Two Different Ways to Sell the Intranet to Your Organization

An excerpt from Chapter 6 of Intranet Business Strategies, by Mellanie Hills. You can visit the author's website at http://www.knowledgies.com/book1.htm. 


The Internet model is the informal, grassroots approach used by some companies to implement their intranets. It's unstructured and doesn't require all the formal approvals necessary in the Traditional model. It's based on allowing the intranet to grow in the rapid, and sometimes chaotic, manner in which the Internet itself has grown. This rapid growth allows the intranet to quickly reach critical mass. Your intranet will likely grow and become pervasive much faster if you choose the Internet model. If your network is already in place, you can choose to use the Internet model because cost won't be much of an issue and you won't have to get major funding in order to build it. 

The Internet Model encourages access and contributions. Anyone who wants access to the intranet can have it, and anyone who wants to create content can do so. Obviously, you can't have everyone contributing to an external Web site--someone has to manage its development or you'll confuse your customers. For an internal web site, you have lots more flexibility. You may wish to encourage everyone's contributions. You can encourage people, and even departments, to learn, experiment, and try new things that can yield wonderful ideas and insights. The end result may be things that help people do their jobs better. 

There are nine steps in the Internet model: 

  1. Do you need an intranet?
  2. Are you ready?
  3. How do you proceed?
  4. Build your intranet.
  5. Create your audience.
  6. Promote your intranet.
  7. Create widespread enthusiasm and capability.
  8. Make your intranet pervasive.
  9. What lessons have we learned, and where do we go from here?
Step 1: Do You Need an Intranet? 

The first step is to determine if you need or want an intranet. What is compelling you to have one? At the time of this writing, you can hardly pick up a magazine without seeing articles about how companies use intranets. It's enough to make you want to run out and get one of your own, whether you need it or not! 

Have your internal customers been reading those same articles? Are they starting to ask you for an intranet? Do you see a need in your organization that's not being met and for which an intranet is a perfect solution? Does your organization need better tools for communicating information, and maybe even for collaborating on projects? These are all reasons that compel many companies to consider creating an intranet. 

As you saw, often the intranet started from a grassroots effort when some employees saw a need that an internal web could fill. They put together a prototype, and top management soon heard about it. They then created a team to do something about it. If you see needs that an intranet can solve, maybe it's time for you to get moving! 

What about Business Goals? 

Part of determining if you need an intranet is in figuring out the goals of your organization. Is there something an intranet can do to help meet those goals? Unless you focus on meeting the needs and goals of your organization, then you're looking at this backward. There really should be a reason that you need an intranet or you needn't get started on it.  

This part isn't as hard as it sounds. Can an intranet help meet competitive threats? Can it help you do things faster, better, and cheaper? Intranets can provide lots of ways to do these things. 

What problems and opportunities do you have because of the rapidly changing business environment? Are you reengineering a business process that requires information technology as part of the new process? What are the specific requirements? How does an intranet compare with other possible solutions? 

Do some looking around--it shouldn't be too hard to spot potential opportunities where an intranet can make a big difference. 

Step 2: Are You Ready? 

Once you've determined that you have a need that an intranet can fulfill, then it's time to determine what it would take to create an intranet. There are five major areas of concern. Each area has its own set of steps. 

What is the scope of the project? In other words, what area or areas of the organization should be part of the initial intranet project? This could be enterprise wide, or just a workgroup or department. 

Do you have the infrastructure you need? What are the computer needs of the area of your organization that you have chosen? Do they have PCs, Macintoshes, Unix machines, mainframe terminals, or no desktop machines at all? Will you need any computers? 

Is that area on a LAN or WAN? If not, what is necessary to put it on one? 

Does the LAN or WAN use TCP/IP? Today, most organizations have some mixture of protocols, but IT has recently been moving toward TCP/IP as a single standard. If a protocol other than TCP/IP is in use, such as IBM's SNA or Novell's IPX, what do you need to do to change to TCP/IP? Through some workarounds, it's possible to have an intranet without TCP/IP, but in doing so, you won't be able to provide your employees with the wealth of resources available on the Internet. 

To change to TCP/IP, you can: 

  • Load an Internet Protocol (IP) stack on each machine.
  • Have IP reside on a gateway server.
If you're missing any of these components, you'll need to plunk down some serious money to change that. If you already have TCP/IP in use on your LAN or WAN, you're in good shape and ready to move on to the next question. Do you have the skills and resources you need? Are you willing to acquire the expertise to set up web technology, e-mail, and all the other intranet tools? 

