Corporate intranets are becoming big business, both for the designers who put them together and companies that use them to empower their employees to participate in two-way discussions about corporate dealings. However, not all companies are eager to implement the new technologies that are redesigning the options available in traditional intranets.
The latest and greatest corporate intranets sport the hottest Web 2.0 tools, such as wikis, blogging, podcasting and social networking. Companies big and small have to consider their needs and goals for creating and maintaining what is essentially a private Web site for workers, say intranet designers.
“Corporate intranets are definitely becoming a trend. Some departments within a company are going off on their own with intranet content. But generally, portal applications are becoming too complicated, and many companies want something simpler,” Dave Hersh, CEO of Jive Software, told TechNewsWorld. His company developed Clearspace, an integrated intranet application.
Part of the corporate decision making process means discerning the type of intranet structure to offer and who will maintain it. Much like developing a Web site for marketing purposes, intranets can be installed with a one-size-fits-all application, an industry-specific turnkey intranet application, or delivered as a hosted offering similar to tradition ASP (application service provider) products.
Still, there can be some hesitancy from management and workers alike, Hersh noted. To ease them into the process, managers can pick and choose the types of features they want their staff to use so that it isn’t a matter of having something forced on participants.
Design Wish List
One new design feature built into Jive Software’s Clearspace application is the ability to integrate the intranet with existing enterprise networks. Jive Software’s research about features customers most want in their intranets show a range of design goals, noted Hersh.
“We conducted an exhaustive research survey with 25 of our largest users to see what they wanted. They were stuck between too much and too little. They wanted features and tools all under one umbrella but not weighed down,” he explained.
Some intranet products have a focus on wikis, he said. Another trend he has observed is a rush for companies to support what workers were asking for. Clearly, the most flexible intranets are those designed with Web 2.0 functionality in mind.
That concept is the winning formula behind Performance Communications Group’s Internet Secured Application Technology intranet design. Called ISAT, it incorporates an integration of multimedia for live or prerecorded content, security measures and portability. It runs as either a hosted Web application or on a corporate server.
New Internal Horizons
Corporate executives looking at intranets for purely sales-oriented goals had better think again. The goal of an intranet is to empower communication within a corporation.
“The whole thing behind the new intranet is expanding collaboration by opening it up to the entire company. There is no longer a competitive advantage to not doing this,” cautioned Jive’s Hersh.
The original idea for an intranet was to share knowledge in closed departments. People are now realizing a larger need to spread information within the company, he said. Technology today has made it easier for corporate executives to do this.
“We are now seeing a power shift in companies over how information is used. Historically, people in organizations couldn’t share ideas. Now, blogging within a company creates followers and inter-reactions,” Hersh explained.
One sign that encouraging workers to creatively vent is a change in e-mail volumes. CIOs are finding that e-mail is not being abused now that employees can use an intranet, according to Hersh. “Knowledge isn’t locked in in-boxes.”
‘Micro Site’ That Intranet?
For a nontraditional view of what a modern intranet can do for a company, look at the Sysco Foods operation that Performance Communications Group designed. The food service company has 80 business units, each with different products and promotions. This resulted in a flood of product-driven e-mails for the 10,000 sales associates. Too many e-mails to handle caused workers to ignore many of them, company officials said.
To streamline the process, Sysco worked with Performance Communications Group and its ISAT technology to produce a secure intranet micro site capable of running multimedia presentations with less than 80 percent of the bandwidth of HTML. Dubbed the Sysco Blue Cube Project, the ISAT-based intranet provides over 100 pages of documents, audio, video and other content each week, according to Scott Madlener, executive vice president of Performance Communications Group.
Sysco also uses the Blue Cube micro site to delivery policy and contest information to the sales associates in addition to product updates. The intranet’s structure provides for compartmentalized content accessible by only targeted audiences within the company and selected external partners and customers. The entire intranet content is managed by a single Sysco Food’s worker, eliminating the need for an involved IT staff.
It is structured so that a beverage sales associate can view only information relevant to him and ignore frozen food or ready-to-serve data. Since the information is both secure and portable, company workers use it directly from their laptops during sales presentations.
“We built the registration page for Sysco’s intranet so the log-in page teases information to qualified registered users,” explained Madlener.
For One Economy, the design of Jive Software’s Clearspace intranet redefined how the 60 workers in 10 offices viewed their company. One Economy is a multinational nonprofit organization that brings broadband to the homes of low-income people and provides a multilingual Web portal called The Beehive.
“We’ve been using it for two months, and it has already taken pretty good hold,” said David Saunier, vice president of the media division for One Economy.
“A number of key staff people started using it right away, starting with our CIO, who set up his audio blog.”
When One Economy first launched its intranet, the corporate office filled with the CIO’s audio. Whenever Saunier walked down the corridors, he heard his CIO’s voice echoing from all the computers as the workers listened to the updates.
This is the company’s first experience with a corporate-style intranet. Previously, the firm used a shared-file server that was not available to all of its regional offices.
“So it has been very good for us to have a repository for things. This intranet gives access to internal communications company wide,” he said. “We are seeing increased use and better internal communication efficiency, especially related to shared documents in our corporate repository. [We are] efinitely seeing a communications boost on a number of levels. We are also seeing more collaboration than ever before.”
A La Carte Design
Nicco Mele, founder and president of Internet consulting firm EchoDitto, prefers an eclectic approach to designing an intranet. Rather than use a dedicated intranet program, he prefers to use off-the-shelf, free products to provide the features he needs.
For instance, he uses external and internal blogs sites and a public del.icio.us RSS feed to distribute company comments at del.icio.us/echoditto. He also uses a wiki on his company’s Web site. The Web page itself ties together all of the various parts, giving everybody access to some content and strictly restricting other content to internal registrants only.
“Different projects need different tools. We have a collection of Web 2.0 tools,” Mele said.
For instance, he uses a Google spreadsheet as a sales leads management tool posted online with internal access only.
“We are a bootstrap company with not a lot of cash. So key is low cost, easy-to-use tools. I don’t want a large application,” said Mele. “The standard dilemma of today’s technology is balancing one dedicated application against smaller components that do what you want them to do.”