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The intranet is shedding its boring bulletin board image and emerging as the
way forward in internal communications. Plus we preview this year’s Softworld
HR payroll event.

Intranets are coming of age as security and reliability worries subside and
a host of new applications start to emerge. Yet many organisations have yet to
see the point: according to the International Data Corporation only 21 per cent
of British work sites, mainly in high-tech, media and other expanding sectors,
were connected by an intranet system last year.

But that figure is set to double as intranets shed their image of glorified
bulletin boards and become a genuinely interactive medium.

Forty-eight per cent of UK private sector companies are planning to
implement HR self-service facilities over the next year, a Midland Software
survey found, saving the private sector about £350m in administration costs.

Staff will log on to the company intranet to access personal details,
absence records, holiday forms, and training opportunities.

"The notion that employees are not capable of managing their own
records is nonsense," says product planning director Peter Collinson.
"Organisations that are doing this find their information more up-to-date,
accurate and efficient."

Installation

An intranet is relatively easy to set up, with IT departments installing the
server and software, and HR typically providing the content.

Experts advise against giving too much responsibility to either, however –
creating a dedicated project team that reports directly to the board helps
maintain a strategic focus.

Share the authoring as widely as possible, making employees responsible for
their own web pages. Besides saving time and money, that gives them a sense of
ownership and helps ensure they use the intranet effectively.

Design

One common pitfall is to provide mountains of text in small font, which is
difficult to read and quickly deters interest. One way round this is to layer,
catering for individual needs by providing pages with successively greater
amounts of detail.

"If it does not look good it will put people off," says Robert
Wyeth, sales and marketing director at Infosupport Centre. "A
well-designed layout provided by us can still be made messy by clients slotting
in old material, which may have different fonts and lack proper
formatting."

Uses

Avoid bringing in technology for the sake of it and think carefully about
the business purpose. Popular uses include an internal telephone directory, an
agenda that helps tracks key individuals’ movements, and in-house articles and
bulletins. But new self-service applications will take much of the
administration out of HR and encourage staff to pursue development
opportunities.

"One of our customers uses its intranet to capture the information from
the employee initially, so it doesn’t have to set up new starters in the
personnel department," says Nigel Young, technical consultant at Trace
Computers.

The company intranet is also a key component of knowledge management.
Encourage employees to use it to input project experience that may be useful to
others in the organisation and prevent wasteful duplication of effort. That
will also ensure that the expertise is not lost when they move on.

And increasingly intranets will be the medium for rolling out new software,
taking advantage of the familiarity users feel with the Web. In the summer, for
instance, Peoplesoft will release iClient, a new version of its HR management
system that interfaces via a browser.

Roll-out

This is best done in stages, to managers and supervisors first, then to
employees. "Do it in bite-size chunks, taking care to plan the
implementation and brief people properly," says Infosupport’s Wyeth.
"Fortunately, you don’t need much user training, but you do need to let
people know what content is available as it appears and give them time to use
it."

Managing the intranet requires the right degree of intervention.
"Organisations tend to build in their previous personnel practices,"
Trace’s Young points out.

"If they are very directive they will try to control what goes on,
which makes everyone lose interest immediately. The opposite approach is to
allow free posting, which often means the facility is under-used and leads to
the same result."

Security

As a closed internal system, an intranet poses fewer concerns than the
Internet. Organisations that allow external access, however, need a
"firewall" to avoid unauthorised entry.

One new system allows access by combining the user password with a pin
number that changes by the minute and is beamed directly to a portable device.
Low-tech solutions also have their uses – Data Design supplies a convex mirror
the size and shape of a tennis ball that sits on top of the PC and alerts the user
to anyone trying to read the screen from behind.

Employees need also to be encouraged to be security-conscious. "Human
failings are what cause security flaws and let the bad guys in", says
Young.

"One of the most basic mistakes people make is to use a password that
is easily discovered, such as their birthday or wife’s name."

New products

MDIS will launch the next generation of its HR Solutions-ResourceLink
(previously known as HRS). This offers significant improvements in Web access,
workflow, document and image management, employee self-service, as well as
international payroll support.

Midland Software will launch Trent Payroll, a new platform
independent, Web-enabled product with embedded workflow designed to integrate
with its existing Trent HR system.

Personic Inc, a Web recruitment provider, will showcase Workflow 2.0
– the latest version of its powerful software for managing the recruiting
process and shortening the time-to-recruitment cycle.

PWA Personnel Systems will launch its new e-business HR software
package PWA Empower e-Xtend. This turns existing PWA Empower software into an
intranet-based HR management system. Empower e-Xtend enables administrative
work to be securely handled by line managers and gives limited file access to
individual employees.

Rutherford Webb will demonstrate staffpay.net, an Internet based
payroll service launched in November. The firm says that by keeping up-to-date
with government legislation, the new system will be a welcome resource for
businesses that face fines of up to £20,000 if they fail to heed new
regulations.

Selima will have a case study to describe its new multiple employment
payroll and will exhibit an intranet extension to its personnel system.

Snowdrop will demonstrate a new payroll software solution, an
integrated module which the firm says builds on years of experience gained from
working with payroll suppliers.

Jargon busting

Browser typically either Internet Explorer or Netscape, that presents
information in web language. Browsers are increasingly used to provide access
to all types of application, including HR systems

Firewall a barrier to prevent unauthorised external access

TCP/IP the basic network protocol used for intranets

Thin client a system that economises by using a browser to fetch
applications from a central server rather than storing them in every individual
PC

XTML the new web language which will replace HTML and offers the
means to categorise and tag data

It’s a good way to talk

BT has one of the most advanced intranets in the UK, with around 80,000 of a
workforce of more than 100,000 having daily access. By the end of 2001 this is
expected to extend to the whole company.

HR strategy manager Brian Dunton says the most used application is the
internal directory, which has been in place for several years.

The intranet is also used extensively for employee communications, including
articles from the in-house magazine and the BT shareprice.

"Every page has an information provider, whose responsibility it is to
keep it up to date. It is managed centrally as well but you can’t have one
group of people running everything."

BT used the intranet to roll out Peoplesoft HR software to PCs throughout
the organisation last year. In September it launched a new internal recruitment
programme, giving candidates direct access on the intranet to 40,000 BT
managers who can use a search engine to draw up shortlists for interview.

In the near future, Dunton sees intranets becoming a more of an active, transactional
medium with new services that enable employees to record competencies and
skills, access pension information, and operate performance review.

"Once you start linking training, development, performance and
aspirations, that feeds back into retention," he says.

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