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Management maneuvers

NetworkWorld Intraview
September 9, 1996 Volume 13, Number 37 Page 42-43

Amdahl Corp., still often associated with big iron, has shown considerable nimbleness in moving into the intranet arena. Amdahl's intranet involvement dates to 1994, when it began using the term "intranet" in a series of customer focus groups. The word was so new and different that Amdahl even thought about trademarking it. But alas, it didn't, and now any company even remotely related to the networking business has latched onto it. But these companies can't boast, as Amdahl can, that they've been running internal Web sites since the first browser went into beta. Steve Telleen, director of Amdahl's IntraNet Solutions Group in Sunnyvale, Calif., gives his pioneer's perspective on intranet management in an interview with Executive Editor Beth Schultz.

NWW --  A lot of people probably still think of Amdahl Corp. first and foremost as a mainframe provider. The company has clearly been trying to change that image. How will your move into the intranet arena help?

STEVE -- Our traditional strengths as a company have always been based on our ability to deliver world-class service in support of enterprise-wide, business-critical problems.  Our products have always had to integrate with those of our competitors and others to solve our customers' problems. Amdahl also has a long history of helping our customers bridge between legacy and emerging technologies, whether it was MVS and Unix, mainframes and client-server or now tying it all together with an intranet infrastructure.

It was from this heritage that we approached the Internet/Web technology in 1993. And  it was this heritage that brought us to focus so quickly on both the intra-enterprise uses of the technology and the issues of how companies would actually implement and manage this technology as an enterprise-wide infrastructure.

Recognizing that our customers viewed our service as a major value and differentiating feature, Amdahl executives began to focus on the services aspect of our business a few years ago. They set a goal to have half our revenues come from services, and this year it looks as though they will.

NWW -- Does Amdahl's IntraNet Solutions Group distinguish itself among all the Web services providers out there?

STEVE -- The IntraNet Solutions Group began with a focus on the organizational and management issues that need to be addressed when implementing an Intranet. This focus has led us down a different path from other services that start with a focus on the technical issues of implementing an Intranet.

The technical issues - the tools and standards - are an evolutionary change from what we had before. The effect of the technology on organizations is revolutionary. We have focused on how to manage that revolutionary transition.

We developed an organizational architecture and a complimentary information management architecture that supports a distributed decision-making, self-publishing, user-pull model for enterprise information. We then developed a methodology for introducing these architectures into an enterprise.

We have packaged the methodology into four components: Executive Awareness, Goals Clarification, Implementation Planning, and Implementation. The latter two require three distinct focuses: organizational, technical and content. The real differentiating feature of our offering is the organizational focus, the methodology for creating and rolling out the roles, organizations and skills required to realize the business potential of this technology.

NWW -- Discuss how Amdahl itself got into Web technology and building an intranet.

STEVE -- In April 1993, a few of the technical experts in Amdahl's Open Enterprise Systems (OES) organization acquired a copy of the Mosaic beta release and began playing with it. They hooked-up with the open systems competitive analyst, who had a volume problem making information available to our field sales organization. This resulted in a skunkworks pilot project focused on a problem inside our firewall.

The IntraNet Solutions Group grew out of the Strategic and Market Planning part of OES. In mid-1994, we began looking at how Amdahl might integrate the skunkworks pilot into our business. The most striking feature of web technology was how easy it was for non-technical people to use. And the development trend in that direction was picking up a velocity that was hard to miss. From this observation, we concluded that the technology was not going to be the difficult challenge; the challenge for both us and our customers was going to be how to manage the result.

We developed the basic models and management architecture, then set out to implement the infrastructure inside Amdahl. We convinced the CIO to sponsor the project and used the formation of a management-based Web Council as the core of our roll-out. Over the next several months we learned a lot about what did and didn't work, and what was critical. We also learned something about the stages an intranet goes through during its development. The results were refined into our IntraNet Methodology.

NWW --You have created a publishing model for the intranet. Describe it and explain why you think companies should follow it.

STEVE -- The publishing model was created as a way to use the Intranet to manage the Intranet content. It is a combination of explicitly defined functions, roles and concepts and a logical architecture and set of processes that take advantage of the strengths of Intranet technology. The model allows local organizations to self-publish and manage the information for which they are responsible and, at the same time provides an easily maintained structure that allows all the official information to be found and browsed, in a logical context. At its core is a set of broker pages for executives and managers to help them monitor the information for which they are responsible. If this type of flexibility, local control and management support is important to the company, then this model will help.

