Companies expand intranet efforts

SAN JOSE -- Intranets have attempted to manage corporate knowledge and have failed so far, an analyst warned at this week's Intranet 2000 conference. But users here said they are continuing and expanding their intranet efforts and that legacy and security issues remain the top priorities.

Intranets have been good at giving employees, suppliers and even customers access to information, noted Steve Telleen, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. However, "few companies allow their own employees to publish their own ideas with their own voice," he said in his keynote speech. Instead, he argued, today's intranets are packed with processed information posing as knowledge.

"Most knowledge management is noise, not understanding," Telleen said. "If we prestructure knowledge, there is nothing we can learn."

According to Telleen, information technology departments are acting like "landed gentry facing the industrial revolution" and often slow down progress. He pointed to companies that "Web-enable" applications instead of creating network-based software from scratch as being part of the problem.

But part of IT's mandate is to incorporate legacy systems into the newer intranet architecture.

At Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., information services technical specialist John Schultz said, "We're aware that the paradigm is different. It's no longer just a 3270 world." He added that it has been critical for his organization's nearly 4-year-old intranet strategy to begin with making old applications Web-ready because that's the information and software people use.

Chad Childers, World Wide Web administrator at Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Mich., said his company's portal strategy extends well beyond the intranet. His company already has 150,000 intranet users; and with its recent announcements to give every employee a PC and Web access, that number will more than double in a year. Its deal with General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Corp. to create the Automotive Network Exchange for suppliers in the car industry (see story) will expand that number even further. And the company's plans to give customers access to the portal could easily increase the user population to more than 1 million.

"All this makes security more important than ever before," Childers said.

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