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An Interview with Steve Telleen

Excerpted with permission from Intranets: What's the Bottom Line?
by Randy Hinrichs

You can find more information about this excellent book at: 
Amazon Books

Dr. Steve Telleen, Director, Strategy and Business
Development, Intranet Partners

Steve Telleen, Ph.D. is director of Strategy and Business Development at Intranet Partners, a consulting firm that focuses on helping companies develop intranets and intranet strategies. At the time of this interview, Steve was responsible for developing the intranet at Amdahl, as it grew up from it's humble cross functional roots to the IntraNet solution that has transformed Amdahl. 

Randy: Let me ask some basic questions. Why do you have a working intranet system in your organization? 

Steve: We saw the potential this technology could make in our business processes, technically, but more importantly, organizationally. From an implementation perspective, I credit the successes we have had with the fact that we treated the implementation as an infrastructure development program rather than an application development project. 

Randy: How is your infrastructure developed to support the Intranet? 

Steve: We focused on three major areas: Management, Technical, and Content. We set out to create a decentralized control model so we could avoid trditional bottlenecks. The key to rolling out the decentralized model was the formation and training of the Web Council, which consisted of the Publishers for each major line of business and functional area. We then encouraged the Publishers to organize the Editors and Authors in their area. The Publishers determined formal information their group would make available. Each group was free to define the specific editorial areas and authoring responsibilities for their own organization. 

Randy: How do you manage content within your Intranet? 

Steve: In general we tried to develop a distributed, self-management model. We quickly discovered three distinct kinds of information being published on the infrastructure, each with its own management challenges: 
 

  1. Formal information, which is officially sanctioned and subject to review and approval cycles,
  2. Project information, also departmental, which generally is related to the operation of a specific area or development project,
  3. Informal information, which belongs to specific individuals. Personal home pages are one example of this, but personal information often consists of white papers, individual presentation foils, notes, etc. Sort of the water-cooler information that gets passed around.
The formal information is managed just as it is on paper, with review cycles and approvals. The difference is the content generally is made available on the Intranet, as project information, as it progresses through development and the reviews. The project information is managed by the project or department members responsible. Informal information is not managed. 

However, as an Intranet grows, it is a good idea to have icon markers on each page that identify the formal or official information so the viewer knows the status of the information being accessed. Icon markers are a good idea for identifying internal only information too. 

Randy: Do you have a central intranet web page in your organization? 

Steve: Yes, we identified three separate high level entry points into the Intranet. The first we call the Enerprise Map. It is based on the organizational or accountability structure around the formal information. The majority of the map is a set of link pages, starting at the CEO level. The top page has links to the top level map page for each of the lines of business and major functional areas. These map pages coincide with each Publisher on the Web Council, and each is owned by one of those Publishers. 

The top level Publisher page in each organization has links to each of their Editor's top level map page. The Editors structure their pages to reflect the logical ordering of the content for the functions for which they have responsibility. This structure allows each area to organize and self-publish their information, but provides a very low maintenance structure to all the formal information based on organizational responsibilities. 

Since the upper map pages are simple links, when reorganizations occur, the map can be modified in a matter of minutes by the organizations affected. 

The Enterprise Map can be a powerful tool that helps managers monitor the status, completeness and quality of information that they make available to the enterprise or the world. However, we discovered that many users, who were not the audience for the map, found it to be very useful for informational browsing. 

The second entry point we called the Yellow Pages. This is a functional view of the content, and may contain informal pages as well as formal. Links in the Yellow Pages are generated at the author's request. The danger with allowing unmanaged pages into the directory, which the Yellow Pages does, is that it can become cluttered with abandoned pages and junk information. To counter this we implemented a sunset policy for informal pages. After 60 days they are removed from the Yellow Pages unless a request is made to keep them. The processes for submitting link requests and monitoring and removing links can be automated with scripts. 

The third entry point is the Index and Search Engine. Here publishing is done automatically by a discovery agent (a spider) and the user finds the information by submitting a search. This is an important tool, but policies and processes need to be put in place so authors can easily tag content they don't want the discovery agent to index. 

