Vanguard has updated its intranet to improve collaboration, so that employees can better communicate with one another and the platform can serve as testing ground for new interactive tools for customers, Information Week reports.

In fact, employees can customize their graphical user interface to the new intranet, called CrewNet, to include access to e-mail, shared documents they can work on with colleagues, news feeds and a calendar. Vanguard was particularly keen to migrate the company e-mail to CrewNet, in order to drive traffic—and usage—to the site.

Future enhancements include being able to track down experts in various areas at the company, adding links to blogs and wikis, and making it possible for employees to share ideas and even brainstorm. Eventually, the company intends to also add a natural language search tool that allows employees to ask a full question—not just type in a key word—and find information across their e-mail, the website and an Oracle database. By 2009, Vanguard estimates the new communication tool will save it $10 million a year, as measured by a reduction in employees’ time wasted on searching for information.

And since Vanguard doesn’t have any retail outlets and its website is such a critical way to communicate with customers, the company is testing new interfaces and tools on its intranet before rolling them out on its public website. The ultimate goal is to provide customers with the best Web experience possible and even tailoring information on its website to fit the needs of various demographic groups.

Last year, for example, Vanguard tested rich Internet applications on its intranet. “It was really R&D spending for us,” said Chief Investment Officer Paul Heller. “If there are going to be bugs, better they be with us.”

As Information Week puts it: “If Amazon, where you spend several hundred dollars a year, has incredibly useful features for you, and the site where you have your $500,000 401(k) has none of them, that hardly inspires confidence.”

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