The workplace certainly has changed in the past ten years. Who knew that e-mail and the Internet would play such a large role in day-to-day communication? Once considered fads, these tools have become as common as the telephone and fax machine in the office scene.

Internal company Web sites, called intranets, are riding the wave of this e-popularity. Often considered a staple of human resource departments, intranets are expanding to keep employees informed through a variety of services.

What Is an Intranet?
An intranet is a client-server application, developed using Web tools, that runs on an internal network. At first glance an intranet looks just like the Internet. The difference is that information placed on intranet Web pages is usually intended for internal use only – protected by a firewall to ensure company privacy.

Why Have an Intranet?
Advantages of a corporate intranet are numerous. Most provide a means for employees to receive immediate, accurate information about the company and to communicate among themselves.

According to a recent survey of 295 US Companies, intranets are used to:

enhance employee communication – 78%
improve service to employees – 59%
promote common corporate culture – 45%
refocus human resources on strategic activities – 29%
reduce cost – 28%
(Source: Watson Wyatt Worldwide)

Companies are also using the intranet to expand services to their employees:

Microsoft, Nordstrom and 3M offer their employees online shopping via the intranet. Employees receive special product discounts.
Some companies use the intranet in a townhall setting where workers and management can express thoughts, post statements and make announcements
Others use their intranets to provide employees with benefits information and tax forms, including areas where they can check on 401(k) investments and keep up on industry developments
Another use includes business-to-business vendor relationships. Manufacturers and suppliers may wish to view or contribute certain pieces of information to each other’s intranets to facilitate the ordering process. For example, when Dell computer receives an order via the Ford intranet, it knows immediately what type of worker is ordering and what kind of computer he needs. The company assembles the proper hardware and even installs the correct software, some of which consists of Ford-specific code that's stored at Dell.*

Think You're Not Large Enough for an Intranet?
Think again. A Watson Wyatt Worldwide survey found that 74% of smaller companies used an intranet for delivering human-resource services. Even if a company has a small number of employees, it can use the intranet to its advantage. The success depends not on the size of the company, but on cost savings from time saved and an increase in productivity.

*Gurley, J. William. "Above the Crowd: A Dell for Every Industry." Fortune Dec. 10 1998: 167+.
1. Tom Peters, The Circle of Innovation

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