News Analysis

New SMB frontier: Intranets

Charlie Russo, News Writer

Anthony Ambrogio keeps track of 15,000 students, 5,000 instruments and 87 teachers in a way he could never have imagined in his days as a music student at The Juilliard School.

As the administrator for music and fine arts for the Sachem Central School District in New York, Ambrogio set up an intranet to help orchestrate the department.

Five intranet tips from consultant Toby Ward

  1. Know the priorities of managers and other key stakeholders.
  2. Find out what employees want -- so they will use it.
  3. Write a mission statement and measurable goals -- such as visits per month.
  4. Keep it simple. The No. 1 priority for employees is to get information quickly, Ward said, so forget the bells and whistles.
  5. Write rules for how the content is tagged to guarantee effective retrieval.

 

Ambrogio faced the same problem that many midsized organizations do: getting employees on the same page -- literally. Today he credits the intranet that Intranets.com Inc., a Burlington, Mass.-based company established for a monthly fee of $3.62 per member per month.

"For the price, it was really a no-brainer -- for what it cost to use this thing out of the box," Ambrogio said, rather than dedicate the time and resources of the school's internal IT department.

Now, the handbooks that were printed and handed out at the beginning of each year can be found online. A schedule lists all the district's concerts. A database tracks the district's 5,000 instruments throughout 16 buildings. That means a music teacher missing an instrument can just log on to locate a spare, rather than frantically calling around to different schools.

While intranets are old news for many of the larger, Fortune 500-sized companies, they're still a new tool for many small and midsized businesses (SMBs).

Rick Faulk, CEO of Intranets.com, said his company has grown from 100,000 to 250,000 users spread among 9,000 companies over the past 18 months.

"Our best guess is less than 10% of SMBs today have rolled out this kind of solution," Faulk said. "If you look at larger businesses, 50% to 70% of them have adopted this."

Intranets.com is not alone. Other companies that provide similar services include Microsoft's Windows SharePoint Services, Plumtree Software, Open Text Corp., Vignette and independent consultants.

Intranets as cost savers

An intranet acts like a private Internet for companies. It's a smaller, secure network that allows company employees to share and access information. Intranets can be as simple as a private online corporate phone directory, or as complex as interactive, online human resources forms.

Nate L. Root, a vice president and research director at Forrester Research Inc., said for smaller companies, "the big advantage is around collaboration."

For small companies with scattered employees, flying back and forth for meetings, or even long-winded conference calls, intranets may cost too much, Root said. Creating an intranet allows workers in different locations to secure chat online. Or employees can work on a document and post it online for the other groups to pick up later.

Toby Ward, president of the intranet consulting firm Prescient Digital Media, said companies often encounter three roadblocks to fulfilling their intranet potential: executive apathy, a lack of planning and internal company politics.

"How HR views the world is far different than how IT views the world," Ward said. "It becomes an issue of competing priorities." Intranets.com also provides an intranet for Danvers, Mass.-based Danversbank, which employs about 250 people in 12 different buildings, said Cheryl Purinton, the company's corporate communications manager.

"[The bank's intranet] increases efficiency and productivity for everyone and takes what was a manual process and manages it electronically, to everyone's benefit," she said. Purinton is currently using the intranet to poll employees about the possibility of an on-site daycare program, to determine how many workers would participate.

Danversbank pays Intranets.com about $1,000 per month to run its intranet. Purinton estimates the same service would cost $70,000 to $100,000 to build in-house.


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