It is generally accepted that information is a vital commodity for the successful operation of today's organizations. Nowadays modern business organizations are using computerized information systems in order to obtain such information. However as the technology advances rapidly the main issue is how can an organization should effectively use such an information system - which its management sometimes can be unpredictable - in order to effectively help the whole organization structure to improve and take the most out of it.
This report will try to analyze intranet and its impact on the use of information in organizations, as well as what actions an organization might take to make the most effective use of it.
2. What is intranet?
A lot of definitions have been given about the meaning of intranet. Non-technical management define it as "anything that runs on the internal network", while software engineers (developers) define it as "a client-server application developed using Web tools that runs in an internal network" - Intranetjournal.com -
Initially the intranet was used fundamentally for sharing information such as policies, procedures and forms. However, the next intranet generation creates a collaborative medium that provides users quick, comprehensive access to everything their jobs require "“ files, programs, and people, both inside and outside the organization "“ while capturing and managing each person's work so that others in turn can find and use it.
Fundamentally the most basic intranet applications in use today - techweb.com - are:
- Deliver internal BBS "“ and corporate "“ information sources, such as phone directories, HR databases, forms, and discussion threads.
- Offer a foundation for moving information among offices and departments, whether around the corner at the same site, or across sites on a private internet.
- Support day to day business functions, such as sales tracking, order processing, delivery status, etc.
3. Technology surrounding intranet
Network infrastructure: Network connections on every desktop.
Hardware platforms: This is usually based on the existing platform used in the organization. For example, an NT-based organization will probably select a server with an Intel Processor while a Sun Micro system Inc shop will probably select a Sun Sparc-based server.
Firewalls: A firewall is a physical barrier between the Internet and the local network.
Server software: Today's Web servers come with a variety of servers ranging from HTML editors in search engines to application servers.
Client Software: Two main browsers here. Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer.
Site Management Software: Web site management includes such things as uploading HTML files, showing a graphical view of a site, checking for bad links, etc.
Application development tools: The tools listed under this category have much in common with the site management tools. Both edit HMTL and upload files to the server. The tools have built in support, usually drag and drop, for scripting.
Application servers: These servers use special tags within an HTML file to direct processing. They also can have hooks to call external programs to handle processing that is not built into the server, and they also separate developer and server portions into separate packages.
Implementation approaches: Such as ASP, CGI, Java, Application servers.
4. Intranet architecture
There are several ways to build up an intranet. However some common characteristics of an intranet's architecture, in order for organizations to gain the more out of it, are:
Integrating information design with business planning
Intranets should help employees to collaborate on business processes, such as product development or order fulfillment, which create value for a company and its customers. Successful intranets allow employees from a variety of departments to contribute the different skills necessary to carry out a particular process. Intranets should be organized primarily around the business processes they help employees carry out, rather than the organization chart of the company.
Successful process-oriented intranets share several common characteristics. First they are built on smart information design, furthermore, they focus on tasks, not documents and aim to integrate those tasks into distinct processes, and finally they encourage collaboration by creating shared and familiar spaces that reflect the personality of the company.
Help your employees
Just as physical work spaces rely on architectural plans to optimize efficiency, an intranet needs to be carefully designed to help employees access information and collaborate effectively. Because the public does not see the intranet, information design for intranets often receives scant attention. Unlike customers, employees are assumed to be insiders, able to easily locate company information. So, while the company Web site usually has the input of the marketing department, design and structure of the intranet is often relegated to the IT department.
By default, an organization chart of the company is often used to organize information on the intranet. However an organization chart cannot help employees from the marketing and legal departments collaborate on bringing a document through the approval process. It will not allow employees from marketing and research and development to work together to create a new product.
Think about tasks rather than documents
Thinking of the intranet as tool means understanding the intranet as more than a collection of documents. People use documents to complete tasks. Tasks include fulfilling orders, looking up a customer's billing history, or collaborating on a research document. To complete these tasks, people need to have related documents and tools close at hand.
Organizing by task can be demonstrated by the example of working at a desk. When you sit down to begin a task (i.e. budget creating), you have a variety of information and tools at hand. While a spreadsheet is a "calculation" tool, and last year's budget is an "internal document", both need to be next to each other in order to develop a new budget. Similarly, on the corporate intranet, the tasks of the users rather than the classification of documents or tools, should dictate the organization of the intranet.
Designed effectively around dynamic tasks rather than static documents, intranets can contribute to dramatic increases in efficiency. Organizing documents within the context of tasks also focuses employees on the function of the documents they are working with. For example, to save employee time while signing up for various retirement plans, information on various retirement plans should be placed near the forms actually used to register for those plans.
