February 22, 1999

How To Identify the Best Services for Your Intranet

By Steven L. Telleen

Q:We are beginning to define intranet standards, including infrastructure and development tools. Do you have any advice for determining where we are and what we need?

A: There are five types of services most intranets provide:

  1. Collaboration services: content publishing, e-mail, news, and discussion forums
  2. Transaction services: database applications, forms, and reports
  3. Process services: workflow, project management, and scheduling
  4. Directory services: search, resource and access management, and certification
  5. Utility services: network development and management, backup, security, performance. 
From an infrastructure standpoint, you may find it useful to translate the business requirements into these service areas and determine the specific infrastructure protocols, tools, and support required for each. 

Create a three-column technical infrastructure worksheet. The first column is for documenting current tools and protocols. The middle column is for listing interim protocols and products that will help you make the transition. The third column is for documenting the standard protocols you want to achieve. 

List the five service areas down the side of the columns and add whatever level of more specific features you have identified under each service area. Then, fill in the columns. This will provide you with a map of where you are, where you want to go, and what kinds of interim decisions will get you there. 

There are dependencies among service areas, and many vendors cross these areas. Traditionally, cross-service-area integration has relied on nonstandard protocols or features that create a proprietary lock. 

For example, e-mail is highly dependent on directory services. Because most organizations select an e-mail solution before they consider directory services (and because directory services will be key to integrating nearly all intranet services) an organization may find itself in a proprietary bind if it doesn't consider these services a separate issue from e-mail. 

The worksheet can help identify at least some of these dependencies and help map a time-based strategy for addressing them. 

For specific features, you need to ask your users. Your inventory should consider what each organization is doing now, what is working and what isn't, what each group wants to be doing in 6 to 12 months, and what services they'd find useful. 

While one could conceive of a checklist-style questionnaire, you will get more useful information with a less structured format. If you are collecting information from a manageable number of groups, rather than every individual, consider an interview format where the interviewer captures the information in face-to-face interviews. 

If this is not feasible, consider starting with a simple free-form questionnaire to find out where you need to focus. Then follow it up with a more specific questionnaire designed to clarify the answers and trends identified in the first questionnaire. 

Date: 19990222
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