Using company intranets

Reduce internal costs and streamline communications the high-tech way

In today’s highly competitive global marketplace, small business owners need every edge they can get. With business costs skyrocketing and customers becoming more demanding, companies are looking within for ways to create efficiencies and streamline operations. Some use corporate intranets to get the job done.

Typically designed for employees or business partners, these private in-house Websites use the same protocols and browsers as the Internet, but are protected from the rest of the world by a fire wall. This security measure allows users to access internal documents and applications, but doesn’t allow Internet users in unless they have a user ID and password.

“Companies implementing intranets must understand what they’re trying to accomplish in terms of cost or time savings, and must be very specific about their needs,” says Craig Settles, president of Oakland, California-based Successful.com, which develops Net strategies for corporate clients. “When instituted properly, intranets allow small firms to improve their efficiencies and operate more effectively.”

Usually, it’s a company’s sales team that generates an intranet’s greatest return on investment. Here, productivity gains are measured in sales closed rather than minutes saved.

Leroy Hill, president of Yorel Integrated Solutions, a marketing and consulting firm in Charlotte, North Carolina, uses an intranet for collecting data from his outside sales force. With reps in several locations throughout the Southeast, using the intranet to send orders and other data to the main office has proven extremely beneficial. “We take that information and consolidate it into a marketing and sales spreadsheet that’s used for forecasting,” Hill explains.

Prior to implementing its intranet, Yorel already had personal computers and basic software in place. “To get the intranet set up, we needed Internet connections so that employees could access the e-mail system,” says Hill. “Now we have a central location that houses all of our marketing data.”

According to Hill, who estimates the average cost of intranet implementation at about $3,500 per user, using the medium as an information feed is only the first phase in his firm’s implementation of its intranet. He plans to open up the intranet to customers, who will be able to make inquiries on new products and services.

At Jet-a-Way, a waste and recycling management firm in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Akil Hashim, network systems administrator, is setting up an intranet to help streamline the company’s paper flow.

“Our intranet will save us a lot of time and man-hours,” says Hashim. “Paperwork errors can be hard to track down and correct. Sometimes, by the time the problem is found, a client has already been billed incorrectly. We expect the intranet to alleviate such issues.”

Using an IBM RS6000F50 in tandem with the IBM Whistle InterJet (which contains the security software), the company pays about $150 per month for the intranet system on a lease basis.

Use these tips to plan ahead and get your intranet off to a good start:

  • Put someone in charge. This person will be responsible for establishing good relationships with software vendors, Internet service providers and everyone who uses the intranet.
  • Plan for security. If you’re going to
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