Get Ready for Next-Generation Intranet

When it comes to intranets, business people want it all: An intranet nirvana where employees are linked from their desktops to every source of information they need to make decisions that will propel the company to unlimited business success.

When it comes to intranets, business people want it all: An intranet nirvana where employees are linked from their desktops to every source of information they need to make decisions that will propel the company to unlimited business success. Were talking access to product data, external data feeds with up-to-the-minute information, and links to human resources, marketing, customer support and sales information.

But in most companies today, nirvana is on hold. The data sheets are outdated. Human resources hasnt updated information since its Webmaster left the company weeks ago. And the guy who is supposed to upload the new sales information has no time. Employees may have everything at their fingertips, but they dont use it because its not accurate.

This familiar scenario has kept many small and midsized companies from pursuing Intranets of their own. But challenges or no, intranets are getting hotter.

Why the growth when the potential problems are so well-known? Large companies are now seeing the value of moving beyond static intranet sites and are adding mission-critical applications. For smaller companies, the cost of intranet deployment is declining — so more and more players are entering the game.

Thats important, because for a corporate intranet to deliver return on investment, employees must use it often and be able to find accurate and up-to-date information quickly and efficiently.

Unfortunately, many organizations still have sites with outdated or incomplete information. Why? Because a bottleneck often occurs when the organization relies on Web developers or Webmasters to convert documents to HTML and post them on the intranet. To avoid this, many companies delegate responsibility to the departments that have a business interest in supplying content. But there are hitches. Delegating content creation also decentralizes control of the intranet, which can hinder attempts to have a consistent corporate look and feel and make it very difficult to organize and manage the site. It becomes difficult to track changes to the intranet, manage the approval cycle and guarantee that content is fresh. Without a clear process for managing content creation and editing, the intranet can become a quagmire of irrelevant and outdated information that turns potential users away.

Breaking the Barriers

Putting content ownership in the hands of line-of-business experts is great, but it requires planning, process management and tools that will make it easy to create and update content.

Companies should select and deploy an intranet content management application that puts content creation, publishing and editing in the hands of individual business users. Its advisable to look for an application that will make content available as close to real-time as possible, one that can be used easily by people who are not HTML experts.

Know Your Users

Three key audiences are involved with using and managing an intranet: employees who use the information, contributors and administrators. Consider the needs of each. Look at how information should to be structured, understand who will own and maintain the content, and who will be administering the site. The content management solution should reflect your organizations efforts to map out processes, define roles and permissions, and establish work flow for approval and submission.

There are important elements for each user set: The solution should be easy for contributors to use, it should allow the intranet administrator to set controls for ensuring a consistent look and feel for the site and it should be able to be centrally managed. The solution should allow only authorized users to change particular information. It also should be easy to install, integrate and get up and running without having to rely on consultants to make it work. Its also important to have an audit trail, with version control and revision tracking in place. Another consideration is database management. Users will create many documents that never get used, and the application should be used to archive and manage them.

The opportunity and time to deploy an intranet is now. With intranets in place, companies can think about linking in business applications and, ultimately, connecting to customers and suppliers. It will be a challenge to keep the intranet under control, but affordable content management applications are emerging to help companies build intranets that will become the standard infrastructure for communication, collaboration and transactional capabilities across the organization and beyond.

Bill Rogers is founder, president and CEO of Ektron, a provider of dynamic Web authoring and content management software in Amherst, N. H. He can be reached at [email protected]