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ARCHIVED  April 1, 1996

Bored with the Internet? Get ready for the Intranet

Last year, the buzzword was “Internet,” as droves of companies launched wares on the World Wide Web. This year, internal Web sites, known as Intranets, are sweeping corporate America in record numbers.

Lotus, IBM, Oracle, Sun, Novell, Netscape and Microsoft all announced major new Intranet-related products, and hundreds of vendors are preparing new Intranet product lines.

Intranets are the same as Internets, except that they are designed for an company’s internal computer users, “focusing on sharing information within the company,´ said Ron Hanson, technical marketing manager for Fort Collins-based Invision Marketing (www.w3net.com), which designs and maintains Intranet Web pages for area companies. The major difference, he explained, is that those outside the corporation are not allowed access.

Although no statistics show how much Intranets save in productivity and company resources, Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., estimates that more than one in five large corporations now run Intranets, up from almost none in 1994.

“People are already familiar with using Web browser technology, so it’s a natural progression to use it in business,´ said Forrester analyst Don Stromberg.

Intranets and the Internet use the same browsers, tools, techniques, protocols and products, drawing heavily on the standards of the TCP/IP world. Intranets usually begin as a grassroots effort, with just a few people putting up Web pages for their own departmental use, but soon companies see how it can “improve methods of communication” throughout an organization, no matter how big, said Edgar Schramma, marketing productivity manager of Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Measurement Systems Division (www.hp.com/) in Loveland.

How do companies use Intranets?

Hewlett-Packard collaborates on projects and shares data with its Intranet, making marketing, personnel information, benefits, training and corporate policy available to employees. Anything that was traditionally printed is now online, thus saving labor and printing costs.

Schramma noted that the Hewlett-Packard sales force, numbering in the thousands around the world, needs updated product information fast.

“E-mail is not the best media to deliver large amounts of various information due to high administrative costs and ‘clutter’ in the individual mailbox,” he said. “Using the Intranet creates an easy-access bulletin board for individuals to get the specific information they need. This increases productivity over using e-mail or paper media.”

He added, “We also plan to use the internal Web site as an online training medium for sales people, and are building a knowledge base as a resource to help project managers and engineers do a better job.”

One of the more popular features of the Hewlett-Packard Intranet is the organization chart. You type in any employee name, and his or her photo pops up, along with the position in the hierarchy and the name of an immediate supervisor, the people on the same level, and the people who report to him or her. According to Schramma, this allows employees to better grasp the corporate structure and determine who should be consulted on important decisions.

Evolving Systems, headquartered in Englewood with an office in Boulder, recently added Frequently Asked Questions to its internal site so “we no longer have to keep answering the same questions. We can direct users to problem-solving documents on the Web,´ said system administrator Paul Worthington.

The University of Northern Colorado uses Intranets to make curricula, scheduling, and other information available campuswide. Connecting Point in Fort Collins, a network and systems integrator, uses an Intranet to tie its accounting, inventory and sales bases together with a simple, user-friendly interface.

“Before we built an Intranet, our data was fragmented on several server platforms — Mac, Unix, Sun, PC — in a variety of formats on various databases. We had to switch programs and computers to do portions of our jobs,´ said Bruce Laramie, president of Pica Computer Corp., which owns and operates Connecting Point. “Now, Netscape is the common interface for the whole thing. We create one set of Web pages that can be viewed on any type of operating system.” Laramie contends it saves “at least” eight to 10 labor hours a week, or $6,000 a year.

The costs for building Intranets vary, depending on who works on the site and how much information appears. It may not be worth it for companies with less than 100 employees. Schramma estimates that Hewlett-Packard pays about $50 to $200 per Intranet user, including administrative costs, compared with $600 to $900 for each user if the company opted for networked groupware, such as Lotus Notes, to perform similar functions.

Most companies surveyed indicated that they generally don’t have anyone devoted to internal Web work full-time. Most have one or two people about 10 hours a week or “on-the-fly” doing this work now.

How do you plan a successful internal site? Schramma offers this advice:

” Research other Intranet sites, either through colleagues, articles or through the Web.

” Meet with Web users and information providers in the company to understand your internal needs. How should employees benefit?

” Brainstorm to determine the Web contents and information.

” Identify resources to perform the Webmaster function (Hewlett-Packard uses Invision Marketing to maintain its internal site, but it can easily be done inside the company if resources are available).

” Identify a process for administration, authoring, updating and reporting.

” Implement a process for content and maintenance.

” Measure results and improve the process.

Although most companies are hard-pressed to find downsides to internal sites, Invision’s Hanson said one of the biggest problems is “failing to make the correct level of commitment to keep the Intranet information fresh.”

Last year, the buzzword was “Internet,” as droves of companies launched wares on the World Wide Web. This year, internal Web sites, known as Intranets, are sweeping corporate America in record numbers.

Lotus, IBM, Oracle, Sun, Novell, Netscape and Microsoft all announced major new Intranet-related products, and hundreds of vendors are preparing new Intranet product lines.

Intranets are the same as Internets, except that they are designed for an company’s internal computer users, “focusing on sharing information within the company,´ said Ron Hanson, technical marketing manager for Fort Collins-based Invision Marketing (www.w3net.com), which designs and maintains Intranet Web pages for area companies.…

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