The emergence and popularity of the Internet in recent years have made electronic communication faster, cheaper and more attainable, particularly for business enterprises. People like having the ability to publish and broadcast information on a platform that can be accessed within the enterprise and around the world; and some companies are using this capability for competitive advantage. As Internet-derived technology is exploited it is enabling business enterprises to build and deploy home grown, internal information and messaging systems called Intranets. The goal of Intranets has been to provide a broad and deep enough platform to support enterprise services for messaging, directory, calendaring and scheduling, conferencing, workflow and e-mail. The integration of these enterprise services is beginning to allow for valuable information sharing across corporations. As Intranets grow in popularity, however, I/S organizations are discovering new costs and support challenges to managing this new communications environment.
This report summarizes the challenges, trends, strategies and indicated best practices for developing and supporting enterprisewide Intranets, as discussed by the Data Center Best Practices group at their August 1996, meeting.
Despite their increasing popularity, Intranets can pose challenges to any organization, no matter how technologically advanced or organized. A primary driver for many enterprises to develop an internal web has been to create a channel for management and employees to communicate with a worldwide corporate population. When early Intranets were first implemented on a small scale, enterprises were not aware of the significant management challenges that come with Intranet development. Today, I/S organizations are trying to deal with one of the toughest technological challenges: learning to support an already complex distributed computing infrastructure with an increasing number of applications. And, networking the numerous applications is an even greater challenge.
But technology is not the only management challenge that Intranets pose. Many I/S organizations are facing a cultural hurdle to successful Intranet development the resistance to, and therefore lack of, enterprise technology standards. In many enterprises, the purchasing authority for desktop computing and communications systems is distributed, resulting in the acquisition of non-standard platforms across the company. Although these systems may satisfy some unique business unit need, they are often incompatible with the rest of the enterprise infrastructure, resulting in significant incremental support, integration or conversion costs when those systems need to be linked with the rest of the enterprise. For example, when a company begins to develop an internal, enterprisewide communication system like an Intranet, the various messaging applications, such as e-mail, must either be converted and integrated into one system or thrown away to purchase one single enterprisewide application. In addition, if the company decision is to choose one single solution, then it must overcome the business unit resistance to doing away with their preferred solution in favor of the company choice. This resistance is often more than just an expense issue; it also involves the sense on the part of the business units that they are giving up control of decisions they feel they should own.
Another important challenge to developing an enterprisewide Intranet is financing. Initially, the low start-up costs and the early returns on investment spur the rapid development and implementation of Intranets in a company. However, continuous improvements in technology, increased computing complexity, increased usage and requirements in functionality lead to higher costs in upgrading and maintaining an enterprisewide Intranet. And, for organizations that must first build in technology standards across the enterprise, it will be necessary to make expensive investments in new products, tools and applications and roll them out across the enterprise.
Developing an enterprisewide Intranet takes a great deal of time and planning, even if the organization has experience with Internet technology. Thorough planning prior to project implementation is a critical success factor for Intranet deployment. The systems and services that this environment will impact and provide will require enterprisewide commitment to making it a success. Companies therefore recommend the establishment of senior management sponsorship for the project up front. This is important not only to help gain corporate-wide support for the Intranet, but also to achieve the appropriate funding to do the project right.
Next, a key task in the development of an Intranet is to consider a project plan that defines both the short- and long-term goals and strategies of the project, as well as any dependent strategies that will impact the plan. Knowing these goals allows you to then identify the roles and responsibilities of the Intranet project team, as well as who needs to be on that team from the start. When selecting the project team, companies recommend including representatives and users from outside the I/S organization, from areas such as Legal, Public Affairs, Graphic Arts designers, Help Desk, major business units, etc. The diversity of the project team will help to ensure that no important phases of the project are overlooked, as well as achieve buy-in and endorsements from some of the system's primary user communities. In fact, one company recommends the use of a "Center of Excellence" organizational structure in order to build a high performing project team for Intranet development and implementation which will help overcome the significant technological and management challenges that this project will present.
