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Windows at Work /
Cheryl Currid
Cheryl Currid

Quit Stalling And Start an Intranet
Still thinking about setting up an intranet? Stop fooling around and get moving!

Intranets provide some of the most empowering and cost-effective technology since the telephone.

Though simple in architecture, intranets have the potential to change the way people work, learn and process information. Your use of an intranet is limited only by your imagination.

The idea is catching on. Just about half of all corporations will host intranets by 1998, according to the Gartner Group. A Business Research Group study supports that: Half the large organizations it surveyed were developing intranet projects. Not too shabby for a concept that didn't exist two years ago.

Ease of use is one reason intranets are gaining popularity. An intranet is merely an electronic bulletin board accessed with a browser, with which most of your users are already familiar. Last year, Netscape boasted that more than 40 million people used its browser. Intranet end users, from novices to nerds, come well trained and know what to expect from intranet applications.

In addition, HTML authoring-the basic skill used to create intranet content-is fast becoming commonplace. In the new version of Word in Office 97, a Save As feature lets you easily convert standard DOC files into HTML (prior to Office 97, Word required the add-in Internet Assistant). Other word processing software, such as Corel's WordPerfect, also incorporates such invisible conversions. There are also numerous HTML authoring tools, including HoTMetaL Pro, QuickSite and Claris HomePage. With all these aids, the process is getting so easy that some corporations are giving Web-page responsibility to non-IS professionals.

It's payback time

And the return on investment (ROI) on implementing an intranet is nothing short of astronomical. A recent International Data Corp. (IDC) study pegged ROI at 1,000 percent or better-mostly in paper and labor costs. Payback periods ranged from a short six to 12 weeks.

By moving from a paper- to an intranet-based purchasing system, Silicon Graphics is saving $1.5 million a year in labor costs, $5.6 million through purchase discounts and another $1 million in miscellaneous costs like paper, according to the IDC study.

You probably don't have to look hard to find high-ROI projects of your own. How about customer service, maintenance or logistics information, internal document or news distribution and benefits systems, to name a few?

Cost reduction isn't the only benefit drawing corporations to intranets. They're also attracted by the ability to disseminate incredible amounts of information quickly and easily. Intranets can host everything from the latest sales information, the CEO's last speech (in text, audio or video), real-time feeds on the company stock price, information on the employees' 401(k) program and more.

Just about any business process that involves passing information from one person to another can be handled more efficiently via an intranet. You can post information as soon as it's available, instead of waiting for paper distribution, saving time and money.

I can think of one more benefit: speedier and more efficient information retrieval. Now, with electronic storage and search tools, users can zero in on information quickly. They can avoid wading through lengthy paper-based lists, indexes or tables of contents.

In industries ranging from farm equipment to aerospace, organizations are inventing new ways to share information across internal networks. Familiar names like Caterpillar, John Deere, Olivetti and Rockwell are among the many that have already begun major intranet projects. Whether supporting sales, marketing, research or product development, intranets are becoming an integral solution for moving, storing and accessing information.

For example, color printer manufacturer Tektronix ships its Tektronix Phaser 550 color laser printer with a built-in intranet server. Its PhaserLink software provides status, configuration and reference information through your Web browser. The goal is to make the printer almost self-supporting.

So, what's so great about intranets? Everything! Where's yours?

WinMag analyst Cheryl Currid is president of Houston-based Currid & Company, a research and consulting firm. Contact Cheryl in the "Windows at Work" topic of WINDOWS Magazine's areas on America Online and CompuServe, or care of the editor at the e-mail addresses here.

Windows Magazine, April 1997, page 49.

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