DESIGN OF A CORPORATE INTRANET
By Dr. A KHAN
April 21 -27, 2003
Public access network open to the world is known as Internet. A web page of a company on the Internet is its public interface; an image a company wants the world to see. Since it is built for glamour, it must have graphics and special features to address this need.
Corporate Intranet is for the company employees to get information about work, progress of work and its effects on the corporate health. The appearance is to be simple to help in speed.
In both cases the hardware and software used is the same but is used for different purposes.
BENEFITS OF INTRANET
Intranet facilitates communication and access to the corporate information. Employees of the corporation who may never meet can collaborate on projects. Sharing of knowledge and ideas is promoted on a single, secure and reliable access to the corporate private information. Manageability of corporate information is extremely improved for more informed and improved decisions. Document distribution is streamlined. Better access to quality information results in higher productivity. Since the information is reusable and always available, cost of information gathering, printing and distribution is reduced enormously.
ADDRESSING THE RESISTANCE
Corporate secrets will remain intact is the major concern of the management. The technology can comfortably handle this aspect but it is difficult for the management to believe. Access to the data for employees may be restricted. Firewall software keep the data safe from outside world. A major problem is convincing people share their knowledge, which they feel, might result in losing their job. At present they are being paid more for much lesser but vital knowledge, which comfortably lead them to their honorable retirement. Intranet approach to information management is open. When department are allowed to publish document on the Intranet, problem of ownership of the documents needs to be properly addressed.
HOW TO GET STARTED?
The successful implementation of corporate intranet involve following steps:
Proper understanding of the job, departments to be linked and reason for intranet must be very clear to the management because a strong support of the senior level management is a must. Idea of cost and work must be crystal clear.
A wide area network in place on corporate basis will reduce the cost of hardware and software. Web Server and associated appropriate software will be needed. It is ideal to get the project done by an outside firm and then train the staff to handle the task of maintenance purposes after implementation.
A well informed committee is required to be set up for the decision of the content to be placed on the intranet and the issue of growth of the intranet. Educational training for the use of intranet and associated benefit must be imparted to every employee and should also be available on this intranet for ready reference.
SOFTWARE AND HARDWARE FOR INTRANET
Client/Server network is ideal for corporate intranet. PC connected on high speed cable or by telephone wires, fiber-optic cables, microwaves or satellite if on wide area network with Servers. Servers are high speed computers with a large hard disc capacity, network operating, web software, firewall and browser software.
Web software allows the server to support HTTP for exchange of information among clients (HTTP is Hyper Text Transfer Protocol a dominant internet protocol. Firewall software provide requisite security to protect the corporate information from outside world. Browser software allows the use of hyperlinks to move in the same document or completely different documents. Corporate intranet needs these basic software.
Functionality of corporate intranet can be further enhanced by software addition and Internet access. E-mail, authoring and publishing documents, collaboration and conferencing, data archiving and retrieval, document management access and linking with the legacy systems. This helps enormously for the corporate business growth with much ease and dexterity cost effectively.
WHAT CONTENT TO HAVE ON INTRANET?
This requires the knowledge of the corporation, its business and various departments through which the business is executed. Let us assume a Life Insurance Business.
The product in this case is various types of Insurance policies. The business sale is executed through agents on commission basis. The rules and related activities are executed through permanent Employees.
Flow of money is collection from policy holders, its investment, claim settlement, administrative expenses, return on investment, rental income, real estate etc. The organization can be split into following divisions departments for smooth execution of the business:
GROUP LIFE INSURANCE
International (If business is executed overseas as well)
Data in a business organization can be collected for the following aspects for information and decision making:
PRODUCTSi.e. type of available policies for sale in case of insurance business
AGENTSFor the sale of policies
EMPLOYEESFor normal execution of the office routine to follow business rules
TRANSACTIONFor execution of the business and administrative expenses and income rules and regulations for execution
PERSONNEL, RELATED SERVICES AND MEDICAL
In personnel matters rules and regulation and associated circular and letter are important, subject wise arrangement in alphabetical order, for ready access to authorized persons through out the corporation, helps in quick and just disposal of matters. This, of course, will add to the more satisfied and productive employees.