Randy: I learned about the Intranet methodology from your web pages. Can you briefly describe that methodology for us? 

Steve: The methodology is based on four basic stages of development: 
 

  1. Executive awareness
  2. Goals clarification
  3. Implementation planning
  4. Implementation support and guidance from experienced personnel. 
The process is facilitated by providing web-ready policy and standards templates, role and organizational charter documentation, and processes for effective roll-out. 

The methodology is driven by business goals rather than technology and addresses what I call the five "Ss" of success: Skills, Structure, Staffing, Shared Vision, and Systems. 

Randy: What do you see as the main difference between enterprise networking and intranets? 

Steve: Enterprise networking is a technology-centric approach. An intranet allows that technology to be driven and managed by the business goals and the domain specialists. It became feasible with the advent of real vendor-independent standards for both communication and content. While the commercial vendors argued over enterprise networking standards, non-commercial users around the world developed standards that worked. We have seen the power of vendor-independent standards in the pace of development that has occurred over the past three years in both the commercial and the non-commercial arena. 

Randy: What's the key to integrating enterprise networking and the intranet? 

Steve: Build a business infrastructure that fully utilizes the enterprise network. The intranet standards and tools make this feasible. To be successful requires attention to the five "Ss" mentioned above. With an intranet, you have the potential to transfer the way the enterprise manages itself. 

Randy: How'd the intranet get started at Amdahl? 

Steve: In April of 1993 several of the technical developers in the Open Systems group obtained a beta version of Mosaic and began playing with it. About that time, the Competitive Analyst for Open Systems was looking for a better way to move information to the field sales force. They hooked up and began a pilot to see if this technology might provide a solution. A lot of technical issues remained back then, beta Mosaic was not easy to install or configure, and it didn't have all the viewers integrated like today. There was also the issue of getting the information from our external suppliers into web format. 

In the spring of 1994 my Open Systems Strategic and Market Planning Group began to look at what offerings might make sense for Amdahl based on this technology. At that time the media play was all on the Internet. Our view was that there were too many issues that needed to be solved, too much infrastructure that wasn't there yet, for the direct consumer Internet to be an immediate and sustained success. 

However, we noted that most large enterprises had the same problems inside their firewalls that the Internet/Web was designed to solve on a global basis. The security issues were less profound, and the base infrastructures were already in place. So we focused on intraenterprise uses. 

It also seemed obvious that the technology was not where the real challenge lay. The challenge was going to be how to manage the content and the effects on the organization. 

In late July of 1994, we asked IDC to run four focus groups, two on the east coast and two on the west coast, for us to look at potential customer reactions to the concept of employing web technology internally. In the group, we had started referring to the concept as an IntraNet, and as we were building the focus group scripts with IDC, one of the analysts asked if we had taken out a trademark on the term. 

This prompted us to do a search, and the term was available, we were the first to use it. For a number of reasons, we did not register the term as a trademark, although we did use it widely with customers, editors and analysts the last four months of 1994, starting with the 44 companies that participated in the focus groups. 

In the fall of 1994 we also started to build our methodology for introducing an Intranet into an enterprise. I wrote the first draft of a white paper on the subject in the fall, and a refined version went up on the Amdahl external web in early 1995. It can still be found there, along with two subsequent papers. 

In January of 1995 I approached the CIO at Amdahl and convinced her to sponsor an Intranet roll-out. We had been testing some of the ideas in my group and in the rest of the Open Systems organization, but this was the first test of our concepts on a large scale. 

Randy: Just like that? You founded a methodology, and then built your intranet? 

Steve: Yes, the issue was not the technology. The basic technical infrastructure already existed in our enterprise network. Because the technology was so easy to use, almost anyone in the organization could set themselves up as a web server. They already were connected to an IP network, and the software was cheap or free. The real issue was how do you manage this information. And by manage, I mean manage the "life cycle" of the content, just like we do information on paper. 

This was a fundamental paradigm shift for everyone, developers, publishers, authors and users. We immediately saw that this technology enabled a self-service, pull model, rather than the classical push model. Developers needed to provide authors and publishers with tools that enabled them to do for themselves what developers used to do for them. 