Do you have expertise in setting up and running TCP/IP on the networks? Do you have expertise in Unix or Windows NT? In the early days of internal webs, Unix expertise was mandatory. That's changing somewhat. In the past year, more servers ran on Windows NT, and even Windows 95. If you intend to use Unix-based servers, you'll still need Unix expertise in-house or available for purchase. If NT is your chosen platform, then knowledge of NT is helpful. Recent research has shown that while Unix servers have been predominant for external servers, NT has been coming on strongly for internal servers. 

You can hire the skills you need, if necessary. In our case, we were fortunate enough to have a new graduate with a Masters degree in Computer Science who was real sharp when it came to the tools we needed. New grads can be a good source of these skills.  

Do you have the people resources to take on the extra workload of an intranet? Once up and running, the impact may be fairly small, but to get started requires someone to evaluate, select, acquire, install, and maintain server hardware, software, browsers, and content and management tools. 

Do you have someone who can take the lead in developing and maintaining applications for the internal web? You may need additional resources. Some organizations have added only a single staffer, while others have found that they didn't need additional people. In some cases, someone was already doing some or all of these things for other systems and was moved into these responsibilities. As intranets have grown, people have moved into this from other areas of systems development. 

Step 3: How Do You Proceed? 

You should be aware that in the Internet model, steps 3 through 6 can, and should, be done concurrently, and probably in an iterative fashion. 

Champions and Steering Committees 

Often, one or two people have the original vision of what an intranet will do for your organization. Once the CIO or someone high in the organization shares or catches your vision and is willing to become the champion, then it becomes easy to start deploying an intranet.  

In most of the companies I spoke with, the champion or sponsor of the intranet was someone in IT, usually the CIO. In some companies, the role of champion and sponsor was held by several people, with the CIO being joined by his or her peers in corporate communications, HR, or occasionally R&D. Some companies also had steering committees, which often consisted of the CIO and top IT management.  

The roles of the champion and the steering committee should be to create and spread the vision of how the intranet can help the organization and to eliminate obstacles. The goal of the champion and steering committee should be to determine where the intranet can best help the organization and to make sure its deployed there. The champions will also be the sponsors for the intranet team, providing support, encouragement, and funding to get the team going.  

In my situation, when our champion, the CIO, gave me responsibility for the Internet Team, he made me responsible to a steering committee. This committee consisted of himself and all of the top management in IS. The role of this steering committee was not only to make sure that I was moving fast enough at selling the Internet and intranet, but also to make sure that we addressed issues and took care of infrastructure needs. The clout of the steering committee overcame lots of obstacles. This support was critical to the successful deployment of a Web. 

A comment that I hear frequently in conjunction with intranets is that you must have support from the very top executives. That may be true in some organizations, but it may be counterproductive in others. In the Traditional model, you probably do need that kind of support to get the funding required. In the Internet model, all that may really be necessary is that the top executives are aware of, and in favor of, having an intranet. They don't have to actively support it. In fact, if the CEO comes out and tells everybody that "intranets are wonderful," then everyone will get on the bandwagon. They may have a tendency, however, to stop and get approvals from every boss up the chain of command before putting anything on the web. Nobody wants to disappoint the CEO, and no boss wants to be responsible for something in his or her area being less than perfect. What this may do is slow it all down and stifle innovation. If the top executives and management are aware of the intranet and allow people to innovate and explore, the results may be amazing. A lot, however, depends on your culture, so it's up to you to make that call. 

Should You Get Outside Help? 

Once you have a champion, and his or her budget, you need to decide how to proceed.  

You should first identify your goals. What do you want an intranet to do? Once you've identified your goals, you can then identify things you don't have the experience or depth of knowledge to do. What things would you like someone else to do for you? What resources do you need that you don't have? This should dictate whether to hire some help or to go it alone. 

Go it alone. If you have people with the necessary skills and time to set up an intranet, then you can certainly do it yourself. If you make mistakes, you can just back up and try something different. Nobody gets the perfect intranet the first time out--don't expect to. The best implementation will come from learning what you like and don't like, and from trying new things until something works well for you. You may find yourself enhancing, or even redoing, it in a few months. You'll have to keep it fresh and new, or people just won't use it. It's harder to keep it new and interesting than it is to create it in the first place. 

