February 16, 1998


By Steven L. Telleen

Two Keys to Successful Launches: Servers and Secretaries

Q: I am in the process of deploying an intranet within my organization to help us bypass our existing paper distribution system, i.e., secretaries distributing reports and management newsletters. Could you please give me some ideas of how I should proceed with the implementation phase?

Advisor: There are two sides to an intranet implementation: the technical and the people. 

The technical involves the basic infrastructure that supports the communication among people. 

It sounds like you have the first ingredient, which is a good starting goal: to move paper reports and documents to electronic distribution. Many organizations have justified the cost of their intranet infrastructure on savings in paper and distribution costs alone. Basic document-sharing projects also are easy and inexpensive to implement, and they encourage many non-technical people in the organization to become involved as publishers of intranet information. 

On the technical side, you will need to evaluate your starting infrastructure. The absolute minimum you will need are: (1) computers (or thin clients) with browsing and publishing software for everyone who will be creating or receiving the electronic information, (2) a network that connects all these computers together, running the TCP/IP protocol, and (3) a Web server. This last item can either be software that runs on an existing computer, or a turnkey Web microserver. 

If you do not have Web-experienced systems administrators, or are trying to reduce systems administration costs, I recommend getting one of the turnkey Web microservers. 

These systems (which include the hardware and all the software preconfigured) cost between $1,000 and $1,200 and do not require a technical systems administrator for setup or operation. They will support organizations with about 100 users. However, because resources on an intranet are location-transparent, larger organizations can be accommodated by adding additional servers. Six companies offer Web microservers today: Cisco Systems, Cobalt Microservers, Compact Devices, Encanto Networks, Microtest, and Thiin Line (a unit of Data General). In addition to basic page serving, Cobalt, Encanto, Microtest, and Thiin Line include e-mail and discussion-forum capabilities in their basic Web microserver. On all the systems, user setup and access management is done through a Web browser. 

Developing the people side of an intranet also needs attention. The primary objective is to get non-technical people started and comfortable with the technology, as both publishers and consumers of information. 

The most effective way is to teach and encourage everyone to become a publisher, to use the intranet to share their own pages of business insights, notes, meeting minutes, etc. 

People are more likely to get involved when they are publishing themselves. 

Don't get too worried about the ÒuncontrolledÓ nature of the content at first. With an intranet, it is easier to organize content that exists later than to try and get people involved later. Chapter 8 of my online book, Intranet Organization, provides more details about developing and organizing content. 

Make sure you include a program for training senior executives on how to use the technology. Work with them one-on-one and create custom Òhome pagesÓ for them with links to their interests. Show them how they can use the technology to get better information on the status and functioning of the company, not just in numbers but also in reports and insights. 

Finally, be sure to train the secretaries not only how to create documents in HTML (which is very easy with today's HTML editors), but also how to look for opportunities to replace paper with intranet content. 

Secretaries are responsible for copying and distributing most paper reports and memoranda. Thus, they are in a position not only to see opportunities for moving paper to the intranet, but to do something about it. They are the ones who can substitute a Web version for the paper version and help their bosses find reports and other information on the intranet. 

Secretaries are a very effective, and often overlooked, agent of change in the intranet implementation process. 

Steven L. Telleen, Ph.D., is an analyst with Giga Information Group in Santa Clara, Calif. 

Date: 19980216
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