Nims & Associates has been providing computer, network and software support for 25 years.
|Why Your Small Business Needs an Intranet|
One thing about running a small company is the ability to act quickly. Decisions are not bogged down by layers of management. In fact, most moves are made with the interested parties meeting around a conference table.
But there can come a point when your business outgrows this arrangement. You need constant, reliable and secure communications with others in the company to ensure successful growth. You need an intranet. An intranet is similar to a Web site, and it uses Internet protocols, but it's an internal network exclusive to one company. (An "extranet" also is an internal or private Web site, but access privileges are extended to designated customers, partners and/or others.)Most large corporations use intranets. Information distribution is a huge task when you have 10,000 or more employees. Intranets can help cure that headache. I hear you, "I don't have anywhere near 10,000 employees!" But I can give you three major reasons why your small business should invest in one. Here they are:
1. Communication Suffers When Dealing With More Than One Person
In order for a company to succeed, all players must understand its goals. Neither long-term nor short-term goals should be confined to upper management meetings. It's Business 101. Everyone needs to be working toward common goals. An intranet is the perfect place to post weekly reports, memos and goals. This way, everyone is on the same page.
Even a company with few employees benefits from an intranet. Even if you don't have people working remotely, your sales staffers or consultants aren't always in the office.
Building an intranet can enhance communication through message boards, instant messaging and moderated chats. How?
Let's take a typical business scenario. The sales staff of five has to come up with a presentation to the president on increasing sales in the next fiscal year. Those five people will enter a conference room, eat pizza, drink coffee and drag it out for hours. The first meeting turns into a three-hour, stream-of-consciousness brainstorming session. The second meeting starts with a review of the best ideas from the first. The participants hash out why they will or will not work. By the third or fourth meeting, the five will come up with some proposals.
Using a discussion board in the days before the meetings can streamline the experience. Ideas can be debated beforehand. Participants come into the sales meeting more focused.
2. Time Is Money
Posting of calendars, company policies and company benefits is a great start. They'll reduce wasted time. But an intranet can be used for more than basic information. The beauty of an intranet is its interactivity.
You can save time (and trees) with interactive forms. Vacation requests, supply orders, changes to benefits and more can be handled quickly and efficiently. Make sure your intranet follows good design principles. You can't just throw stuff up there and hope people will find it. Organize your intranet to make it as user-friendly as possible. We're trying to save time here, not frustrate people.
3. It's Better Than E-Mail
E-mailing multiple versions of the same document or presentation leads to confusion and sometimes information overload. Let's take that same sales group we envisioned earlier. They've decided on three major ways they will increase sales. They are now working on a PowerPoint presentation. Five people collaborating on one PowerPoint file can lead to disastrous results. I can hear the shouting now. "Who has the most revised version?" "Johnson, you gave me the wrong figures. I thought we fixed that." And so on.
By using an intranet, people can work on a shared file and have a central location for the most recent file. This will also help save space on your server. It may sound like a tiny thing, but having versions of various files on everybody's computer takes up valuable space.
How To Get Started
There are software packages such as Windows SharePoint Services that allow you to customize and design most everything yourself, using someone else's template. And you don't need a dedicated IT person to maintain it. Pricing varies, depending on the number of users.
There's Got To Be A Downside, Right?
If you have a larger company, you'll probably want to separate content updates among departments. No matter the size, you'll have to budget maintenance time into an employee's schedule. Remember, we're dealing with computers — nothing ever runs as smoothly as we would like.You'll also have to invest in time for employee training. You may even have to spend time convincing old stalwarts to use the intranet. Once the system is up and running and everyone understands it, the return on investment will be significant.