NWW -- So, you've come up with this idea of a broker page. What is this?

It wasn't so much the idea of a broker page as recognizing that web pages had different purposes and met different needs. Today I would describe these as the need for content and the need for context. As the volume of information content grows, users have an increasing need to have it presented in a relevant context. This is what a broker page does. It provides context for the user. A broker page should have a definite audience and purpose in mind. In a web environment, making context information independent of content pages provides the greatest  simplicity of management and flexibility of use.

Search engines are automated brokers. They are an important part of any large Intranet. However, it is important to recognize that they are a general broker that provides little or no specific context up front. Users may need contextual help to formulate the right question, they may need support in following a certain sequence of activities, or they may need help screening information or identifying the official or sanctioned information sources. A search engine is not the appropriate broker for these situations.

NWW -- What type of information do you suggest companies put on their intranet?

STEVE -- An Intranet is an enabling infrastructure, and one of the things it enables is the ability of those closest to an activity to develop and control the information and activities that best support their needs. It also is important to recognize that an intranet is made up of three generic types of information: official, departmental/project and personal. All three are useful and provide value to the enterprise.

Our methodology is designed to teach organizations how to use the infrastructure and to create situations that stimulate creative thinking. But each organization in the company should be enabled to decide which information and which projects make the most sense for them. The measure of a successful Intranet is how well it enables these organizations to create their processes and publish their information themselves, without an MIS development project or heavy-duty technical person.

The MIS goal should be to add tools and functionality that continually expand the capabilities that users can do for themselves.

It should not be to identify more projects to do for them. This is the paradigm or perspective shift that MIS groups need to make.

NWW -- What do you recommend for companies starting an intranet from scratch?

STEVE -- Start with the business goals and drive the implementation from the perspective of the management infrastructure. When you know what you are trying to accomplish and who is responsible for publishing, the technical infrastructure requirements become quite obvious. Wherever possible, stick to open standards. If you don't you are asking for complexity and costs in the future.

The first management issues are learning to clarify intranet business goals and putting the appropriate measurements in place.

On security, my suggestion is, don't be too anxious to slap sophisticated access controls on the Intranet. When the time comes, follow the enabling principle. Set up a system that allows the publishers to define who gets access to specific information themselves, but handle the authentication and certification of the user globally in the infrastructure.

Beyond the base technical infrastructure, the creative challenge is to continue improving the tools to make the users more self supporting.

The other major challenge is providing intranet-based workgroup capabilities. This includes E-mail, conferencing, shared calendaring, and workflow management. The challenge here is that integrated, intranet-based tools are just starting to emerge. The proprietary vendors already are lined up with intranet front ends to their proprietary back ends. Whether the market will tolerate these lightly masked proprietary solutions or find enough advantage in the more open and innovative emerging solutions remains to be seen.

NWW -- Many intranets spring up at a grassroots level, then get handed over or are absorbed under the corporate IT department. Some companies aren't sure how to handle this transition. Do you have any suggestions?

STEVE -- When this happens, it is almost certain that a management infrastructure does not exist, and this is not an IT problem; it is a business management problem. The sooner the CIO can be made aware of this, the better for everyone. The technical infrastructure - that is the responsibility of  IT - is going to look like the client/server world IT already manages. In fact, the chances are reasonably good that it already is managing much of the intranet technical infrastructure.

Once the management infrastructure has been off-loaded to the business managers, the IT department should take on the goal of enabling users to do for themselves. This means acquiring the software and making it available both for departmental servers and on servers that are managed by the IT department. Not surprisingly, when the IT department starts to offer servers that are backed up, supported, and that allow the users to easily manage their own information themselves, the official information finds its own way from the departmental servers to these IT servers. The departmental servers continue to support departmental, project, and personal information.

NWW -- How do you think the early intranets we see today will change?

The biggest change we will see is in what constitutes an intranet. Two years ago it was clear cut: an Intranet was a Web behind a firewall. In the past two years the definition has changed in two directions. Advances in network security have made firewalls increasingly virtual. That is, information and access can be protected on physically shared networks. And there are more inter-enterprise demands for protected networks - that is, EDI applications are coming to the Intranet.

I now look at intranets as protected webs. I think this will continue to evolve to the point that each individual in an enterprise may have a slightly different Intranet depending on the projects, partners and industry groups with whom they interact.

Copyright 1996 NetworkWorld

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