Authors and publishers needed to learn to publish without distributing. And, users needed to learn to be responsible for determining their real information requirements, and accessing information themselves, rather than relying on others to push a river of information (much of little immediate use) across their desks everyday. Of course the problem becomes, how do users find the information once they determine the need? 

Randy: What did you do when you discovered information overload problems? 

Steve: A pull model actually reduces information overload on the user's desk. And, the Intranet makes accessing the information easy, once you know it exists. The problem is knowing what exists and whether it is quality information or not. 

The solution here is in the concept of a broker. Brokers provide context for the mass of content out there. Brokers are focused on specific functions or audiences, and provide links and tools that help users efficiently find information in the context which the broker supports. We are familiar with brokers in many aspects of our everyday lives. For example, TV Guide is a broker for television shows. 

What we did not want to do was fall back on models and technologies that forced or encouraged centralization and the potential for resource bottlenecks. Now many of us, myself included, spent much of our careers marketing the benefits of data sharing, and particularly database management systems. 

However, shared database approaches are inherently centralized. The Internet and web technologies are primarily message-based tecnologies. We wanted to see if we could develop models for solving the communication and coordination issues outside the shared-data model, using a messaging model. 

Randy: How do you define a messaging model? 

Steve: A messaging model is when you only send what is needed as a message, when it is needed, to the individuals who need it. Coordination and communication is more of a one-to-one activity. Email is a good metaphore for messaging, but the web technology uses the same standards and approaches. 

One can look at a web transaction as an email request for specific information, and an email reply. Each request can be to a different system. By contrast data in databases has to be either be managed by a common system, or have highly structured interfaces engineered between systems. The difference really is that database approaches require a lot more coordination, engineering and rigidity than messaging approaches. 

Randy: Does the intranet compete with Lotus Notes? 

Steve: Yes, it became apparent in our focus groups in August of 1994, that the intranet was going to go head to head with Lotus Notes. Notes is a good example of solving the same problem primarily using a shared database approach as opposed to messaging. The underlying database sharing approach is why Notes had the "replication problem." 

Now in August of 1994 intranet technology did not have anywhere near enough functionality to compete with Notes, but it was apparent that the velocity of development was so fast that within a year intranets would be able to hold their own in a direct confrontation. The rate at which intranet technology was developing developing versus Notes technology development was a very good example of the benefits of vendor-neutral standards over proprietary technology. 

In April of 1995 the intranet appeared on the Notes radar screen, and by the fall of 1995 (one year after our focus groups) the intranet was considered by many to be the winner. Notes still has strengths in the workflow management arena, but I think this too may come under serious attack as many of the workflow requirements are recast in terms of messaging approaches. 

In the long run the message-based technologies will not drive the data-based technologies to extinction. Instead we will learn which functions and kinds of information are best supported with message-based approaches and which are best supported with data-based approaches. Already the two approaches are starting to work together allowing us to manage smaller databases and use intranet technologies to integrate the output in more flexible and manageable ways. 

We can only gain the knowledge of how to architect these new solutions through experience, so expect a lot of noise as those people and companies with a vested interest in data-based approaches resist the attempts of those trying out the message-based approaches on previously sacred ground. 

Randy: Okay, then, from experience talk about advantages of the intranet. 

Steve: The first advantage is a very-intuitive, single, user-interface to the diversity of information and resources on the network. This ability to integrate asynchronously managed content is extremely powerful and flexible. 

The second is the ability for anyone to publish and find information easily on the network, This breaks down the organizational barriers to communication, flattens the hierarchy, and eventually will make enterprises much more flexible. 

The third is that it makes development faster, cheaper and easier. 

Fourth, and ultimately the most important, as managers in functional areas learn that they really are managing information, and then learn that by using the intranet they can quickly see the information for which they are responsible in contexts and combinations they never could before, we will see higher quality information, and eventually the knowledge will lead to more effective organizations. We are generating new knowledge about how information drives function, and how to manage knowledge creation processes more effectively. 

Randy: Which tools do you believe are going to enable knowledge creation and knowledge management processes? 