Organize tasks into larger processes
Intranets should group together all the tasks that make up a business process. Processes can be relatively discrete, such as tracking deliveries, or getting approval for documents, or they can be more complex, such as developing or selling products. The most important processes in a company are those that create value for a customer. These are the central processes which every intranet should help employees accomplish. Even simple processes can become more efficient when incorporated into an intranet. For example, when Ford implemented an intranet, the company included an application to help geographically dispersed engineers to get authorization for new products. What would previously be a time-consuming, expensive process, involving the potential for lost documents and delays, is now centralized in an efficient electronic process.
Create virtual workgroups organized around processes
Intranets can break through departmental walls to help accomplish business processes more efficiently. By creating spaces for cross-departmental collaboration, the intranet can help employees collaborate to efficiently carry out the central processes of the company, and cut costs by avoiding in-person conferences and employee reallocations.
Intranets should bring together employees who are geographically dispersed to work on common problems. By doing this travel costs are eliminated and employees can increase their productivity by sharing knowledge. Examples can be; a pharmaceutical company is using its intranet to allow scientists all over the world to collaborate on research; a franchise retailer is using bulletin boards on its intranet to coordinate major marketing projects. Less common examples can be, complex transactions with lawyers and multiple parties, which rely on access to key documents.
5. Intranet chaos
One characteristic of intranets, like the internet itself, is that in the early stages they grow organically without any overall plan (intranetjournal.com). That leads to unexpected results for the company that uses intranet, which sometimes results in a creation of an overall chaos.
- Different application front-ends "“ browsers, plugins, supporting different scripting languages.
- Inconsistent user interfaces and navigation, increasing user difficulty.
- Multiple server platforms, with highly varied server configurations.
- Different methods for providing security, search, directory, database access capabilities.
- Highly distributed development, management and operations, with lack of concentrated expertise "“ making costs harder to manage.
- Orphaned' applications "“ department created, but with no department ownership.
- Security holes due to inconsistent security policies and architectures.
This problem needs a very careful approach. For each individual service being provided as part of the infrastructure, a service definition must be documented, so that application developers will understand how they should utilize these services. Overall the following decisions must be communicated to all potential developers:
a. Application/infrastructure boundary. What services will be provided by infrastructure and commonalized therefore across applications, and what services will be left for individual applications to define and implement.
b. Application interface standards. What standards application developers will utilize for accessing infrastructure services.
c. Service specific standards. Each service will require it's own specification.
d. Vendor standards. Whether to use a predominantly single vendor strategy, allowing use of vendor-proprietary technology, or a multiple vendor stratregy.
6. Case study "“ NIKE
Nike is a very good example that will demonstrate how the effective use of intranet can benefit a company. The following case study also answers to questions such as:
- Why an intranet is a crucial tool for geographically "“ scattered groups?
- How to change user behavior and increase intranet usage?
- What security struggles do appear when implementing intranets and what can be done?
The intranet debuted in June 1997 and was accessible to about 200 employees. It was called GPIN (Global Product Information Network) and as its name implies, it is a central place where employees worldwide can find everything from the earliest sneaker sketches to the latest sneaker data.
Before GPIN debuted, there where only two ways to stay plugged into Nike's latest designs; traveling on an airplane or wait for someone in Beaverton (central offices) to ship the latest samples or photos across the Pacific.
As Devlin "“ one of the inventors of the idea "“ said the "we become more disciplined and better company because of this tool at the front end".
Overseas employees loved the new idea because they could have access to all the news/products/latest designs and they could also suggest ideas.
At the end of the day GPIN achieved its goals of global collaboration and seamless flow of information.
However before that the company had a few barriers to overcome. First of all the employees (not the oversees) did not need to use GPIN to do their jobs. The solution to this problem was nine months continuous meetings to become familiar with the use and the benefits of the systems. Eventually it worked as the employees were finally convinced to use it. Also some departments had their own internal web sites so the management had to convince them as well.
By the beginning of 1999 the number of employees with GPIN access has grown steadily to more than 1,500. That was a problem for the management as much of GPIN's product information is highly confidential when it is first posted but then becomes less so as the product moves through development and manufacturing. For example the hottest sneaker in the fall 2000 line should be seen only by a handful of people in January 1999. As a result the management has had to limit GPIN access. The management team has not yet found an easy way to manage who has access to what information at different points in the product process. The head of the management team Lawrence says that until the company comes up with a uniform product model, it cannot roll out a life cycle security infrastructure companywide.
