What is an Intranet and how does it differ from an
The term "Intranet" actually is somewhat
conceptually, because it invites a contrast to the term "Internet." In
the real conceptual contrast is with the World-Wide Web. This
is important because the term Internet focuses us on the physical and
networks, whereas the World-Wide Web focuses on the set of content
on that physical and technical infrastructure. Intranets and Extranets,
the World-Wide Web, are collections of content that use the same
and technical infrastructure. An Intranet is a set of content, shared
a well-defined group (a community) within a single organization.
Extranet is a set of content also shared by a well derfined group,
one that crosses enterprise boundaries. The difference is really
definition of the type of access decision that is made for sets of
that reside on the Internet infrastructure.
Which problems can an intranet solve? Everybody
to be sure that we need it, but for what, where does this need come
Here are the problems Intranets solve from three
From a Business Perspective
Better Decision Making
Impoved Customer Relations
- Information Access
- Information Quality
Better Bottom Line
From an Operations Perspective
- Decreased Cost
- Increased Revenue
Make information easy to find, get and use
Make bi-directional digital communication available to everyone
- Everything is a mouse click away
Make development faster and cheaper
- We can finally drive the car without having to
be a mechanic
Allow distributed development and management
- Non-technical people can do more for
- Complex development has been simplified
- Output from cross-vendor tools really does
From a Functional Perspective
- Each group or author can chose their own
- Rigid, pre-defined structures no longer
required for content discovery
- Meeting Minutes
- Calendars/Resource Sched.
Facilities and Safety Infor.
Education & Training
Universal GUI to Legacy Info.
- Time Accounting
- Job Posting/Applicant Proc.
Sales Force Automation
I'm looking for an "instant" intranet.
It depends on what you mean by an instant
I assume you already have the IP network. If all you want to do to
is allow people to publish and share pages, check out Cobalt Microservers' or Microtest.
For a basic intranet I recommend the following as
As you get more advanced you will want
- POP-based email
- A static page web server
- A discussion forum server
- A good spider-fed search engine
- A cgi and/or Java library server
- A way to link to a database server
I wonder if the virtual organisation
control and central communication and purpose driven) is part of the
culture that many books have mentioned.
The point is: can the person culture alone
conducive enough for adopting an intranet.
Your question about person culture alone being
enough for adopting an intranet could have more than one meaning. Do
mean is it enough of a reason for a company to make a decision to
an intranet or once a company has made a decision is it enough to get
people in the organization to adopt using the intranet?
For the first meaning, I would say that most
that consciously adopted intranets, did not do so on the people culture
And even those who did looked for other ways to justify the time and
investment to management. In biology we used to talk about two sets of
causes for things,
the proximate cause, which is the cause that stimulates the behavior,
the ultimate cause, which is the long term advantage that makes the
successful. For example, some birds in temperate regions of the world
toward the equator in the fall and return toward the poles in the
When they leave and how far they go is set off by a proximate cause,
the daylight patterns or the temperature during a certain week in
The ultimate cause is the fact that those who don't pick up the que
survive the winter cold and lack of food.
Anthropologists have noted this same phenomenon in
cultures. Many of the rituals and taboos in cultures are proximate
for behaving in ways that have long term (ultimate) positive benefits.
believe the same is true here. Most companies are justifying and
intranets for proximate reasons, ROI, shorter delivery cycles for new
customer demands, etc. However, the adoption has long term
In some companies the intranet gets almost immediate and widespread
In others it is like pulling teeth to get people to use the intranet. I
that the ultimate benefits in terms of organizational flexibility,
innovation, knowledge management and learning are going to give those
companies that adopt
and incorporate intranets a growing "ulitmate" advantage over
Which brings us to the second possibility for what
could mean. Why do some companies take to intranets naturally and other
This is a cultural issue. Some cultures are predisposed to distributed
decision making and employee responsibility. Others are more
bureaucratic with employee dependencies on fixed rules, activities and
information flows. However, even
in supportive cultures, the way you introduce the intranet to the
can have a profound influence on how the intranet culture takes hold
integrates. This aspect of intranets is what I have been exploring
mid-1994. How do you introduce an intranet to the people in an
organization in a way that helps them and the organization get the best
The problem with intranet organizational
is, that every top down decision sabotages the quest to distribute the
decision making below. So how do you stimulate the process without
making the decisions?
