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An Intranet Intro
A few questions to ask yourself as you consider adding an intranet to your office environment.
By Russell Shaw

A survey released last spring by computing industry research firm International Data Corp. projected that more than 75 percent of all U.S. firms with 500 or more employees would have intranets by century's end.

Businesses have learned that a central and convenient repository of information, readable in a Web browser via the universal digital tongue of HTML (hypertext markup language) can do a great deal to make intra-company communications quicker and more efficient.

Does your business need an intranet? Here are some questions and answers to help you through the decision-making process:

Does your company have more than one office?

If the answer is yes, an intranet can provide you with a common platform to distribute documents, photos and presentations. This means that you won't have to worry too much about standardizing all the computers in your branch offices to conform to the same word processing, e-mail or office productivity software.

Do your employees travel for business?

An intranet can make life much easier for your mobile sales force out in the field. If, for example, one of your sales representatives wants to view an updated product brochure on a laptop from a hotel room on the eve of an important presentation, he or she can do so instantaneously, without the need for a proprietary computing interface or waiting on lengthy faxes to come through.

Do you print out and distribute large amounts of hard-copy documents?

Generally, it's far easier to create a centralized intranet where one digital copy of a document can be accessed by anyone with authorization, rather than make hard copies for everyone. This could be anything from a memo to a check requisition or vacation-time application form. Having a central place where this information could be posted, filled out and then sent to the right department works well for single-office companies, as well for those with more than one location.

Are you spending more than $10,000 a year on hard-copy costs?

Depending on your operating system, server software and database management software, you can build a small five-terminal intranet for around $5,000, not counting outsourced developer prices. A multi-location intranet won't cost much more. Compare that to what you currently spend on brochure and document-printing costs, overnight delivery charges, long-distance fax, snail-mail postage, paper clips and binders, photocopies, etc.

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