welcome to techville

Learn Stuff

Your own private intranet

"I'm living in my own private Idaho!" So sang the rock band The B52's back in the 1980's (it was our theme song at the University of Idaho). That song pops into my head every time I hear the phrase "private intranet."

But enough of my college nostalgia – what's a private intranet got to do with you?

What's an intranet?

An intranet is essentially a private, mini-version of the Internet (primarily consisting of websites) just for your company. It's an effective way to share information within your organization to help everybody do their jobs better and faster.

Why would you want to create your own private intranet? For the same reason that the public Internet is so useful: to share information in an easy, intuitive way. The difference – and this is why an intranet can be so valuable – is that you know your intranet's users' needs intimately well. You're motivated to provide them the information they need. And they should be motivated to use it (assuming it's easy to use and helps them do their jobs).

Are you a good fit?

Does it make sense for you to embark in creating an intranet at your company? To find out, ask yourself the following questions. Do you:

  • Have more than 10 employees?
  • Already have a computer network?
  • Have frequent meetings?
  • Need to collaborate with others?
  • Have employees who maintain different hours or are out of the office frequently?

If you answered "yes" to more than one of these questions, then an intranet is probably a great fit for your company or organization.

Some real examples

So an intranet lets you "share information." That's a nice catch-phrase, but it's awfully vague. You'll want some solid reasons to spend hard-earned money on creating and maintaining an intranet. Here are a few real-life examples.

A virtual "help desk"

Do your employees struggle to use your computer network? A classic problem is trying to remember how to connect to their "shared" file folders on the network server. With an intranet's website, they can just click a link to find these folders. Similarly, it can provide them with links to network printers, scanners, or other shared peripherals.

Company-wide communication

If you have regular reports, goals, or other announcements that need to be spread throughout the company, you can post them on an intranet web page. If you have a small organization where all employees share the same work hours and work close to each other, then this is probably overkill. That old standby of talking around the water cooler will work just fine. But if you don't have a tightly-knit group, water cooler discussions can quickly degenerate into gossip, hearsay, or mixed messages.

Meeting prep and follow up

If it's hard to get everybody into a room at the same time for a meeting, you can post pre-meeting reading, notices, or questions on the intranet. Then, after the meeting, you can post the minutes or follow-up tasks. That way the time spent in the meeting can actually be spent on the "guts" of the meeting, not the "housekeeping."

Or, you can have "virtual" meetings, where those who can't physically attend can still participate via their computers.

Why not just use e-mail?

At this point, anybody who's ever attached a Word document to an e-mail message so that others could review or edit it is thinking, "Why not do everything over e-mail?" Why not just e-mail company announcements, collaborate on documents, and send meeting prep via e-mail? Well, to quote the eminent guru of web usability, Jakob Nielsen, using e-mail for collaboration "usually turns into a big mess where nobody can find anything, especially later in a project." Invariably people lose track of who has the most recent version of the document. Plus there isn't a history of who changed what.

Also, this leads to hard disk bloat, as multiple, complete copies of the document are sent back and forth to everybody. In contrast, when one document is posted on the intranet for everybody to work on, it doesn't use up nearly as much disk space. There's just one document, plus a list of the changes that were made to it.

Another concern is security. When e-mail is used to distribute information, it's all too easy to forward the e-mail to outsiders. An intranet gives you more control over how information is spread.

And finally, it's getting harder everyday, especially with so much spam, to get people to interact in their e-mail. E-mail is viewed as something to just get through as quickly as possible.

Other examples

Some other common examples of what you can do with an intranet are: share a phone directory, share a group calendar, process forms electronically instead of by paper (e.g. an employee fills in an online timesheet, clicks a button, and then the timesheet is automatically forwarded to bookkeeping), request vacation time, or reserve a conference room.

If you build it, will they come?

Ah, this is a big question, and one that's often overlooked until AFTER time and money have already been spent to build the intranet. If the people who the intranet is built for resist using it, it's of little use. One advantage intranets have is that they don't require a new, unfamiliar program to be run on the users' computers – they just need their familiar web browser (typically Internet Explorer).

They also need to see that the intranet really helps them. It has to be easy to find the information that they need. That's why you need a web designer who has experience in knowledge management, web usability, networking infrastructure, and strong writing and editing skills.

Don't neglect it

Finally, an intranet is an ongoing obligation. You can't just create it and then never update it. As soon as the users discover that it contains outdated or incorrect information, they'll quit using it. That's why it's imperative that it be easy to add, update, or remove information as needed.

To learn more, visit some of these websites (all links open in a new web browser window):

Or, contact us here at ZolMedia, Inc., to learn how we can help you.

Register  |  Login