The Intranet technology revolution needs to be matched by business process evolution if its full potential is to be realised. This was the conclusion of a panel debate between end users, analysts and suppliers, which kicked off the Networks Expo trade show in Boston yesterday.
"Intranet technology allows companies to achieve new business solutions," warned Malcolm Frank, vice president of marketing at Cambridge Technology Partners. "But it also forces people to accept new business processes that have not been tried before."
He related the example of an unnamed hardware supplier, which published customer references on its Intranet Web sites so that they could be accessed and cited by the sales force. However, the person put in charge of updating the site failed to do this effectively and one site, which no longer wished to be a reference, still found the salesforce handing out its contact details.
You've got to relook how you do things, echoed Cliff Reeves, senior director of Notes product management at Lotus. For example, how are you going to control the content of Web sites on an Intranet. "At Lotus, the PR department tightly controls Intranet publication of corporate policy and company documents," he said. "But employees can each have their own Web site which is not controlled. These can publish anything."
Frank and Reeves were speaking on day one of Networks Expo, as part of a panel debate on the future of the corporate Intranet. Their fellow speakers were senior executives from end users Gilette and Fidelity Investment, analysts Yankee Group and suppliers Lotus Development and Netscape.
Howard Anderson, founder and managing director of Yankee Group, said Intranets are part of a user-led revolution. "It's the usual story," he said. "Whenever there's a genuinely new development, no supplier knows where it's going. What happens is a bunch of users get together and say 'hey, you don't know what you've got here'."
According to Yankee Group figures, Intranets are initially being deployed to support a number of specific business functions - notably marketing, customer service and human resource activities. But they are set to move into the next phase - linking up with customers and other suppliers and applying an internal development externally for commercial gain.
He cited Federal Express to illustrate his point. "In the past when you lost a package, you would phone up and get a professional 'flack catcher' who would tell you it had never happened before and did a track through the system of where your package had gone. But now Fedex lets you track your own package. It's taken an internal system, put it on steroids and extended it to be accessed from outside the company," he said. "It's an example of what can be done."
Representing the end user community, Albert Aiello, chief information officer of Fidelity Investments, outlined the status of the financial services firm's Intranet roll-out, which began three years ago as a project to improve communications between geographically dispersed IS development teams.
The company already had a high speed network infrastructure in place, so there was no requirement for a major investment in new technology. A Sun Microsystems Web server was installed at a cost of $32,000 while Netscape Navigator was introduced as a corporate browser.
With Navigator installed on 60 per cent of the company's 22,000 desktops, initial Intranet Web sites have concentrated on formerly paper intensive activities, such as publishing corporate directories, internal mail communications and daily news. Last year alone the company's 20 internal Web sites registered 40 million hits.
"We've saved hundreds of thousands of dollars like this," said Aiello. "For example, it cost us $40,000 to publish and distribute a corporate directory. The Web server cost us $32,000 and is running around 25 different applications. There's a high return on investment."
From its technological roots, the Fidelity Intranet has become increasingly driven by business managers as it has spread through the company. This is inevitable, according to Yankee's Anderson.
"In its early stages, Intranet development is not a corporate asset decision," he explained. "But at some stage, someone looks down and sees that there are 15 different experiments going on. At this point, an Intranet can become a corporate expense that's heading out of control."
Gillette's vice president of corporate information technologies, Patrick Zilvatis, echoed his comments, explaining that his company was three years into an Intranet roll-out, which also began in the IT department before falling into the remit of business managers.
Based on Lotus Notes and the Excite search engine, Gillette's Intranet has been used for publishing functions - corporate directories, newsletters and so on - but has also been applied to other activities. For example, a Gillette team in London is using a Web site on the Intranet to provide a short term data warehousing solution while a longer term solution is developed. Elsewhere, the firm's human resources department has installed kiosks linked to the Intranet to supply paid-by-the-hour workers with information about their benefits entitlement.
Zilvatis said the main challenge faced by his organisation to date was one of education, teaching users to put aside their familiar business practices to make full use of the Intranet. "It does change things," he said. "Jobs used to be posted on internal bulletin boards, now they're posted on the Intranet. That means they can be seen in Boston and Australia and many other places: people need to get used to that."
"Reluctance to accept change is the biggest disappointment to date," he concluded. "But we have been pleasantly surprised by how easy it has been to put an Intranet in place."
Delays to the roll-out of age verification for adult websites hasn't stopped government from considering extending them to more websites
Bluehole confirms rumours that Playstation 4 port is coming on 7 December
Atmospheric iodine works as a significant sink of tropospheric ozone, nullifying the harmful pollutant
A temperature rise of just 1.8° C would melt major ice sheets