Steve: I favor tools that allow domain specialists to manage, manipulate and publish their information themselves, without having to call in a technology specialist to do it for them. I also am fanatic about tools supporting distributed decision making and management at all levels. This includes not forcing groups to all use the same brand of creation tools or management tools. Of course that means the vendors must adhere to the internet-standard outputs, or the output from the various groups won't be compatible. 

The internet and web standards have taken us to this point. The object standards and technology are a natural fit to the intranet and will make diversity and distributed decision making even more powerful. Intranets appear to be the necessary infrastructure that finally makes object-based technologies compelling. And, the object-based tehcnologies can provide us with valuable perspectives on how to manage distributed decision making in organizations. This is a very promising marriage. 

Randy: What is going to make that marriage work? 

Steve: Distributing decision making is the key issue. It is what an intranet enables, and it what it encourages. It takes conscious effort to stop distributed decision making and information management after an intranet infrastructure is in place. Therefore, when you start the implementation stage, you find yourself in a full blown paradigm shift. When that happens, the entire corporation is affected. You find out that what you're doing is much larger than you expected. 


Bottom Line: Putting together an intranet is really about how you make decisions in an organization and how you view control. Neither of these are trivial issues by any means. 

Randy: There's a lot of resistance to distributing decision making. Talk about that resistance. 

Steve: There are three reasons for resistance. Some managers don't understand the technology, and don't know what to do with it, so they resist the unknown. The second form of resistance, comes from those who have made legacy decisions, e.g., a decision to take the whole company to Lotus Notes. They may or may not have implemented their decision, but they're worried about intranets affecting perception of their decision making capabilities. The third group is made up of people who are control freaks. They don't like intranets because they fear losing their control. The big security risk arguments come from this group of resistors. 

Randy: How do you explain to them the value of the intranet, then, in such a way as to break down the resistance? 

Steve: It depends on the source of the resistance. For those who don't understand, you can try analogies, but the best way to to give them first hand experience with a web browser and either a pilot or something that clicks on that light bulb in their consciousness. I find it interesting that for many people the light bulb goes on when they experience something totally unrelated to their primary work interests. 

For one, very accounting oriented manager, it turned out to be the virtual frog dissection page where he suddenly saw the possibilities. Maybe that is because the defenses are down on non-work related pages. The reality is, that some people are never going to have the conversion experience. This really is a paradigm shift that requires the "aha" experience. 

Randy: How do you handle security over this communication structure? 

Steve: Security is still a big concern for most managers and executives as they plan for an intranet. However, the security technology has come a long way in the last three years. We now are at a point where intranet security is probably better in many areas than it is for non-computerized information and processes. The legitimate driver for security is risk, and risk, it turns out, is a very subjective phenomenon. The other driver is the attitude toward information and control. 

The first question I ask in facilitating development of an intranet security policy is: as a company do you want to deny your employees access to all information unless an individual is specifically permitted, or do you want to allow your employees access to all information unless it is specifically denied. This tells you a lot about the attitude and culture of the enterprise. I can configure an intranet for those who want to make an exception for access rather than for restriction, but the benefits of an intranet are going to be greatly diminished. 

Randy: How do you manage people playing on the intranet, and not getting work done? 

Steve: When people first encounter the intranet, you have to expect them to play. Playing is how humans learn. It is through playing that they will encounter the "aha" that they need to use the technology effectively, and it is by playing that they will learn how to find things efficiently. Playing tends to drop off after the first 6 to 8 weeks and they get back into their jobs, but now they've got a incredible communication tool to help them do their jobs better. 

This isn't to say that there won't be any problems. Companies have trouble with some employees spending too much time on personal telephone calls, playing computer games, reading novels at work, or just socializing. These are management problems, and should be dealt with by normal management processes. 

Randy: Could you say that you're developing critical thinking skills in your employees? 

Steve: Precisely. Kenneth Boulding, the Nobel Prize winning economist, made a comment in the 1960s about education models that seems very relevant today. Since ancient Greek times education has focused on learning all the facts about a subject. We became educated by memorizing everything to get the information in your head. But as the amount of information increased, we had to become increasingly specialized and narrow in our focus, until today many people are so focused they miss important integrating concepts and opportunities. 