Bring In Some Help. If you're running pretty lean and mean, and you're starting to get scared about what an intranet will require, then you may want to bring in some assistance. If you hire some help, you'll get up to speed faster and avoid the pitfalls others have encountered.  

What Should a Consultant Do? 

Here are some of the things a consultant can help with or do for you: 

  • Help you identify your goals for the intranet
  • Help you work through any organizational issues
  • Meet with areas throughout your organization to help identify needs for an intranet and the types of information that should be found on your intranet
  • Help identify how people use the information and how you should provide it to them
  • Help identify the sources and locations of information you need on your intranet 
  • Identify ways to get the information on the intranet and determine any conversion that's required
  • Identify any network infrastructure you need and help with the procurement and installation required to get the network ready for the intranet
  • Identify server hardware and server and browser software needed for the intranet and help with the installation
  • Identify authoring and graphics tools for publishing web content
  • Identify document databases, conversion tools, and any tools necessary to provide access to existing documents
  • Assist with development of internal web structure and design
  • Help develop guidelines and standards
  • Help develop a publishing and approval process
  • Help create demos
  • Help promote the intranet throughout the organization
  • Help form an intranet team and help them get focused
  • Help develop applications and links to legacy databases
  • Help figure out how to bring suppliers and customers into your intranet to provide opportunities for business partnerships
  • Help identify and implement workflow and groupware
  • Help identify and implement leading-edge technologies
  • Help ensure you meet your intranet goals 
With an intranet, you may not want to farm out quite as much as you would with an external Web site. You probably want more control over your proprietary information. You'll also want to make sure your intranet fits your culture. The intranet is just the medium. The communication and information are the important parts.  

How Do You Select a Consultant? 

Once you've decided that you want help on this, how do you find and select a consultant or outsourcer to help you?  

What kind of assistance is available? Hardware and software vendors, such as Sun, HP, IBM, Digital, and a host of others, offer intranet services and consulting. Then there are the systems integrators, such as EDS and others. There are partnerships that have sprung up, such as the teaming of HP and Netscape, to provide intranet services. There are also independent consultants who specialize in intranet and Internet consulting.  

How do you locate the kind of assistance you need? Ask your hardware and software vendors about the services they provide. Keep in mind that they focus on selling products as well as consulting services. Call the systems integrators you know. They focus on the technology to give you the right solution. What about intranet and Internet consultants? You can find listings for them on the Internet, so check out the search engines for consultants. 

How do you choose the right one for you? Ask whether these consultants can do the things for which you need assistance. If not, can they help you find the resources to do all these things? What are their capabilities and what alliances do they have? Large firms may have a depth of resources that can help you with just about any need, but they can be expensive. Small firms may not have the depth of resources, but if they have alliances with other firms they can often provide most of the things you need. Typically, they cost less, too. Finally, do you want one-stop shopping, or are you willing to do a little of the coordination yourself? 

Talk to the people who would be working with you, not just the person selling the services. What have their intranet experiences been? What is their perspective? Do they focus on the technology or on the solutions that an intranet can provide? Are you comfortable with them? Do they seem to know about your business and how it works? Do they understand your culture, and can they work within the constraints it imposes? Request the names of previous clients and talk with them. Were they pleased? Did the consultant understand their needs? 

After you've assessed the answers to these questions, you will have narrowed your list of candidates. At this point, the selection may come down to gut feel as to which consultants will best fit with your culture and the people with whom they'll work. 

Once you've chosen your consultant, identify what you expect from them and what they should expect from you and your organization. Also, make sure to define how you'll both know whether or not the project has been a success. 

Step 4: Build Your Intranet 

It's here at step 4 that the information for each step becomes far too much to include in this chapter. For each of the remaining steps of the Internet model, I'll give you a summary of the step here and refer you to the appropriate chapter for the details. 

The role of the champion is to create and share the vision and sow the seeds for the intranet. Now it's time for the champion to make a modest investment to get the ball rolling. It's really important to get some applications going to prove the value of the project before anyone starts mentioning the dreaded ROI. Though you can measure ROIs for intranets, it seems that most companies just aren't bothering with that. They see intranets as no-brainers and are just doing it. In many cases, it's just so cheap that it doesn't make sense to go through the justification process. In some cases, they aren't measuring the results because they've already seen the impact. It's pretty obvious once you've shown people, but you do have to show them, not just talk about it. That's where funding by the champion comes in. 

