Harnessing Knowledge with Intranets

If 18 percent of corporate printed material becomes outdated after 30 days, imagine what that would be after 60 or 90 days.
If you’ve done that mental exercise, now imagine if that material were always online and current. And that, say intranet believers, is the benefit of the intranet.
Not only will an intranet remove more paper from your day, but the real potential is how you manage information.
So welcome to intranets – the new corporate buzz word.
They differ from the internet in that an intranet is network within the organisation whereas the internet is worldwide network.
An intranet uses internet technology inside an organisation, and its goal is to let people communicate better.

Why build an intranet?
Proponents say it’s an effective tool to combat time wasting and accelerating costs, while generating new opportunities for collaboration and productivity.
Intranets let you spend less time on things that bring no value such as chasing down the right information to solve problem.
The theory is that because knowledge is more accessible and accurate, productivity increases.
Because intranets encourage the exchange of knowledge in firms, employees are more informed, and have the ability to make better, faster decisions.
“Using an intranet as the foundation for corporate knowledge base gives good leverage of an organisation’s information assets,” says Denis Parkinson, managing director of consulting firm Thebic. “Intranets will deliver up-to-date information in controlled and consistent way to all internal stakeholders.
“Most people who use computers have good understanding of browser interface, and it makes sense to use the intranet consistently for all the information in the organisation, concept referred to as an ’employee portal’.
“It’s easier to navigate and manage when the intranet provides the index to all information regardless of which underlying system is used to store it. Whether it’s document, some data in the financial system, images, policy and procedure, or stock availability you’re looking for, this can be registered and securely accessed from the intranet.”
While intranet technologies can ensure the right people get the right information at the right time, it doesn’t happen without planning, Parkinson says.
This means having the right drive, support and ongoing funding for development.
He adds that intranet plans should be developed as part of broader initiative. “Data provided to employees may also be relevant to external stakeholders such as suppliers, customers or business partners. There are efficiency and accuracy gains to be obtained by using single source for multiple audiences, as well as from using shared internet-based tools. This is aggregated into an ‘enterprise portal’.”

Growth of intranets
Intranets can be deployed to number of tasks in an organisation.

HR departments
HR departments have been some of the most enthusiastic developers of intranet applications mainly because of the large amounts of paper-based processes that can be transferred to the web.
These include: employee handbooks, telephone/email directories, interactive benefits, employee surveys, job listings, organisational charts, newsletters, new employee training, personalised home pages for employees.

Sales and marketing
In today’s competitive environment, having fast access to accurate information can be crucial for sales and marketing people. An intranet addresses this, providing an environment where product descriptions, sales scripts, marketing analysis and research are all click away.
Examples of content include: product demos and scripts, pricing charts, sales forecasts and reports, sales contact management, sales lead management, market research and search engines, sales feedback, prospecting, press releases, sales team collaboration, calendars, sales multimedia training, competitor research.

Information systems
Many applications are being used to support information system processes. Some applications are used to support the needs of the employee base and some are being extended to partners via extranets, turning IS into profit centre.
Examples of contents include: software and applications development and delivery, user documentation, technical support and help desk, network management, information and knowledge repositories, internet resources, resource scheduling, technical/security policies and procedures, multimedia-based training, publishing guides and facts on the intranet.
If you’re on email you already know the benefits of trying to get someone over the phone. But the one problem with email is that the entire message is usually not conveyed in the first communication. One email usually starts string of emails back and forth until the other part completely understands your request or message.
On an intranet, you can design forms for frequently used tasks… for example, PC repairs, reordering stationery, phone messages.
How much do your staff spend answering routinely asked questions – want to cut down the time, put the information on an intranet. Don’t just put it out there, refer all your callers to your intranet. For example before your travel office answers the phone, play short recorded message.
Do your staff spend time chasing paper? Trying to hunt down paper forms, reports, documents, microfilm? Consider converting these documents to electronic formats using scanners, OCR software or other means.
Provide search interface to these documents using your intranet. Once users know how easily accessible these documents are over the intranet they will prefer the faster solution.

Gains of intranets
Most obvious gains from an intranet are the savings in operating costs and reduction in paperwork. Better customer service, and faster and better access to up-to-date information are also key benefits.

Is it manageable?
An intranet is one of those things which is easy to start and can be management nightmare as it grows. Be prepared to spend lot of resources for the management of your intranet if you have not planned the growth in advance. Some of the things to be prepared for are increased traffic and an increasing number of publishers and users. Try to use web and network management tools to reduce the amount of manual work involved. To add new users provide online forms that will automatically set up the required accounts.

Can you outsource your intranet
It’s an option. The advantages will be faster development cycle and you will be able to use the expertise and experience of professionals in this field. You will also be relieved of the headaches associated with intranet management and support. If you decide to use consultants to give your intranet project jump start, make sure your staff is trained and ready to take over the product after the consultants leave. Also make sure that the consultants have provided enough room for growth for your staff to use when the intranet takes off and grows rapidly.

How secure is it?
Your intranet will be as secure as its weakest link, which is usually the people managing and using it. If you do it by the book and use secure server, firewall, password-protected access and physical security for the server machines, you are covering all bases. Also have policy in place to check for creeping links to unsecured locations, backdoors from the internet to your intranet, proper use of passwords and other security mechanisms provided by your intranet set up.

Telecom – starting simple
Telecom’s intranet started on small scale four years ago, but is now undergoing structural change for its 5000 odd users and 200 odd sites.
When we started it was good link for communicating information across the company, says Sally Myles, Telecom’s manager information resources exchange.
She says in the first 12 months the intranet developed slowly, “then in the next six months it took off

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