How many John Smiths can you count in an organisation with more than 100,000 e-mail users?
That's anybody's guess. In the absence of a naming convention, frequent mix-ups were the norm at Unilever's 450 business units.
Mix-ups were inevitable. Unilever, whose product lines include Lipton tea and Dove soap, had no coherent directory strategy. Each technology was managed from its own directory. For example, a Windows NT user and a Lotus cc:Mail user would be in separate directories.
As a result, the company had about 20 different types of directories. During the course of a normal day, these directories could not share information.
Once per week they synchronised using an outsourced service to provide switching. The goal of the IT group was to give everyone in this global company of 100,000 e-mail users a uniform way to manage their own systems.
The directory-implementation project was launched in 1994. The company began the process with a framework paper that addressed the need to give cohesion to the technology - the main thrust of which was to share information and knowledge throughout the company. Every project implemented after that point was an application with its own particular return on investment, says Martin Armitage, head of the global infrastructure organisation at Unilever, in London.
Every project was completed before moving on to the next one. For example, these projects included directory synchronisation, a message-switching backbone, user administration, and system monitoring. Today the company has implemented eight Control Data Systems' X.500 directories in all the regions of the world. Each directory has all the information; there is no one master direct-ory. The directory backbones serve about 100,000 users and 10,000 customers.
"It is a safe, secure, and robust environment to do messaging in," Armitage says. The global directories are repositories for information on e-mail, Internet access, and Lotus Notes. By the end of the year, they will also manage user administration - register new users, change passwords, delete users, change names, and add access to new systems and facilities - for Unix, SAP, and PeopleSoft. At this point, the directories do not provide single sign-on, but it is planned for future versions.
The directory implementation has "significantly improved the quality of the global messaging service", Armitage says.
Messaging has now become a mission-critical application that uses distributed directories at its base. As for cost savings, Armitage insists that it is the applications, not the directories, that save money.