In Chapter 7, I'll talk in great detail about the specific things you'll need to do to build your intranet, which include the following: 

  • Determine and develop infrastructure needs.
  • Determine security needs and implement security.
  • Evaluate and select an Internet service provider.
  • Select and install hardware and software.
  • Plan for maintenance of your intranet.
Step 5: Create Your Audience 

Before people will be willing to publish content for the intranet, they'll want assurance that there will be an audience for their content. Your next step is to actually create that audience. One of the reasons you'll do your demos is to create demand. People will want browsers and access as a result of what they've seen. Prepare for rolling out browsers and other tools before you even start presenting the demos. 

In Chapter 8, I'll talk in great detail about the specific things to do to create your audience, which include: 

  • Identify and select the tools you will need.
  • Determine how to deploy these tools to your users.
  • Develop a plan for training and supporting users.
Step 6: Promote Your Intranet 

The next step is to start doing demos to show people your intranet and what it can do. You have to have something to show customers in order for them to buy. People can't see what isn't there, so you have to build something to show them. You could describe it until you're blue in the face, and they just won't get it. Show them, and they'll understand.  

There were two goals for our demos: 

  • Recruit web publishers--those people in your company who have content they wish to publish on the intranet.
  • Recruit an audience of users--those people who will use the content the web publishers create.
There are two steps in promoting your intranet:  
  • Build the demo
  • Present the demo
Build the Demo 

You can build your demo very cheaply. My colleagues had already set up a server, but that's not necessary to create a demo for an intranet. All you really need is a spare computer, a browser, and an HTML tool, which you can download from the Internet for free. If you need to get access to the Internet cheaply, you can get by with a modem and an inexpensive dial-up account. When you get the tools, then you can start learning HTML. You can find lots of guidance on the Internet and in a variety of books. So it's really very inexpensive to create your demo. 

While you're getting the computer and the tools, you can also figure out what to put in the demo. It seems that the standard first application for an intranet is the employee telephone directory. After that, you can get some employee benefits information and then find some kind of documentation to use. It helps if it's something that you print and distribute widely, and which you must update frequently. The more expensive the process of reprinting and distributing the information, the better candidate it is for a demo, and the greater the impact of your presentation. Once you have your material, you can start setting up HTML pages.  

Next, start talking to your business partners in various parts of the business to find out what they would like to have in easily accessible electronic form. Every area has critical information that needs to be at everyone's fingertips. With a little research, you'll have more stuff for a demo than you can possibly have time to set up. You'll want to have enough variety in your demo to strike a chord with everyone who sees it. If you can't always get the data you need, there's nothing wrong with using mock data so that you can illustrate the concept. 

A very fertile area is where the people using information have several different types of computers and operating systems. This makes the cost of creating a typical application much more expensive because it requires that it be built for multiple platforms. This kind of information is a good candidate for your demo, since Web browsers are available for almost every platform and you have to set up the data only once. 

One more thing to look for: What kind of information do people need that is in databases but that they can't easily access? Use some of the web-to-database tools if you can get them before you start showing your demo. If not, you can create a mock-up simply to show the concept for your demo. The purpose of your demo is to help non-technical people understand the concept, so you needn't be concerned that this isn't real database access. 

Once you've set up a variety of information, you're ready to go, especially if you have hit on a lot of the hot buttons from different parts of your organization. 

If you have the time and resources, add some glitz to your demo with fancy graphics, sound bites, and even video clips. You can probably already see their eyes lighting up! Be careful--a little goes a long way. 

When you have the demo ready, it's time to start building the real intranet. Once it's ready, you can incorporate it into your presentations in place of the demo applications. 

In Chapter 9, I'll talk in more detail about the specific steps involved in building the demo, which include: 

  • Set up the computer.
  • Learn HTML.
  • Decide if you need an introduction.
  • Determine what to include in the demo.
  • Build sample applications.
  • Build the real intranet.
  • Present the Demo
Once you have the demo applications ready, you can start showing your demo. Who do you show it to first? What about some of the areas where you talked to people and got data that they really needed to access? Does your sponsor have someone in mind to show this to right away? Which goals did you use to create your vision and which area of the organization is involved in fulfilling those goals? We started with a few key executives. The choices of where to start are as individual as your organization, but it really doesn't matter. Just start somewhere. As soon as a few people have seen it, word will spread so quickly that people you don't even know will ask to see your demo. 

