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Sharing Information In Your Company: Is it Time for an Intranet?

Intranets are an effective internal communication and information sharing tool for large companies. Decide if your small business can benefit from an Intranet based on eight key factors.

by Ian Smith
Contributing Author  

Now that you have gathered all the information on your competitors and industry, what is the best way to deliver information within your organization? Hard copies of reports and Web clippings are easily lost among other reports, and e-mails with attachments often get forgotten when there is no rush to read them. Is there a practical solution to overcome these communication pitfalls? 

Large companies are rapidly adopting the use of intranets to ensure that information is accessible to analysts and decision makers whenever they need it. These companies are utilizing various solutions to gain a significant competitive advantage regarding sharing data amongst employees. Can small companies obtain the same competitive advantage by implementing an intranet? 

This article will assist in evaluating the need for an intranet in a small business environment based on the following decision factors. 

After discussing the factors listed above, you should have a good foundation for deciding whether or not an intranet is needed in your company. In addition, this article will suggest some of the best intranet tools to implement given any kind of restrictions on the company's resources.

Decision Factors 

Top management 

All the planning in the world for an intranet can be tossed in the trash bin if top management does not see a need for the solution. Top management has to see the key benefits of investing in an intranet. The majority of the time, individuals who propose the idea to management are often met with these questions around conference tables: · 

  • How much is this going to cost us?  
  • How will it improve productivity? 
  • Who will manage this thing? 

Here are suggested answers to the questions that will hopefully lower management's resistance to change? · 

  • How much is this going to cost us? - An investment in an intranet solution will depend on the number of users and the functionalities we need to get the job done correctly. Since we are a small group of _____ team members and we need the basics, the product we have in mind should cost $______ without add-ons. 
  • How will it improve productivity? - An intranet will enable us to store, share, and disseminate information throughout the company. This will eliminate the need to search for information repeatedly, and will enable us to gain quick access to real-time industry news, and provide us with the ability to work in teams on the same documents. 
  • Who will manage this thing? - We have arranged for training courses to manage the intranet in house. We assume the responsibility for this tool if we can rely on your support.

Duration of use 

Before rushing out to purchase the ideal solution for your company, consider how long team members will be using the application. Many firms venture out and buy solutions with all the bells and whistles and use it for a couple weeks because it is a new toy in the office. Once the novelty of the solution wares off, it gets forgotten and hardly used for the intended purposes. 

How do you avoid this situation? 

The best thing to do is to sit down with all the potential users of the intranet and draft a mini-game plan for the solution. It is best to plan out the use of the applicant for the short term (less than one year) vs. the long term (more than one year). This plan should guide you in making a decision of whether or not a full-fledged intranet is needed. If your plan tells you that your company needs a solution for a given project that will last six months, consider buying an "intranet-in-a-box" application with a limited amount of IT support. Tasks involving sharing and storing a great amount of data over a number of years will lead you to purchasing a modest and dependable application.

Number of users 

Investing in an application that will be used by a maximum of two members does not make sense. Implementing an intranet for more than four individuals is ideal. These individuals can use the application to read, or post documents, collaborate on projects, and gain access to valuable resources on the Web found in the past. In addition, consider that the number of users might swell over the months given the number of projects that the company might take on. With this in mind, an intranet might not be a viable option at the present time; however, a steady growth of business might call for an application that can aid in the delivery of information to individuals making vital decisions.

Amount of data 

The amount of data should be the key factor in the decision-making process of building an intranet. Data is valuable to the company if it organized and stored in a logical manner. You may be tempted to think that since your company has tons of reports filed away, an intranet can be the place to store these reports until they are needed. This is 50% true. Storing information on your intranet that will be no longer valuable to the company should not be done. Outdated and irrelevant information will lead to individuals using the wrong data in strategic planning decisions and will bog down the system when it comes to performing searches. 

What should be on your intranet and how much? Given your budget, you will be restricted on the amount of storage space on the intranet. Here are a couple of essentials that should be on your company's intranet: · 

  • Consultants' reports 
  • Daily and archived industry news & reports 
  • Relevant links on the Web 
  • Memos from management These essential pieces of information should be updated and archived on an ongoing basis to prevent information overload.

Functionalities 

Now that you see a need for an intranet within your company, which features do you need to deliver information to people whenever they need it. Here are some functionalities of some of intranets that are built for small businesses: 

  • Archiving functions 
  • Address books 
  • Calendar functions 
  • Group document databases 

If you foresee that these features will not be beneficial to you, refrain from purchasing any type of applications that is bundled with them. Vendors will attempt to package features that are not needed by potential customers just to increase the price. The best way to combat this is to create a list of features that you would like to be part of your intranet and then visit vendors to obtain the best package at the right price.

Budget 

An investment in an intranet is not a one-time expenditure. The initial expenditure for the installation and ensuring that it is functioning as it is designed to will take a signification portion out of your budget. If you do not have the expertise to build and/or install a solution, you will have to set aside funding for an IT technician who specializes in building intranets for competitive intelligence purposes. In addition, you will need to allocate some money for features, (as mentioned above) and general maintenance of the solution.

IT support 

Will you have the technical expertise in-house to deal with any problems that may occur? This is another factor to contemplate as the idea of establishing an intranet is proposed. The inability to instantly remedy any glitches that may arise on a day-to-day basis might leave the company paralyzed and erect barriers to vital information. Access to outside IT support can be costly.

Intranet tools 

The following list contains a few products that are now available for small business intranet needs. · 

  • Intranets.com 
  • Work2Together 
  • Desqtools 
  • Cyber Office 
  • Planet Intranet

Conclusion 

Intranet solutions are not for big corporations any more. Intranets can give small businesses the power to store, share, and disseminate information within their companies to gain a competitive advantage when it comes to business intelligence. It is the responsibility of the individuals who will use the application to evaluate the company's needs, wants, and the environment to see if the presence of an application will be a perfect fit. 

Note: To help guide you through the decision making process behind establishing an intranet in your company, please make use of the following template, "Managing Marketing and Strategic Information with Intranet… some templates to understand needs"  

Want to Know More? The following books are available at Amazon.com: (We are a registered Amazon associate, and the reference fee we receive is reinvested in Competia to help make it a better product). 

The following articles are available in the Competia Online Magazine archives. 

  • Intranet To Manage Business Intelligence 
  • The Five-Step Process To Implement Intranet 
  • How Shell Uses Intranet To Share Technical Information 
  • Tools For The Non-Technical specialist 
  • Intranet-in-a-Box: Does It Really Exist? How To Choose? The following presentations are available in the Competia Presentation Library. Request them by e-mail!!! · Intranet Business Strategies by Mellanie Hills 
  • 30 Tips To Promote Your Intranet by Estelle Metayer

 

Competia 2002 Awards - Most Insightful Book

Have you written a book that has changed the way others have viewed strategic planning or competitive intelligence? Nominate yourself for the Most Insightful Book award. Be recognized by Competia, the premier portal for competitive intelligence and strategic planning professionals. Obtain an application by e-mailing Competia at awards2002@competia.com 

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