7. Socio-technical approach
This approach recognizes that "successful introduction of new technology requires the identification of social needs and goals as well as technical/economic objectives."
(G. Curtis, 1995:506)
The idea grew out in the Tavistock Institute for Behavioral Research in the 1950s. The basis of that approach was that the system will work properly only if human needs such as job satisfaction are acknowledged.
The socio-technical approach began to be adopted in various forms after the 70s within organizations. However when developing computer systems the common element in these approaches is the recognition of four independent factors; people, organization, technology and tasks (see figure). In order for an organization to maintain harmony it is very important to take account of all aspects of the socio-technical system because if one of these is altered it will have an impact on the others and so on.
The intranet reflects the company; the company reflects the intranet The corporate intranet can help a company organize around "communities of people" both on and off line. Whether it precedes or follows the organizational shift, an intranet that encourages this type of collaborative work environment can provide a significant return-on-investment. Using an intranet to shift the way work is done in an organization requires a cultural change within the organization. As the intranet creates new forms of collaboration, it will challenge traditional ways of doing work and obtaining information. For the intranet to be successful, it must provide ways of empowering all employees, offering concrete incentives for them to use, and encourage the use. Companies build intranets so people can do their jobs more easily, but on the other hand companies need to bear in mind that intranets will not make people more efficient if they cannot use them. Thus, when implementing intranets employees need to be trained how to use them.
Good intranets should be machines for doing business. Just as design is integral to a good building, it is a key point to plan and create an effective intranet. The organization and design of information on an intranet should map out the key business processes of a company, and provide employees with access to the information and people necessary to carry out those processes.
The truly effective intranet creates new channels of communication that overcome inefficient organizational structures and foster new forms of efficient collaboration. It serves as a model for a company centered around processes rather than departments, collaboration rather than closed doors. Building an effective intranet means thinking about how documents can be used to accomplish tasks, how tasks can be organized into processes, and how those processes can be carried out collaboratively by virtual work groups. The effective intranet is not only a tool, it is also a model for an efficient, process-centered enterprise- a machine for doing business.
Organizations must not in any way use intranet just because it is a trend. There different types of organization, which use different kinds of information systems. If the system that an organization uses is effective and helps the organization indeed, then there is apparently no need for a change. However in the case that the management decides that an intranet solution will help the organization even more, then again the organization needs to plan this very careful. Planning is one of the first things organizations have to wrestle with as there are too many options to consider. That is why the very large number of variations for ways to built intranets makes planning critical. Organizations that implement intranet systems without an overall planning are more sensitive to a possible failure of the system and creation of chaos as explained earlier on in this report.
Organizations that implement intranet must seek to gain the full benefits of it, with one of the most significant and noticeable being the increased productivity that results from quick, companywide communications and data sharing.
This report tried to analyze the use of intranet on organizations and the impact of it on information use. As gathering information it is an essential factor for the smooth operation of organizations, companies use different information systems to accomplish that. Intranet is one of them.
Some of the most basic fundamental applications of intranet are, deliver internal BBS, moving information among offices and departments and support day to day business functions.
The technology that surrounds intranet is quite similar to this of internet. That is, network infrastructure, hardware platforms, firewalls, server software, client software, site management software, application servers, implementation approaches, etc.
Due to different nature of organizations, there are several ways to built an intranet. However the most common characteristics of successful intranets architectures are: Integrating information design with business planning, help the employees to use it effectively by using different techniques, think about tasks rather than documents, organize tasks into larger processes and last but not least create virtual workgroups organized around processes.
Because of the nature of intranets it is very possible if is not planned carefully to create chaos into the company. The following decisions must be communicated in order to avoid this problem. Application/infrastructure boundary, application interface standards, service specific standards, vendor standards.
The report further down examines a case study of an intranet application in Nike company, which case study answers to questions such as: why an intranet is a crucial tool for geographically "“ scattered groups, how to change user behavior and increase intranet usage, what security issues do appear when implementing intranet systems and what can be done.
At the end the reports examines the socio-technical approach, which approach connects four aspects (people, organization, technology, tasks) and examines their inter relationship when implementing information systems to organizations.
At the end of the report the writer comes out with his conclusions and recommendations.
Bibliography - References
- H.D.Clifton & A.G. Sutcliffe (1994), Business Information Systems, "“ 5th edition "“
- G. Curtis (1995), Business Information Systems, "“ 2nd edition "“
- T.H. Davenport (1997), Information Ecology, "“ 1st edition "“
- Emerald, electronic database library