An Intranet’s Life Cycle: The Corporate Intranet

The key to managing corporate intranets may lie in understanding that they have "life cycles." From their formal introduction into the company, intranets mature as they are integrated into a business.

From data repositories and simple corporate directories, the role of intranets has evolved in recent years to become an organization’s central nervous system.

That’s the conclusion of a new study by The Concours Group [http://www.concoursgroup.com], an international research-based management, consulting and education firm.

The Concours Group, based in Kingwood, Texas, conducted the research known as “Project CI: Managing and Exploiting Corporate Intranets.” The study, which involved 15 Fortune-1000 companies, stresses the importance of a corporate intranets and proposes the theory that intranets have a life cycle that can be used as a management tool, outlining the important stages through which intranets mature.

“Corporations without intranets will find it difficult to compete, work with or catch up to competitors who have established intranet systems,” says Janet Asteroff, a research director with The Concours Group. “Even companies with successful intranets need to understand the phases of the intranet life cycle because the information and capability revealed at each stage provide the leverage to reap the benefits of new business opportunities.”

The study breaks the intranet’s life cycles into four states:

  • Originate – Whether the intranet is formally introduced by the CEO or starts as an I.T. project, this is the stage where both the company and individual employees grapple with the reality of a corporate intranet. Executives need to realize that intranets need time to grow and develop and managers need time to demonstrate an intranet’s value to the corporation. But since this is a fledgling step, intranets need to move out of this phase quickly or they will perish.
  • Automate – At this stage, the intranet has been accepted and companies can begin to increase productivity and save money because its capabilities are being applied more systematically to do old tasks in new ways. For example, by this stage, many businesses have converted corporate documents to electronic formats, placed them on their intranets and provided a search interface for these documents. Instead of employees wasting time trying to hunt down paper forms, reports, documents and microfilm, they are able to easily access them via the corporate intranet. Most employees prefer this faster way of doing business.
  • Innovate – As the intranet approaches maturity, users explore its possibilities and learn to do new tasks in new ways based on enhanced communication and information systems. Simply put, as a business grows and takes on new responsibilities and endeavors, the corporate intranet should evolve to meet these new demands in new ways.
  • Reorganize – Work flow and business processes are reengineered. New work, new organization, and revamped intranet infrastructure enable companies to become more effective in doing business in the digital age.

“In developing the intranet, companies need to identify the business issues, structure the system to reflect the corporate culture, and be flexible enough to encourage experimentation,” says Peter Sorrentino, engagement manager at The Concours Group.

One large firm that has fully embraced its corporate intranet is Ford Motor Co. Ford’s massive intranet contains half a million product-design resources, production-management tools, and strategic information assets, according to Fortune magazine.

“The internal web is the backbone of Ford’s business today,” Ford’s CIO, Bud Mathaisel, told Fortune. “It’s even more important than our mainframe infrastructure. We have become much more disciplined about managing our intranet because we can’t afford anything less than top performance.”

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