Sara Lee cooks up new connections

Sometimes, when it comes to IT, it pays not to hold back. When Victoria-based Sara Lee Household and Bodycare decided to migrate from its Lotus Domino platform to .Net a year ago, it immediately addressed some business-critical challenges.

Firstly, a number of its applications that had been developed for the Domino system needed to be integrated into the new platform. Secondly, as a subsidiary of a company listed on a US stock exchange (which is also a division of Sara Lee Australia), it needed to comply with recent Sarbanes-Oxley accountancy reform legislation. Lastly, it had a number of clients and partners that were asking for enhanced communication and e-business facilities.

A partnership evolved between Sara Lee and the application integration division of Dimension Data, which was already working with the company on its storage, networking and security. A preliminary meeting between the two companies created a long-term .Net development plan.

Dimension Data began the project with a company-wide rollout of Windows Server 2003 and Active Directory at the network core and then concentrated on the separate goals that Sara Lee set out.

Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003 - the online collaboration tool - was the first installation and provided an extranet and intranet for Sara Lee's employees with single sign-on.

The next hurdle was to adapt for .Net a Domino-based application developed for controlling the provisioning of Sara Lee personnel. Microsoft BizTalk Server 2004 and Microsoft InfoPath 2003 were used, which also provided the necessary audit trail, reporting and effective control.

"InfoPath's dynamic forms allowed new staff in Sara Lee's IT department to be allocated access and permissions to disparate systems, files and applications," said Anthony Stevens, Dimension Data's AI practice manager and the head of the Sara Lee project. "We developed a form in InfoPath and used BizTalk for workflow and integration in the back end, with SharePoint as the access point. It also ensured that once a staff member had left, permissions were removed to preserve the integrity of the network."

BizTalk was selected on the basis that it would also fulfil another crucial business requirement.

"Around the same time, a large customer of Sara Lee had a business-to-business e-commerce requirement," Stevens said. "It was basically a request for automation of the processes behind raising, validating and approving orders, so we used BizTalk for that too. BizTalk 2004 was implemented in beta as part of a Microsoft Technology Adoption Program," he said.

The most recent addition to the project is the implementation of SourceCode's 2003 workflow tool. Said to be the first project in Australia following a recent local launch, its first application will be to automate Sara Lee's purchase order and expenses requests. Several other uses for the tool are in the pipeline.

"I know of no other organization in the area that's deployed .Net so effectively," Stevens said.

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