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Case Study: Mining for Information—BHP Billiton

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BHP Billiton, the world’s largest diversified resources company, has nearly 40,000 employees working in over twenty-five countries, annually generating billions of dollars in revenues. Mining plays a major role in the success of the company, which deals in commodities including aluminum, coal, iron ore, uranium, nickel, silver, oil, gas, and diamonds. But it is mining of another sort – the mining of information – that is most crucial to continued diversity, wealth, and growth for BHP Billiton.

Not so long ago, the company had a serious problem when it came to mining information. It’s not that the information didn’t exist—BHP Billiton’s geoscientists have always been great at producing crucial data that includes documents, photos, raw seismic data and video footage. But they were less accomplished in storing, sharing and retrieving that information in a manner most beneficial to all employees and, consequently, to the bottom line.

“The problem was that in certain cases a lot of the information was in a database, but in other cases, it was just a graph in a PowerPoint presentation,” says Michael Glinsky, section leader in quantitative interpretation at BHP and the leader of the company’s recent knowledge management project. “We had a mountain of information and no effective way to go through it.” Disorganization left a lot of important data relegated to the dark recesses of repositories where locating and retrieving it could, in some cases, be near impossible.

To better manage and share vast stores of information all around the world, BHP Billiton sought to build a centralized knowledge management system. After researching and finding that existing solutions didn’t do the job, they hired Blue Fish Development Group. Blue Fish built BHP’s new “getKnowledge” system to organize existing data and integrate new information in a way provides full access to all of BHP’s global users.

In getKnowledge, Blue Fish built a web-based application on a Documentum repository that employs Guided Navigation search technology from Endeca. The system automatically links related information together, and collaborative tools such as online discussion forums allow employees to communicate with each other to facilitate information sharing. A custom-tailored, detailed taxonomy helps users categorize and find information as part of a consistent, easy-to-use interface. And the entire system is available to BHP Billiton users around the world.

Guided Navigation from Endeca Technologies helps users refine search results based on a combination of taxonomy and metadata about the documents. This allows users to issue broad searches across the entire repository and then quickly zoom in on the most relevant results. To further enhance knowledge sharing, BHP and Blue Fish developed methods to “push” relevant information to users including links to related information and highlighting new items. This collaborative nature has delivered benefits even greater than those originally anticipated. Not only are the geoscientists sharing information, they are sharing ideas now, too.

In short, getKnowledge was able to take piles of terrific but widely strewn information – concerning everything from wells, to reservoirs, to hydrocarbon provinces – and synthesize all of this into an information base easily accessible via a highly intuitive interface. And the system works effectively for a range of user types, from those focused on specific tasks to those simply browsing for general information. These users all work with a personalized home page featuring links to a list of resources, related information, and featured items.

While getKnowledge was designed specifically for one of BHP Billiton’s global teams of geoscientists, it has proven more broadly applicable across the company, ensuring that BHP Billiton’s assets are being used as effectively as possible. Says Glinsky, “Now we’re getting better value out of millions of dollars of research and influencing decisions that can create hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue.”

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