Top 10 Intranet Deployment Considerations
Intranets, those mostly private networks with the same look-and-feel as the World Wide Web, were virtually non-existent in Fortune 500 companies four years ago. Before you rush right out to deploy one, here are some things to think about.
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Intranets are all the rage these days for several good reasons. First, they unify multi-site operations, while simplifying and improving the quality of inter-departmental communications. Second, the collaborative computing provided through intranet and (typically free) browser technology is far less expensive than the $150-plus per desktop spent to implement proprietary-by-comparison Lotus Notes from IBM. Third, intranets are easy to use.
However, intranets are not The Internet. Creating an Internet web site is one thing; creating an intranet is something else. Not entirely different, but definitely with its own gotchas—even though most organizations already have a network infrastructure in place. Here are some steps to consider.
1 Gain executive sponsorship
By definition, the intranet is an enterprise-wide system. By extension, it affects the entire enterprise—from information technology (IT) architecture and purchases to the design of electronic documents, from employee and corporate communications to collaborative work, from the display of confidential information to the posting of the latest joke off of the Internet.
Such importance demands the commitment of senior management to the funding, implementation, standardization, and use of the intranet from the very start. Without this, the intranet is doomed to failure.
2 Establish a project team
A project team helps crystallize the stated objective for the intranet, initiates and oversees publishing standards, evaluates and specifies intranet tools and applications, and provides the change management consulting that typically accompanies any change in organizational dynamics.
The team also functions as intranet champions: it ensures that a collaborative spirit exists within the company for the intranet to succeed; promotes the use of the Web technology; helps to gain buy-in from all user constituencies; and provides employee training.
The team should survey end users about their intranet needs. This will identify what content needs to be on the intranet, including the collaborative tools for knowledge sharing.
By the way, the project team should include representation from all over the company—but initially steer away from techies and webheads. Technical people will likely draw the discussion toward arcane technical issues not germane to the greater issues of goals, information content, displays, and collaboration.
If this all sounds like business reengineering, you’re right.
3 Build a structure
Think “virtual workspaces” and “business processes” rather than “document types” or “organizational charts” to determine the structure and organization of the intranet. Give each corporate department its own virtual space on the intranet, deploy collaborative tools, and then step back. Points out Steven Telleen of Amdahl Corp., realize “The key characteristic of this technology is its ability to shift control of information flow from the information creators to the information users.”
4 Establish standards
Intranet standards are critical: design standards, publishing standards, technology standards—you name it. For example, Ford’s Usability Guidelines, which help create a common look-and-feel for Ford’s intranet, address the use of color, animated objects, lists and tabular information, hypertext links, and other design elements on a web page—all from a productivity standpoint. They are not mandatory. “Obviously, that’s a living document; it changes as technology and [our intranet usage] changes,” says Steve Scheerhorn, Ford’s manager of Enterprise Information.
They’re changing right now, in fact. When first deployed, Ford’s intranet web pages were organized in the traditional way: Navigation on the left, plus links upon links to various hierarchical menus that, as the intranet grew, buried rather than uncovered information. “It was more a gateway to people and web page search engines,” says Ford’s Martin Davis, project manager, Millennium Web Project. Just after New Year’s, the “Ford Millennium Web Hub” debuted, featuring a default home page portal that appears on all desktops attached to the intranet. The new design minimizes the number and size of graphic elements on each page, aiming for an uncluttered and consistent appearance. (This design must be incredibly unique, innovative, or/and stunningly proprietary, because Ford would not provide this magazine with a screen scrape of a sample web page.)
Ford also has a bunch of standards regarding information content. One, the “Global Information Standards,” applies to company-wide information, e-mail, and any records the intranet users create. It addresses creating, managing, retaining, and the security of information. These standards are “business driven, but they have a legal undertone,” says Scheerhorn. What this means, adds Davis, is that these standards help “derive a business benefit from using the Internet, while protecting the corporation in the way we do that.” (Think about the role of e-mail messages in the Microsoft antitrust trial.)Somewhere in there is what other companies typically call “use standards,” which define the appropriate use of the intranet. These standards need to cover both corporate communications and—this will happen, so get used to it—personal communications.
5 Resolve IT issues
The IT department gets involved when the intranet discussions become technical. Here’s a simple example. The choice of web browsers would seem to be a no-brainer. There are basically two options: Netscape Communicator/Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. Unfortunately, the two browsers have several incompatibilities, particularly in how they implement, or display, advanced HTML features and Java scripts. To solve this, Ford has a “dual browser strategy,” which states that all applications and web pages must work with both browsers. That requires sticking with generalized HTML coding and Java scripts, and not implementing the latest browser versions. (Ford recently upgraded the “official” version of Netscape running on Windows-based desktops from 4.04 to 4.7.)