated licensing procedures of extending TAB's existing SAP system or turning to an application service provider, TAB chief executive (corporate) Joe Collins said.

When the new appliances were installed several months ago, TAB gave employees the option of continuing to fill in leave and expense forms manually.

"But after two or three weeks, the finance department found the new process so beneficial they put out a notice saying all expense forms in future had to be submitted electronically," Heap said.

"What appeals to our IT guys is that this is a very simple box that just plugs into the network. It is very much self-contained in the software sense to the point where you don't even need to know what its operating system is."

Only two cables come out of the box: one plugs into a power point, the other into TAB's 100Mit/sec Ethernet.

Training costs were minimal because the application is delivered via a browser screen as part of the company's existing TAB Lounge in-house Web site.

The employee self-service solution chosen by TAB is one of IntraCom's Igneous suite of applications targeted at medium to large companies and costing $100,000 to $250,000. Other Igneous solutions include people management, digital asset management and media office solutions with a range of new ones due out this year.

IntraCom has been granted a technology innovation patent on the software appliance concept that it has been developing for about two years.

"We have identified a number of business processes which are things that core ERP systems don't do very well," IntraCom chief executive Richard Cousins said.

To fill those gaps, IntraCom's software follows a "simpler, smarter, faster" approach by stripping out thick layers of sophisticated power user features.

The lowest common denominator result tallies more precisely with what average users want and dramatically reduces training and implementation overheads, Cousins says.

"You still need to do an implementation but it is days or weeks rather than months." He said customers also like the fixed rate pricing rather than the per-seat licences preferred by ERP vendors.

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