Taking stock and moving online
for intranets in 1999
1. We learn to communicate onscreen
We've been working on paper for a long time, hundreds of years in fact - enough time to
know the rules, to understand how our readers will react to and work with what we produce.
We've had only a few years to begin thinking of the screen as a communication medium - and
just as we get used to email, now the intranet has come along.
We have to adapt to a new medium, to understand that users
don't read word for word, they skim; that they can easily get disorientated; that they
struggle with poorly structured information; that the whole point of the exercise is to
get them to the information they want quickly and to get them away again even faster.
We will learn to use this new medium in time, but the process
can be speeded up with the right support and training.
2. Intranets get automated
Many intranets have followed the lead of the World Wide Web - they've evolved bottom-up,
they're hard to control and they're largely hand crafted. The end result - plenty of
self-expression but also too much duplication of effort and a rather amateurish,
inconsistent jumble. There has to be a better way and there is - we automate.
We organise information into databases. We standardise designs
and templates. We give authoring systems to trained designers capable of producing those
special one-off pages - everyone else fills in online forms and the system does the rest.
What does it cost to automate? Well, many intranet applications
can be bought off-the-shelf, some may have to be custom coded. But whatever the cost, it's
a small fraction of what you're spending now.
3. Intranets get interactive
What made the Internet so popular was as much email,
newsgroups and chat rooms as it was the millions of interlinked web pages that made up the
World Wide Web. Interactivity is addictive, whereas information is merely useful. All
intranets start with information publishing as their goal and many can see no
further. That's a pity because interactivity is where intranets will really pay.
What do we mean? Online discussion, wherether asynchronous or real-time; workflow
applications that speed up and automate administrative processes; and online surveys that
get information back up the organisation so managers know what's really going on. Is your
intranet a one-way street? It's time to get the traffic moving freely in both directions.
4. Intranets get you to all the information
So you've done it all - you've loaded your intranet with
news, directories, the staff magazine, policy manuals and brochures selling the services
of every workgroup in the organisation. But intranet usage has flattened off; it's useful
but it's not indispensable - it's not central to the daily work of your employees.
Intranets need to take the next big step, to become the source for all
information that matters. That means providing access to your major databases; capturing
and making available the huge volumes of knowledge stored in employees' heads; and getting
your business documents (word processing files, spreadsheets and presentations) off the
file servers and on to the web, where they can be properly indexed, tabulated and
It's certainly going to be fun being an intranet manager in 1999!