He suggested that education needed to make a radical shift away from the know everything paradigm. Instead, education should focus on teaching students problem identification, solution strategy development, and information acquisition skills. The real value is in being able to identify and solve problems, and specific information is a tool that is accessed "just-in-time." It seems that the intranet/internet culture that is emerging may both require and enable that approach. A friend of mine phrased this same phenomenon another way. He said, we used to learn to do, now we do to learn. 

There is a great book to read on the relationship of information, biology and economics,. called Bionomics. It's by Michael Rothschild. It lays out a pretty interesting chart on how the evolution of information drives both biological and economic phenomena. 

Randy: You must have a background in biology. 

Steve: Sure do; my Ph.D. is in biology. I tell you though, it really helps hone your systems skills. Another good book that actually supports the connection between biology and business strategy is The Death of Competition, by James Moore. What's an intranet from the systems point of view? It's a complex of self regulating subsystems in a constant state of flux, operating on information in an environment that is always changing. As Moore says, managing these complex systems is more like gardening than engineering. 

Randy: Yes, that's great. I quoted Moore a couple of times to describe these same phenomena. How do you think Netscape fits into all this? They are doing much more than just providing a browser. 

Steve: Netscape is clearly moving into the server space, providing higher levels of functionality for large commercial enterprises. They also will continue to play in the lower end space, they have to in order to protect their value add space. In the browser space they also are moving toward incorporating operating systems on the client into the browser. Meanwhile Microsoft is trying to incorporate browsers into operating systems. The users and enterprises will win as long as vendor-independent standards keep it so it doesn't matter whose browser you have, and diversity stays in the market. 

Randy: Netscape, Sun and Java are on one side, Microsoft on the other. How do you see this playing out? 

Steve: Java may or may not be the best tool for developing distributed object technology on the web, but they certainly have gotten the mind share, and applications are starting to emerge. Microsoft is coming after them full steam with Active X, but as long as Microsoft technology only runs on Microsoft platforms, they are violating that principle of vendor-independent standards. 

I guess we will see if the intranet has helped customers recognize the benefits they acrue from these standards. I'd never underestimate Bill Gates. He clearly has the market leading share of all the base legacy technology on PCs. It's the old paradigm and he owns 70 percent of the market place. He recognizes that the new paradigm has shifted, and he's willing to play because he is selling lots of new stuff too. 

I think he's playing multiple strategies right now, and his preferred strategy is to use this movement to grab a bigger share of the application market, and then use his near monopoly market share to migrate as many of the key pieces back into his proprietary control as soon as possible. The losers in this scenario are the application vendors whose space Microsoft invaded, and the users who lose the advantages of competition in a standards-based environment. 

Randy: What is the future of intranets? 

Steve: Intranets themselves are evolving a couple of directions. Internally they are becoming the standard computing infrastructure. As such, we will see less emphasis on basic intranets and the focus will move to higher level applications and functions built on top of the intranets. 

Also, intranets are opening up. Partners and distributors are being allowed access to parts of each other's intranets. Firewalls are becoming increasingly virtual as access is controlled through other means as well. Ultimately, intranets have the potential to drastically alter most aspects of our lives. If this really is the equivalent of the printing press, then look at what the printing press caused. The ability to reproduce nearly unlimited copies of the Bible in multiple languages removed the technology barrier that supported the power structure of the Catholic Church and brought about a religious reformation. 

The ease of publishing information in volumes spurred the education and literacy of the masses, but also created problems with knowing what information was correct. The scientific method came into prominance to solve the information quality problem, and led to the scientific revolution, which spawned the industrial revolution. The new egalitarian culture this flood of information stimulated brought about both a raft of cottage industries (garage operations) which led Adam Smith to theories of capitalism and the birth of modern democracy. 

Intranet and Web technology is opening the floodgates of information as never before. If the period after the printing press is any indication, we have an exciting, turbulent future to look forward to. 


Copyright 1997 Sun Microsystems, Inc.
A Sun Microsystems Press/Prentice Hall PTR book.
ISBN 0138411980.
Amazon Books

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