Once we started showing the demo to some of the executives, they would typically get very excited about the prospects and would want a browser and access to the Internet and intranet right away. Usually, the next step was a demo for those executives' staffs, and then their whole departments. The excitement was contagious. 

It was always fun to allow participants to brainstorm uses for the tools and then turn those ideas into applications for upcoming demos. It's especially neat for someone to see the demo for a second time with his or her staff and see the application they came up with. By giving them credit for the idea, you create an intranet evangelist. 

Over several months, I did over 100 demos and presentations, including to the company's Management Council and the Board of Directors. 

Through these demos, we recruited potential web publishers and invited them to join our Internet Team. People don't always volunteer to be on teams, but this was such a fun thing to do that the team grew to 55 web publishers and techies in just a few months.  

The demos served not only to recruit web publishers and users, but also to build a great deal of enthusiasm for what an intranet could do for the company. The various functions of the business could see that the intranet could allow them to focus on their priorities and designate their own resources to accomplish them. They were also enthusiastic about having easy access to information. They were then quite supportive of those from their area who wanted to publish content for the internal web. 

In Chapter 9, I'll go into a lot more detail about the specific steps involved in presenting the demo, which include: 

  • Schedule the demos.
  • Tailor the demos to your audience.
  • Build enthusiasm.
  • Answer questions and address concerns about the Internet and intranet.
Step 7: Create Widespread Enthusiasm and Capability--The Role of the Intranet Team 

As soon as we started showing our demo, people became enthusiastic and wanted to publish departmental information on the internal web or put information on the external Web. Because of that, the Internet Team included not only techies, but also graphics artists, communications people, and people from every area of the company. One of the reasons for which the Internet Team existed was to make it easy for publishers to get started. We created classes for them, helped them get the tools, and let them put their content on the IS server. Only when they wanted more control did they need to take the next step and put up their own server. This gave them time to walk before they ran. 

Another function of the team was to increase the capabilities of these publishers. In our team meetings, technical experts kept the team apprised of the technical issues being discussed and resolved, new software being evaluated and approved, and tools and techniques that were available. We always included demos of the newest tools, such as the newest beta version of Netscape and how to use its new capabilities. Team members who attended conferences, seminars, and expos shared what they learned with the team. We always previewed new things that we were developing for the external site, and showed the latest additions to the internal web. We kept the team aware of any new plans for either the intranet or the external Web site. Members of the team became invaluable resources to each other. 

In Chapter 10, you'll find a lot more depth of information about creating widespread enthusiasm and capability through an intranet team, including: 

  • Why you need an intranet team and who should be on that team
  • How the team works
  • What the team's objectives are
  • What impact the team has
Step 8: Make Your Intranet Pervasive 

When publishers start moving from vanity pages to real and valuable content, you know you're getting where you want the intranet to be. Every department gets into the act by putting documentation, procedures, or whatever information it normally publishes on the internal web. Publishing starts taking place on the internal web rather than elsewhere. People start expecting to find the information they're looking for by going to the web. The intranet is starting to become ingrained in the culture, and it's creating an information democracy where users are in control of what they publish. You may even start to see changes in your culture. 

How do you get your intranet to this stage? You do it by designing it for your users, keeping it fresh and new, reviewing your bandwidth needs frequently, adding new tools, and continuing to coordinate the team's efforts. Also, make sure the intranet provides value to your business and meets your business needs. 

In Chapter 11, you'll find more details about making your intranet pervasive, including: 

  • How do you make the intranet the universal user interface?
  • What are the critical success factors?
  • How do you measure the results?
Step 9: What Lessons Have We Learned and Where Do We Go From Here? 

Once your intranet has become pervasive throughout your organization, it's time to step back and see what you've learned. Then you can see how the lessons you've learned apply to what you'll do as you move forward with new phases of your intranet. Once you've done that, it's time to look at what you can do to enhance your intranet and its value to your organization. You can add tools and applications for workflow and groupware as the next step in the development of your intranet. In Chapter 12 I'll talk about the 20 lessons learned by the companies that participated in this book and I'll discuss what your next steps might be.