I have developed a method for doing this that
five high level steps. First, is identifying the roles and
required to manage an on-going intranet. Second, is implementing the
technical functionality that enables the people in these roles to
themselves. Third, is facilitating the adoption of the roles and skills
the appropriate people in the organization. Fourth, is creating a
mass of participation in the organization. And, fifth, is creating
that promote the efficient flow of information with minimum imposition
These steps are implemented using a series of
and workshops that educate and support each individual in making their
each step of the way. The intranet is used to capture and share the
decisions, and even facilitate parts of the discussion. See chapter 8 of Intranet
for more details on this approach.
Our organisation is currently implementing an
However, we are not very satisfied with the newsgroup function in
Although it does work, we have problems with the way it works.
Therefore, we are trying to look for ways how to
newsgroups based on HTML. Could you please give us some information on
this works, what kind of software you use, problems that might arise,
Your information will be very much appreciated.
Depending on what it is you didn't like about
news server, you may want to look at software from Swarthmore that
news groups into web forums. It is called Forum News Gateway and you
find out more info at: http://forum.swarthmore.edu/forum.news.gateway.html.
Also see the i-net tools section on this site under Collaboration for other text-based
Our goal is to improve the searchability on a big
intranet. The intranet contains a VERY large amount of data (ca 100 000
and about 80 servers!!!
The main issue is to categorize the different
into various "clusters", to in that way improve the accessability.
important issue is the possibility to be able to quick and easy grasp
key concepts of the total object structure and contents.
We have found a great amont of different methods
theorys, not to mention alot of nasty algoritms to wrestle with. We
like to use an unsupervised approach!
Take a look at the Semio product. It came out of a research project at
University of Southern California (USC).
You also might want to check out Autonomy (http://www.autonomy .com). It
clustering technologies as well as both inductive and deductive
You also may want to look at the article: Using I-net Agents.
We are currently in the throes of putting together
infrastructure for content for our corporate intranet. Do we publish
which is searchable mainly by a search engine, that is not linked to
particular home pages or do we create an infrastructure which resembles
teams/divisions and the sort of infrastructure which we currently
The first issue here is whether you are talking
your physical organization, or your logical organization. Physically,
can organize any way you like, because the location is transparent to
user. However, I suggest that the physical organization be set up with
principles in mind. First, all content does not have to be on the same
so don't let yourself get too constrained by server. Choose server
locations for specific content based on security, function or backup
make your physical organization as modular and independent of the
structure as possible, so you don't have the problem of moving content
breaking links) every time a reorganization occurs. In other words,
physically organize content into folders within folders, based on
structure. Keep it flat.
In terms of logical organization, there are many
ways to organize the logical navigation paths. A seach engine is only
and if you look at most sites a search engine is provided along with
organization approaches (e.g. alphabetical, metaphorical, temporal,
etc.). Most effective top level pages recognize that no one approach
everyone, so they provide more than one. The optimum number seems to be
different approaches (in addition to the search engine), or at least
is what most sites seem to be settling on.
From your question, it seems that you have not yet
the shift to thinking about the content as independent of the
paths. Once you internalize this distinction, you will find it quite
and liberating, because you can manage the content separately from the
paths, and, you can create new navigation paths (I call them brokers in
book) easily and independently from the physical structure of the
Learning (back to top)
- How can an Intranet function as an
organizational memory and what kind of applications in an Intranet can
be used as this memory?
