Fighting intranet flak

The promised benefits of a good intranet aren't hype; they're real. But what's just as real, intranet managers confessed at a Comdex/Fall '98 panel here last week, are the political bargains and battles to make intranets compatible with a corporate culture.

Within Colgate-Palmolive's research unit in Piscataway, New Jersey, IS director Forrest Jerome encountered heavy resistance to the idea of sharing sensitive data, especially after some managers with data-security concerns failed to grasp the distinction between an intranet and the wide-open Internet.

The ideals of an intranet also weren't reflected in the corporate culture, he said. "We thought we were engaged in silo busting . . . [but] the organisation was engaged in silo construction."

Some managers became so resistant to the intranet, Jerome said, that they would invent false arguments against it. That resulted in occasionally rancorous exchanges that Jerome acknowledged he could have handled more deftly. "Don't do as I did and call someone a blithering idiot," he told the Comdex audience.

The intranet at Amoco's Chemical Intermediates Business Group in Lisle, Illinois, was a dream come true for information technology manager Kerry Given because it has provided myriad cost- and time-saving benefits. But, like Jerome, Given first had to convince managers that sharing information with other departments would be a benefit.

The tools for sharing are now firmly in place, but the culture of sharing is still evolving, Given said. "A lot of product managers don't particularly want to share their marketing plans with other product managers. The intranet technology is very significant in that it is beginning to break down some of those barriers."

Before users began to share, Given said, they had to be convinced that publishing data and strategic documents is safe: "In this area, we're having even more security concerns than normal simply because of all the publicity [about hackers]."

The benefits of the intranet are many, Given said. The platform-independent user interface supports a variety of clients and provides a friendlier front end for managers than SAP's R/3. Not only does the network let different departments share information, but the intranet's search feature also lets workers find out what work has already been done at the company.

The intranet reduces storage needs because documents can be posted once instead of copied over and over in departmentwide e-mails, he said.

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