And, as with any new application development process, the project plan must include joint application requirements definition phases (users and the project team), which will help to keep the project team ahead of the management challenges as well as gain support from the users through their participation in the creation of the system. The Intranet project team cannot develop a successful Intranet without knowing the needs of the end users for whom the project is being implemented. Determining user requirements may be the most important phase of project planning. When done correctly, this joint planning process can help to ensure that the Intranet will be functional and well-used; and it also helps to minimize the number of changes that will be required to the system after development is completed. In addition, one company recommends surveying the "readers" as well as the "publishers" (InfoMasters) of the Intranet in order to focus the project team on their needs, not just on the technology involved. Another company establishes informal, ad-hoc working groups with users, as well as formal groups. Working closely with the Intranet users and content providers is the first step in promoting a knowledge sharing environment, a useful method for selling the project to business unit managers and the user community.
Another key element to successful Intranet deployment is the identification of corporate policies on how the Intranet should be used. As with any communication system that involves the transfer and communication of company information, corporate policies for the appropriate use of the system need to be defined clearly up front. One company uses a "CEO booklet" which focuses on how the company communicates. When establishing policies and standards it is important to recognize that there will be personal use of the Intranet technology, and to plan for that accordingly. One company's approach to doing this is to not prohibit personal use, but rather to rely on the Human Resources and management processes to monitor personal use and its potential business impact. And, with the Intranet, since many of the ways that the system will be used will be business driven, companies recommend that the corporate guidelines include language that places the responsibility for justification primarily on the end users.
Establishing corporate policies for the use of the Intranet goes hand-in-hand with the establishment of standards for a "common look" and ease of support. This technology environment is undergoing constant change which demands the need for standards. Recent Gartner Group research shows that the average life span of Internet applications is measured in months, and often in weeks. Without standards, adapting to and leveraging this rapid change is impossible, and very expensive! In addition, a standard infrastructure and operating environment allows better integration of applications with the Intranet in order to really maximize its potential to facilitate business communication and application.
Finally, the project team must plan for the required financial resources to develop a successful enterprisewide Intranet. The project team must develop a few "creative" funding strategies which involve gaining corporate as well as business unit commitment to fund this project. When the business units feel ownership for the project, then they will also view its cost as an investment in the new technology, rather than an unwanted technological change. One strategy is to work with the business unit sponsors to evaluate the total cost of Intranet ownership (a TCO model) which will give the project team and the business units a working model for understanding the true financial impact of this new technology, as well as its advantages. The TCO model may also help to justify the need for standardization to the end users. If the model can demonstrate that it will cost the users much more in the long-run to continue to use their own proprietary technology, then they are more likely to accept and endorse the use of standards.
The project team can also find ways to reduce the cost impact of the Intranet. One approach is to leverage current I/T investments during the rollout of the Intranet. For example, companies recommend capitalizing on the information that exists in the legacy systems by linking them to the new system instead of replacing them. Keeping the legacy system users involved in the new development process is important to leveraging the significant investments that the corporation has in these systems. And, it is critical that the project team develop migration plans for other technologies (and their user communities) such as Charlotte, VM, and Gopher that will be replaced by the Intranet. Another related task for the project team is planning for how popular systems like Lotus Notes will be used or integrated with the Intranet. One company recommends minimizing the competition between these two systems and focusing on their complementary aspects. All of these methods are important for justifying and minimizing the costs of developing and providing Intranet services to the enterprise.
In addition to organization and process tasks, the Intranet project team must focus on finding the most suitable technology products and tools to build the Intranet. This can be one of the most challenging tasks for several reasons. The proliferation of increasingly functional Web tools, products and applications makes it difficult for the enterprise to determine which ones are most suitable and cost effective for their needs. This task can be daunting even after taking end user requirements into consideration. In order to keep pace with changes in technology, one company has established a "Marketplace Monitoring" function which helps keep the Intranet project team abreast of what new Intranet tools and opportunities are available. In addition to choosing a Web browser and other hardware and software, the project team must also ensure that all of the products function well with each other and the existing technology within the enterprise. Achieving good Intranet integration with the existing technological infrastructure is important to establish a logical architecture that will deliver an application that is easy to use, highly stable and functionally rich to the end users.