- How can organizational memory create/support
Many of our views on organizational
memory and learning are tainted by the traditional computing paradigm.
tend to think of these activities in terms of traditional files and
And yet we know our own brains are not structured like files or
at all. They are complex networks. Yes, even in our brains, the network
Some important themes:
1. As with all complex systems, levels of
will come into play. Thus, organizational learning requires individual
first, and as an integral part of the process. But organizational
will have some very different characteristics than individual learning.
Just as individual learning cannot take place without learning and
memory in the
neuron pathways, the meaning of neuron pathway learning and memory is
different than the learning and memory that takes place in the mind as
whole system of learning neuron pathways. Thus, we should expect
learning to have different characteristics than those we associate with
2. Learning and memory work on may different
Our unconscious memory, for example, carries a lot of "informal"
Is the unconscious mind just a lot of meaningless junk that we can
without detriment? If you believe this, you had better go back and read
Jung again. I suspect that organizational memory will work the same
No one person, or even community of interest, can predict what will
be valuable and what can be tossed out. Nor will the same information
valuable to all individuals or communities of interest. Intranets allow
to capture a larger percentage of undifferentiated information than
before. But more importantly, intranets allow us to create agents that
us screen, reuse and restructure that information, continuously, in
ways. I believe this will be the real key to understanding
memory and learning.
3. If the previous idea is correct, then the most
approach to intranets and organizational learning will come from a
concentration on the kinds of agents that are required (both human and
automated) to make
the right intranet information "conscious" to the right groups at the
time. Some of the definitions in the agent paper mentioned above: http://www.iorg.com/papers/agents.html
, are the most basic attempt to begin classifying the types of agents
that are required. I also have addressed the concept of agents in
Chapter 7 of my
on-line book (also mentioned
4. The most important theme is that learning and
are not static files, but dynamic processes, be they individual or
In the end, organizational learning will come from counter-balancing
agents, just as our other sophisticated systems (from muscular to
hormonal) gain their
tone and control from the tension of opposing forces.
Also see: http:.//www.iorg.com/papers/knowledge.html
I am in the process of setting up an intranet for
department, which will eventually link with the corporate network
a WAN. I have no problem in thinking of the type of things I would like
set upand have already set up the basics for some of them. Of course
are useless if people are not going to expand and maintain the content
themselves. People here are very open to the idea of intranet and want
to get involved. The idea has been sold.
The major barrier is in how to enable (usually
users to be able to easily publish to the intranet. Word processing and
apps are our common form of document creation and users are comfortable
with them,....my problem is making it easy for them to then publish
their docs in intranet format, in the right place and to be able to
edit content as necessary.
Do I need to provide collabaration products and
First, let me state my bias right up front. I am a
of companies moving to web-standard content as quickly as possible.
is no reason this cannot be done given the tools available today.
There are several good WYSIWYG, HTML editors out
that use many of the same buttons and conventions as common word
Netscape Gold is one and Netscape Composer is even better,
FrontPage also is a reasonable product, although starting novices out
a complete web management package, rather than a page editor, may be a
overwhelming. If the applications you currently use are Microsoft
you might consider Office '97. Word 97, in particluar, is a very easy
to generate basic HTML pages, and can even turn existing Word documents
HTML. Personally, I think Adobe's PageMill is one of the best
editors I have seen. Until recently it was only available on Macs, but
recently released the Windows95 version. By the end of this year, HTML
functionality is supposed to be available from Corel implemented
in Java, and will allow other participants in the community to make
their own modifications.
If you need to pass around spreadsheets, or other
content that you want the audience to be able to use and modify, then
sure your web-server is set up to support the appropriate MIME
This way the audience can use the proprietary application as a helper
application. This also allows the proprietary content to be viewed
as-is if a plug-in is
available for the browser.