Personnel related data of employees like entitlement, leave, benefits, earning, ACR's, promotions, postings, training, loans, travels etc. can be kept available for comparison and evaluations.
Inventory of all assets, consumables, purchase information, consumption, and budget with relevant persons can help in improved understanding of the expenses and their justifications.
Medical expenses, medicine consumption, ailments of the employee and families can enhance understanding of the employees and their families for better planning for improved facilities.
Minutes of the meetings, resolutions, and implementations can be made available, without disturbing employees or peons. This will save lot of time, effort and will expedite decision.
MARKETING AND SALES
Corporate brochures and public information can be placed on Web. The information can be comfortably get printed by any one needing it any time. Getting printing done through vendors can be reduced enormously this way and can save a lot to the corporation in terms of money and time. Changes are also much easier to incorporate and disseminate. Communications with the customers can be expedited and made in time by increasing marketing and sale points at geographically dispersed locations. It is possible to have access to the sale data. The information can be compared with the sales of past for proper evaluation of the marketing efforts on sale. The cost effectiveness of the marketing efforts can give management comprehensive information about their strategies. Every zonal office can benefit from this and adjust the efforts to achieve their targets. Job of the Marketing and Sale is, imparting knowledge of the product to the customer and procuring customers. Intranet facilities can enhance their efforts productively.
CUSTOMER SERVICES DEPARTMENT
Policy holder services do the following three jobs after the customer is introduced to the corporation by sale department.
Underwrite the policy (Risk evaluation)
Issue and Maintain underwritten policies
Settle Maturity and Claims
Since the information on intranet is available through out the corporation, most of the assignment can be shifted to availability of knowledgeable personnel's places for fast execution with little excuse for lack of availability of expert. Lot of time and traveling expenses are reduced with superior and increased productivity. Can you imagine the useful for successful business?
Issuance and maintenance can be given the same treatment which is the next job of policy holder service department. A coherent system helps in extending the business in lesser time to more remote location with lesser trained or educated people with more knowledge and productivity.
Easy and instant availability of historic data of record helps in faster and consistent decision on claims bringing good name and reliability to the corporation for their fast and just settlement.
Computer Department mostly does the job of accounting, it maintains the data of:
The data is used for most of the information needed for accounting and management other decision making purposes. Data in most cases is incomplete and received at month end for information processing. It has already lost its significance to support the reasonable decision making. Excessive human involvements hamper the validity of data. So the degree of good decision making can be appreciated. But it does help the management to direct the flow of data to their desired decisions. This is major reason for resistance to change.
Even incomplete data, made available on intranet can prove extremely productive for many departments. However, management, as well as, these departments can not imagine what they are missing. Intranet, will integrate the computer department data too without obstruction to their normal routine. With the passage of time, nevertheless, data will be complete and more reliable. This integration will made this data available to the data origin source. Intranet can also help in collection of data from remote locations with ease, speed and reliability. The availability of data will eliminate the necessity of processing the data at the month end only.
Two types of training are required in the organizing we are discussing:
FIELD TRAINING (Agents)
STAFF TRAINING (Officers and Staff)
With the intranet and computer department data of agents and related transaction of policy holders' comprehensive information about the effect of training on performance of the trainee can be evaluated to the exact penny. The cost of training and improvement business allows more elaborate and strategic decision making to management, marketing, sales and training departments. Can you visualize the effect of data integration on productivity, management and cost effectiveness, however large the business may be?
The training of staff can also be measured in similar fashion to have a fair idea of efficiency and productivity. Chief Executive of the corporation can be more informed and decisive without disturbing most of the employees.
The multimedia also allows training material to be available any time of the day anywhere.
REAL ESTATE DEPARTMENT
Insurance companies invest in real estates to consolidate their existence. It is an organization in itself but everything like rent, jobs done or to be carried out, estimation of the project, valuation of the property etc. can be linked with the intranet for comprehensive corporate balance sheet and decision making. It further ensures more bonuses to the policy holders, if desired. People on project and management can have fair idea of each others performance. Does it help in efficiency, satisfaction and productivity?
