Companies everywhere are trying to conjure the magic formula that will miraculously transform their corporate intranet from being just another place to find the company phone list to its rightful role as the lifeblood of corporate communications. Intranets.com has developed a philosophy to coincide: the company rolls out upgrades and new features on an almost continual basis in order to either anticipate or satisfy customer requests for functionality that will help make their intranet a must-hit site.
In February, Intranets.com added optional audio and video Web conferencing capabilities to its hosted intranet offering, and, late last month, the company significantly enhanced its built-in scheduling and calendaring features. According to Karen Leavitt, Intranet.com's VP of marketing, "Ours is a group collaboration product, and we've had a long standing commitment to enhance the functionality of that product."
The company believes that this kind of agility in offering new features, along with its policy of rarely charging for the addition or enhancement of functionality, is key to its success. Leavitt says Intranet.com strives for just-in-time feature delivery. "We always have constant a stream of releases…often, by the time our customers articulate the need for something, we have had it in development and can deliver it to them just as they realize they need it."
The introduction of the audio/video Web conferencing tool marked a bit of a departure from the company's traditional strategy of adding and improving features at no additional charge, however. The video product—which is intended to go head-to-head with industry-leading WebEx—does carry a price tag: $99 per 25 users per month (audio conferencing costs an additional 12 cents/minute). That said, the price is a fraction of the cost of WebEx's per-seat pricing model and is integrated into the intranet, which could both drive usage through meetings or training and offer built-in familiarity for those already working with the intranet on a regular basis. Leavitt says, "The Web and audio conference feature differs in that it is a premium service, but it is the first time we're designing a feature that is intrinsically for use with people outside the intranet space. Where it fits with our model is that we provide collaboration services to businesses; our customers have been clamoring for this. More and more, they need to make use of online services to be able to interact in real time to interact with colleagues, co-workers, and team members."
"The Group Scheduling Tool," according to Leavitt, "is very much aligned with our traditional approach of enhancing functionality without additional fees. That is something we've done for the last four and a half years—sometimes in the form of new applications, sometimes in an overhauled application, and sometimes as small changes to functionality."
The online calendar does what one would expect: users can schedule meetings, keep track of appointments, and alert people to department or company-wide events. The Group Scheduling Tool, written with a .Net framework, allows customers to send meeting invitations, reserve a conference room, and check participant availability. With a few clicks, a team leader can check to see if all of the people that are needed for a meeting are available before sending out the invitation—thus avoiding the potential of an infinite email loop trying to arrange a simple meeting. Then, with the Web Conferencing Tool, the user could click the Conferencing button on the left navigation bar and set up a Web-based conference as well, without leaving the intranet. Of course, the Availability Tool only works if individuals within the organization are using the intranet to track their schedules, but they can synch existing Palm or Outlook data, which simplifies participation.
To date, documents, calendar, discussion, and database have been the most popular features of Intranet.com's offering. But Leavitt says that needs vary from company to company. While Leavitt admits that the mandate for intranet creation is often vague, like "how do I better get information to my guys in Debuque and San Francisco," she says it is helpful to approach intranet creation with a "pain point to address." In terms of usage, she has seen companies mandate it as the startup page for every employee, but she believes that delivering essential functions and information offers a better approach.
"The intranet doesn't have to be the homepage," says Leavitt, "it just has to be the place you want to go to get the information you need."