Intranets - the prodigy of the global Internet, implemented within corporations. A corporate intranet is the MBA of the family von Web - the Internet with a tailored suit. Intranets have received more press than Tiger Woods and his ubiquitous Nike swoosh, and with good reason. Like the golfing phenom, intranets have taken on a mystical quality: if you build it, profits will come. While intranets can't insure profitability anymore than a good phone system - like any tool, it's the people that use them that count - there is sound reasoning behind the rage.
The World Wide Web greatly expanded the type of information individuals and organizations can access and share via the Internet - and intranets have done the same for companies. Communications can now move beyond the restraints of text-only e-mails to a more robust presentation of text, graphics and applications. Furthermore, intranets span continents, link global companies together seamlessly with the information needed to compete in this ever-evolving, knowledge-based economy.
A review of the benefits of intranets reads like a wish list from any executive suite: increased productivity, streamlined processes, team work, 24-hours global information access, efficient workflow, and empowered employees. Can a technology really have such impact? Indeed, it can.
Most importantly, for those of us that must keep an eye on the bottom line, is the significant return on investment. Real examples yield some impressive returns.
Silicon Graphics employees in Denver or Australia or elsewhere around the world can now sit at their desks and "attend" meetings taking place at its World Headquarters in California via the company's vast intranet. In just a few months, SGI has integrated its intranet so tightly with its operation that it is not only the way its employees communicate, but also the way they think - it's their virtual electronic community. The SGI intranet, named Silicon Junction, contains over 130,000 searchable pages of information and hundreds of applications - all available to employees in over 60 countries.
SGI executives report the top uses for their intranet include publishing corporate news and policies, data mining, accessing sales tools, collaborative data exchange, retrieving support details, and employee training - sounds like that executive wish list, doesn't it?
Still a skeptic, wondering what the financial impact was to achieve such streamlined operations? How about a 1,427 percent return on investment. This remarkable ROI is not an isolated case. Lockhead Martin's implementation of an intranet returned 1,562 percent; Cadence, Inc. 1,766 percent; US West, over 1,000 percent. Once you look at the aspects of savings, it all makes sense - dollars and cents.
Publishing information electronically saves a tremendous amount of paper and printing, plus the cost of shipping it to distributed locations. Add in the employee hours required for processing and this one aspect can save large companies hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. For more savings, consider the costs involved when this printed material is changed.
Other factors that produce such impressive ROI numbers include fewer meetings, which means less travel, and reduced long distance costs. But the biggest savings comes in the form of employee productivity gains. Empowering employees with the right information saves time, which in turn, makes a company more responsive to its customers. With personal control over their information needs, they are empowered to act decisively - and an empowered employee is a motivated one. The ultimate result: competitive advantage and increased market share.
Unmeasured in the ROI results is the synergy among employees who now have the information they need at their fingertips. Progressive companies, such as SGI, want to offer an opportunity to employees to participate in an electronic community, to build better lateral communications and virtual team opportunities - to harness the synergy of an entire organization. In a competitive environment, it's integral to have employees sharing information with one another - information about customers and opportunities and ideas concerning better processes. An intranet makes it easy. Extending your intranet to partners and customers, creating an extranet, can further enhance the power of this technology.
What's the next step for corporate intranets? Consider this: Every hour, every minute, new information is added to existing corporate intranets and the public Internet to help employees do their jobs better and faster. Helping transform these changing resources into assets is the next element of a comprehensive intranet strategy - "push" technology. The ability to leverage this new information is limited by the sheer volume of data available and the means by which employees can access it. That's where "push" technology innovators, such as Wayfarer Communications, play a key role.
What is "push" technology? In essence, it finds relevant information and delivers it directly to the desktops of employees, based on their specific needs. By setting certain criteria, or user profiles, within Wayfarer's INCISA System, marketing managers receive competitive updates and breaking industry news from the Internet; inventory managers receive inventory data from internal systems; customer service agents receive product and service updates, etc. - all delivered proactively to their desktops. Incorporating a "push" component to your intranet adds a real-time element, ties into existing legacy systems, and reduces or eliminates the need to surf for information, providing yet another productivity gain and a further opportunity for a competitive edge.
Information strategy decisions are being driven from the top of the company down. Visionary executives could see the boom in productivity and were first to implement an intranet strategy - now many companies are playing catch up. More companies are beginning to see corporate intranets as critical to their success. And, it's leveled the playing field. An intranet is an equal opportunity technology; it can help large companies solve their communications problems, and it can help smaller firms compete in the same market and appear much bigger.
So whether a company's corporate culture is pin stripes or khakis, the benefits of intranet technology can dress up the bottom line.
About the authors:
William Marino is Regional Director for Wayfarer Communications, the leaders in corporate webcasting technologies. Rainer Schelp is President of FirstSolutions, specializing in helping companies improve communications, increase productivity, and boost revenue by designing and implementing enterprise-wide information technology solutions. For more information on intranet solutions, contact Rainer Schelp at (303) 779-1898. For details on Wayfarer's "push" technology, contact Bill Marino at (303) 988-5133.