Investment department invests the surplus money in stock and bond. The data can be integrated through intranet and more realistic picture of the corporate income can be seen for decision making valid accounting. Time and effort can also be saved comparing to the lost moment collection data, information for inclusion in accounts. Further more ready availability of data can give new dimension to corporate earning. Foreign currency variation can be used for enhancing income through Investment Department.
GROUP AND PENSIONS DEPARTMENT
Most of the life insurance companies deal in products on group lives. Since they have their own procedures, they can be intranet connected and can have the benefit of using common resources for data collection, information dissemination, decision making, training and part of a common balance sheet and still maintaining their identity. Can we expect reduced cost with increased productivity?
Since we can collect data, disseminate information on intranet, with firewall protection software/hardware the limbs can be extended through VPN to foreign lands.
The information can be had in-house as well as in the foreign locations with accuracy and speed cost effectively. This gives a corporation an edge to extend the services at more competitive rates to increase foreign business. All transactions will be available for inclusion in the balance sheet of the corporation. Unnecessary correspondence and mail transmission will be reduced and productivity will greatly increase.
Actuarial department is inter-alias supposed to evaluate risk for the product introduced. If the data for a number of years arranged in demographically ordered form for the behavior of the product in terms of sale and claims is available to the department; can you imagine the dimension that are made available for introducing new product or making existing product more attractive for the customers. Availability of data further helps them generate reports they otherwise take months or year to produce. Intranet can provide them this facility.
Intranet can help law department for their cases' position and out come. Integrated data can help many departments use it to improve their own productivity.
INTERNAL AUDIT DEPARTMENT
Introduction of checks at the time of entering transaction can ensure and alleviate the job on internal as well as external audit. Moreover, they will not have to wait for the requisite information to be made available to them. They have that access readily.
The data collected through this intranet for computer department and existing data and information on the computer of computer department for finance department is available as entered or posted through a program. An intranet linked computer can extend this information to any department any time. The generated reports can also be published on the intranet to be made available throughout the corporation, even in a foreign land for reference or printing. Computer department might have to develop applications to affect the consequences of each transaction on respective data values, ledger, trial balance, schedules to be made available on intranet for printing at respective location of the corporation. Since each transaction has to traverse, the course of intranet the authentication or validation can be ensured through qualified people where available, irrespective of the location of transaction. Budget availability and its flow of consumption can be seen directly and taken care for properly and in time. The entire corporate financial activity can made instantly available the management along with historic activity.
COST OF THE INTRANET
In case the wide area network is in place the cost of intranet is a few servers and application software in HTTP, XML, firewall, mail software, browser software which part of the operating system nowadays. Scripting language or software does a wonderful job of integrating productivity tools. Databases enhance the analytical capability of data. Two types of expertise is needed for the effective use and maintenance of the software: 1. Developer Level Skill required by a team of expert to be hired permanently, and 2. User Level Skill, a basic computer using skill with enhancing training of the corporate software for smooth utilization for office use according to job requirement.
Cost of required software, hardware, training at corporate level is going to be seven to eight million rupees. Networking cost if required is according to the office space required and number of users.
TOTAL COST INCLUDES:
Cost of the Wide Area Network i.e. cost of the communication links. Links can be of following type:
DSL (Digital Subscribers Link)
Fixed Point Wireless
SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT COST
The respective department will have their own site for publishing their own data or information. Security rules and integration needs to be developed in site integration. Cost varies from 1.5 to 2 millions.
User training requires familiarization of the operating system, good use of productivity tools and web browser. It will take 15 to 20 days and Rs. 4000 to 5000 per user.
A modest site of eight PC's network should cost Rs. half a million including computers and printers.
A developers needs to be trained in Web Designing,
Database connectivity, system integration etc in eight to ten weeks, may cost Rs. 25,000 to 30,000. Team of twelve to fifteen persons properly trained should able to handle the job.
Integrated data can help in enterprise resource management in a forceful and cost effective manner with lot of time and hassle saving.