Intranets & Extranets: Playing the Numbers

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BEST PRACTICES SERIES

Having spent a significant part of my career in market research, I collect market surveys squirrel-style, stashing them away just in case they might one day be useful. Over the last few months, a number of surveys on the intranet market have been released, and I thought that it might be useful to highlight the existence of such surveys, as well as to shed light on some of the results.

To start off at an international level, the UK Department of Trade and Industry has been publishing International Benchmarking Studies for a number of years to show how ebusiness activity in the UK compares with other countries, including major European countries, the US, Canada, and Japan. The 2001 study was published last October, and is available through http://www.onlineforbusiness.gov though registration is required. The methodology used balances the sample to give a view across all sizes of business, from micro to multinational. Chapter 4 sets out some comparison charts of intranet and extranet adoption. The level of adoption in the UK, USA, Canada, Sweden, and Germany stands at about 60%, but France, Italy, and Japan are somewhat lower at around 40%.

On the extranet side, growth has been significant in most countries, but the UK (22%) is behind Canada (31%), Germany (26%), and the USA (25%). Of the companies in the UK that have neither an intranet or an extranet, 16% reported that they planned on installing an intranet and 22% an extranet.

Quantity and Quality
Melcrum Publishing (http://www.melcrum.com) carried out an excellent survey of large companies in the UK, North America, and Europe early in 2001 and I am grateful to Edward Barnfield at Melcrum for making a copy available to me. It costs £495, but for any company setting out to create an intranet strategy there is a great deal of valuable information in the report. One question I'm frequently asked is how many staff should be involved in intranet development. The report indicates that, for organizations of up to 10,000 employees, around 50% had 1-3 staff, and 20% had 4-5 staff. The top six benefits of an intranet were seen to be better internal communication (90%), improved processes (80%), sharing best practice (72%), improved efficiency (65%), and reduction in paperwork (65%).

The main issues that needed to be addressed were content management (74%), lack of resources (52%), content overload (46%), security (45%), insufficient control (43%), navigation (43%), and internal politics (42%). These results clearly show why there is considerable interest at present in deploying a content management software (CMS) application. Companies are beginning to realize the importance of seeing content in enterprise terms, so that electronic document management, customer relationship and other database systems, along with the intranet and email systems, all meet in the middle. This has significant implications for metadata schemes.

Improved Information Access
The main reasons for adopting a content management system by the 34% of companies who currently have adopted this approach were better access to information, and the ability to re-use information and share knowledge.

In many companies, the quickly perceived ROI is enhanced productivity. This angle is explored in a report released by Agency.Com (http://www.agency.com). The survey was carried out in the US in late September 2001 among users of intranets, rather than intranet managers. There are some very interesting outcomes in this survey, including the fact the respondents were claiming to save about 7% of their time by using an intranet or portal. Another comment is that the respondents shared knowledge because it substantially benefits them rather than because of a company-dictated policy or incentive program. Finally, employees who are highly satisfied with their intranet or corporate portal also have a high level of job satisfaction.

Another trend is in the use of intranets for elearning support. An excellent survey has been conducted in the UK for several years by the Xebec corporate training subsidiary of McGraw-Hill (http://www.xebec-online.com/new/). The Executive Summary notes that, in 2001, 87% of all responders had an intranet or technology with similar functionality, a 10% increase over 2000. Of these, 28% indicate that they use it for delivery of training within their organizations. Of the organizations that have an intranet, 54% report that they plan to use it to deliver training within 1 to 3 years. Only 18% of organizations with an intranet currently have no plans to use it to deliver training.

In terms of which organizations have adopted elearning most quickly, it seems that information technology, chemicals/ pharmaceuticals, communications/media, and finance business sectors have done so. Among smaller businesses, usage rate is much lower generally falling somewhere between one quarter and one third of those with intranets that use it for training. Most elearning growth is expected in utilities/public sector/health sectors, with 72% of all these organizations stating that they plan to deliver elearning via their intranet within one to three years. IT/ technical skill training ranks at the top, with 79% of organizations that use intranets for elearning employing it for this skill area. Other popular skill areas delivered include management and business skills and corporate issues.

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