As far as collaboration tools, you need to look at
audience and determine how much current content is primarily the
of a single author and how much is a true collaborative effort. In most
, introducing collaborative tools to organizations takes a proactive
The most basic advice in bringing on new intranet
is keep it simple. Unless you have a real requirement
for collaborative tools in the beginning, the intranet equivalent of
individual word processing is the best starting point. Once people
become comfortable with the basics, introduce collaborative tools
into the review process. There are collaborative
products that can help this process, but be careful! The last thing you
is a product that sucks you into their proprietary management system,
requires everyone in your organization to publish, update and modify
future versions from within their management structure. The strength of
intranet is the independence of the content from the tools used to
and manage it, so be vigilant.
The real message here is not to let authoring and
tools lock your community into proprietary content over the long
There are reasons for transitional use of proprietary content, but your
long term strategy should be to move to standard content where multiple
vendors products can be used to create, modify and manage
the content. That is the strength of all the web-based infrastructure.
If you don't recognize
that, you may as well just stay with your proprietary environment,
very soon you will find yourself right back in the old corner.
I would like to information about
newsletters on the Intranet. How do you structure it? Is it a replica
the print version? Have you killed the print version? What kinds of
do you include? What is included that was not included in the print, if
What problems have you encountered?
As with most intranet content, the issue really
down to the purpose and objectives for the newsletter. Most large
use a newsletter, generally owned by corporate communications, to
a common culture and a place for new information with
As such, the intranet version often becomes the
"home page" for the company. The challenges seem to be: giving it the
cultural personality (this includes a name as well as the look and feel
the layout and graphics), keeping it fresh so people have a reason to
back, and marketing its existence so people build the habit of
that it is there.
Some things to consider:
Different content has different shelf life. Divide
electronic newsletter into sections that can be managed differently.
up front have the section that you change everyday with the "late
news." This means you can keep the whole newsletter looking fresh by
a very constrained section. Elsewhere on the newsletter top page have
links to the commonly used resources in the company and information
has a little longer shelf life (maybe changes every week).
The index mentioned above should be the main index
the home pages of the different areas of the company (both line and
and to specific information of use, e.g. the corporate phone book,
information, etc. Remember, in this section of your newsletter, the
is not to keep the visitor on your site, but to get her to the
she needs and back to work as easily and efficiently as possible.
Don't set up the structure so you put everything
the newsletter yourself. Since the depth past the first page is
through links, let each organization manage their own information, and
just point to it. Now you have the whole company helping keep things
and accurate. Tell them what you are doing, and get them involved. But
you have established the brokering links, the work is distributed to
There are tricks you can do with both formatting standards and a common
location for the top logos for each group that will allow you to
manage, and change, look and feel with very little effort. You also
need to monitor your links to make sure a department hasn't moved
something on you, but there are automated
tools that will help you do that, without having to publish everything
your server, under your control.
Finally, remember that the attractive new
to this communication medium is the ability to develop meaningful
where everyone can participate. At first this seems subtle, but
newletters are information broadcasts and do not have the immediate,
interaction of an intranet. Always look for ways to involve the
in the community. At the very least make sure they can easily feedback
to you in an unstructured format. Overtime, look for ways they can
more directly involved in the content of the newsletter. Use the
as a spring board to facilitate cross-organizational
Having established an intranet solution a year
we are now considering moving towards pushing content to desktops. I
be very interested in anyone's experiences with Pointcast, Marimba etc.
an intranet context.
The real issue is what you intend to do with
technology. Pointcast and Marimba really were designed to do two
things. There is a lot of confusion in the market today about push
For a different take on the subject, that might help you sort through
you are trying to do functionally first, take a look at the following
"Using I-net Agents" http://www.iorg.com/papers/agents.html
Also see the Subcription Agents
What I would really like to do is push content to
Basically, I want to make inforamtion available and ensure that it
reaches its target audience, rather than hope that they "pull"
information from the
intranet. We have found that people who are used to such things as
Notes announcing an incoming message become lazy and perceive having to
and find information on the intranet without prompting to be a major
Unfortunately, this is increasingly the world
- unrequested information that the company wants
- particular information to the desktops of
those who request it (create groups etc)
we live in.