Other considerations must also be addressed in addition to the selection of Intranet tools and products. Resource forecasting and maintenance planning are integral to the successful development of an Intranet. Resource forecasting is necessary because it will help the project team determine what the impact to the infrastructure will be in order to meet future bandwidth requirements. One company recommends building a resource forecasting model to test for bandwidth requirements based on various usage scenarios, and employing Proxy Servers to prepare for expected usage.
In planning for and simplifying maintenance at the desktop another company recommends focusing on the "fat vs. thin client" model - the key argument here is that a minimal, fully standard application set on the desktop ("thin") vs. a rich, more diverse application set on the desktop ("fat") allows for improved centralized, automated technical support that results in higher quality services to the end user. But alas, not all companies are created equal, therefore the breadth of functionality that exists on the desktop will be the result of many variables such as business need, company culture, even the I/S infrastructure strategy already employed.
Once the initial Intranet has been developed, it must then be tested before being implemented. One company recommends using a common testing environment to test the new tools and technologies. In addition, this company suggests that the Intranet project team plan for change tracking. The ability to track changes (through accurate records of the change made, the date and time of the change and the name of the person who actually made the change) is important especially when there are problems with the system, and it becomes necessary to determine the root cause of the problem. This becomes particularly acute with Internet-technologies which are changing all the time.
The final phase of testing should occur with the end users. At one company, the Intranet project team provides demos and prototypes that allow the users to see the possibilities of the Intranet and provide feedback. These demos can be done using a variety of media, such as CD-ROMs to bring the technology and its potential uses to the customers. End user testing not only provides the users with a sense of what the newly developed Intranet is about, it also helps the I/S organization to build a stronger, more trusting relationship with users when it becomes necessary to implement new technologies.
Beyond the integration and infrastructure challenges, I/S organizations are also addressing the "publishing" issues facing Intranet providers within the organization. In this role, the I/S organization is truly operating as a facilitator to its business partners in order to open up the communication possibilities that the Intranet can provide. For example, one company's objective is "to provide the user with an easy to use, comprehensive package comprised of software tools, templates, policies and instructional aids enabling the end user to quickly create and publish Web pages". This package is called the "Web Development Kit (WDK)".
The use of such a kit can help to solve several Intranet development and support challenges at once. For example, the kit is designed to allow subtle, proactive support of standards since standards are already built into the kit. Also, the provision of templates in the WDK facilitates ease of use and reuse. In fact, this company states that "the strategy employed within the WDK is to leverage the use of approved freeware, shareware and commercial software and integrating them with the company-developed templates and Web related utilities providing a comprehensive company solution".
In the world of Internet-technology and communications, change is constant. Therefore, organizations that have embarked upon the Intranet journey advise that I/S organizations not be arrogant, keeping in mind that the tools needed today may not be the tools they will need tomorrow. In addition, I/S organizations will need to stay abreast of the major trends in electronic communication which will directly impact the short- and long-term viability of their Intranet solution. One such trend today is the development of Extranets. An Extranet is the linking of Internet and Intranet capabilities and systems. Some companies are already beginning to deal with this integration of the Internet and Intranet and are experiencing significant and very complex I/S management issues.
Web and Internet technologies have made it possible for enterprises to begin to completely restructure their internal communication systems to create a knowledge sharing environment that helps the business "know what it needs to know". When developing an Intranet, the enterprise should always remember that the primary focus is on facilitating and enhancing business communications with the intent of providing its employees with a tool for competitive advantage.
Sources and Contributors to This Report
1. Data Center Best Practices Group 2. Gartner Group Research 3. Gartner Group & Real Decisions Analysts: Yashica Olden, Patricia Cody-Otero
Data Center Best Practices Group List of Trends, Strategies and Indicated Best Practices Topic: Intranet, August, 1996
The following items are listed by category assigned by the group (Trend & Strategies, Indicated Best Practices) and then the presentation highlights are provided in order of company as well.