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Another use of internet & computer technology  
Virtually opening the books
By Edmund Tadros
July 13, 2004
A little lateral thought might produce other applications for this idea.

[extracts of article]
When WH Smith came to sell most of its Asia-Pacific businesses, it knew
potential buyers would want to check the books.
Management identified about 1900 documents relevant to the running of the
three book-and-stationery chains up for grabs - Angus & Robertson in
Australia, Whitcoulls in New Zealand and WH Smith in Hong Kong.
Traditionally, a physical data room would allow potential buyers to carry
out their due diligence. But the trouble with physical data rooms is the
volume of electronic and physical documents means they are time-consuming to
set up and run. In addition, too many interested bidding groups might mean
having to set up another data room.
Many have switched to virtual data rooms that contain electronic copies of
all documents. Users still have to sign confidentiality agreements but going
virtual means the data can, depending on security requirements, be easily
accessed using computers either in a secure room or through the internet.
In this case, WH Smith decided to use the online data-room system created by
its lawyers, Clayton Utz.
Edwards says some information was released only to serious bidders.
"By putting (certain information) into a data room, you're actually up
against the privacy laws (so) we took a decision to keep staff information
out of the data room until we got to the serious players," he says.
Six virtual data rooms were opened during the bidding period, with 110 users
in three countries accessing the information. Each buying team had a posse
of lawyers, accountants, business analysts and merchant bankers to wade
through the books.
"(Bidders) access the data room via secure internet connection (and) we keep
an eye on file size and break up files that are too large to easily open,"
Most information was provided in Adobe's PDF format, with 257 documents
released in Microsoft Word and Excel formats to allow the data to be
manipulated by potential buyers.
The online data room also allowed easy tracking of bidders' requests for
information, (RFIs), which are lists of questions generated by the bidding
teams as they examine the documents.
Any documents that were added into the data room were indexed in a
supplemental release. During the month the data room was open, 235 RFIs were
received, requiring a total of 20 supplemental releases.
An electronic data room also provides a clear audit trail
Complete records are maintained of who had access to the documents and when;
this eliminates the accusations later that information was not disclosed."
At the end of the selling process a DVD was burnt of the complete set of
data-room information, adding up to more than 2 GB of files

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