||Why your small business needs an
thing I like 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
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
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
||Communication Suffers When Dealing
With More Than One
a very small company has communication issues.
Most people find out what's happening while
gossiping around the coffee pot. Stories change as
they spread, leading to a misinformed and
disgruntled staff. If you have telecommuters,
off-site workers, employees who travel a lot or a
communication issues become
even more challenging.
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
An intranet is the perfect place
to post weekly reports, memos and goals. This way,
everyone is on the same page.
president of the intranet consulting firm
Prescient Digital Media, notes that 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
Building an intranet can enhance
communication through message boards, instant
messaging and moderated chats. How?
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
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
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.
Time Is Money|
this is a cliché. But it's too valid not to use
An intranet allows you to post critical
information for all employees to see. Even having
human resources information posted is valuable.
One of my employees said workers in his former
office once spent 45 minutes trying to find out if
the day after Thanksgiving was a paid holiday. The
personnel manager was gone and no one else
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
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
It's Better Than E-Mail|
may be thinking, "Why doesn't the personnel person
just e-mail the form?" Or, "I communicate well
with my employees through meetings and postings on
the cork board."|
According to Ward, e-mailing
multiple versions of the same document or
presentation leads to confusion and sometimes
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
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
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
To Get Started|
you set up an intranet, make sure you understand
what you want it to do. Understand how employees
will use it. Finally, adhere to good design
principles. If it takes five or six clicks to find
a vacation request form, it's too
You'll also have to decide if you want
to build your own solution. A consultant can build
an intranet to your specifications. It will have
the look and feel and design principles you
specify. This route will cost you U.S. to 0 per
person per month.
There also are software
packages such as Windows SharePoint Services that
allow you to customize and design most everything
yourself, using someone else's template.
SharePoint runs U.S. .95 a month or 9 a year, no
matter how many users.
Some packages, such as
Instant Intranet Builder, use Microsoft Access as
the core database. They incorporate linking
mechanisms to create a workable intranet easily.
You don't need a dedicated IT person to set up and
maintain it. Depending on the company's size, the
entire package can be had for as little as U.S.
per person per month.
Some other software
products available include InfoStreet, IntraSmart
and Intranet Suite. Pricing varies, depending on
the number of users.
Got To Be A Downside, Right?|
get your intranet ready for employee use, you will
need someone to develop and maintain the content.
The idea is to have continually updated
information available. How you delegate those
tasks may depend on the size of your company. If
you only have 10 people, one person may be
sufficient to maintain the information.|
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.