I understand your desire. However, if you are in a
organization, there are probably a hundred people like you that want to
what they think is important out to the audience (rather than make it
to the community of peers). When this happens we have what might be
called escalating information overload.
If only one person pushes, and is very sparing
it, it works. When multiples push, everyone's "important" news gets
in the noise. This is not just an intranet issue. I have noticed for
in large companies that the marketing groups all want to push their
information to the sales force. They (1) don't trust the sales force to
it and (2) feel like they did their job as long as it got sent. If the
force ignores it, then they can blame the sales people for not doing
When you go work with the sales people, on the
end of this, they get a steady barage of pushed material that they have
hope of ever keeping up with. So, yes, they don't read it. But pushing
makes it worse. If you can give it to them so they can easily find it
THEY need it, you are doing them a much greater service. Let's face it,
paper nor email in an individual's inbasket are amenable to easy
A well architected intranet is.
I use the sales example because people seem to
with it easily, but all of us face this similar situation everyday when
face our own in-baskets.
You asked for a suggestion for those people who
too lazy to go to the web to retrieve information that is pushed to
in email as a link rather than directly sent. I suggest you get them an
reader that automatically hot links the URLs in mail messages so they
click to the page right from their email, if they want to look at it
And, train senders to include the full URL in their email message
the http://) so the reader picks it up as a URL.
However, I also suggest you consider the
that they may not want to look at it now, or ever. If this is the case,
had better start asking yourself how you know they are reading (and not
discarding or ignoring) the stuff you are pushing to them directly. Is
pushing just making you feel better because you made them do something
it, even though it was not what they needed at the moment, and what
did with it may not be what you invision.
In the end, the choice and responsibility is
on the recipient. Trying to hide it through the game of spoon feeding
be more costly to the organization than most people realize. This is
just an information overload problem. It is an issue of employees
responsibility for their own requirements.
And, the employee may in fact be making the best
for their productivity in the organization when they choose to ignore
discard pushed information. Even if it is important, if they have to
through a swamp of non-critical information to find it, their time may
better spent doing other things.
You also should consider making available on your
user controlled subscription agents (allowing subscriptions to highly
content), which some of the products billed as "push" actually do, and
individualized automated pull agents like Katipo
And, don't forget training your employees on how to customize and use
these tools effectively.
Unfortunately, the software vendors also seem to
victims of the old "push it and they will look at it" delusion
have not yet produced many focused agents to help you in this
A note to software vendors: being the first to take an intranet agent
to your product planning, rather than a generic push approach, has
... Intranets can be more costly than they at
seem but the addition of huge intangable benefits should outweigh a low
I do not buy into 1000% returns. What do you think?
As far as the 1,000 percent returns, there are a
of variables involved, but two characteristics seem to be common.
the companies already had a TCP/IP, client-server infrastructure in
so the basic infrastructure investment was minimal. Second, they used
time savings as part of the return calculation. The concept of "15
a day saved for every employee, times the number of days in a year,
the average salary for that 15 minutes, times the number of employees,"
credibility problems with some executives. And it is true, in many
there is no good way to measure if that 15 minutes actually turns into
savings or a return somewhere down the line.
It seems to me that ROI is very difficult to
for any new base or infrastructure technology. In fact, it is not clear
me that we ever successfully come up with a true measure. The
gets adopted based on intuitive judgement and bandwagon effect until it
incorporated into the way we do our work. From that point on, ROI will
because we are measuring the comparative cost of improvements, rather
the cost of a whole new way of doing things.
For more information on ROI see http://www.internetworld.com/print/1999/02/08/intranet/19990208-advisor.html
also: chapter 8 of Intranet
(back to top)