Collaboration: Grow your own

back to page 4If your needs are highly specialized, a home-grown intranet may be your best solution. But it requires a programmer,so if you don't have one on staff you'll have to outsource the job.

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If your needs are highly specialized, a home-grown intranet may be your best solution. But it requires a programmer, so if you don't have one on staff you'll have to outsource the job. Before anyone starts coding—during the planning and design phase—key nontechnical personnel should spell out the type of work users will do on the intranet and determine the most streamlined means of accomplishing it. Make sure you standardize on a single browser platform to reduce errors and inconsistencies that may hinder technical support and lengthen development time. And be sure to include a search component in your solution. Once the overall framework is sketched out, your programmer can create the intranet's foundation.

Centralizing security administration will reduce breaches and make the intranet more manageable. Define user rights according to an organizational chart hierarchy, rather than by specific user names. Companies with heightened security concerns should implement digital certificates or Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). PKI requires both a public key and a private key for access to network resources. It's difficult to implement, but it offers a higher level of security than other password-authentication schemes.

Because you are enabling easier access to sensitive company information, it's important to implement auditing and accountability procedures. Administrators should be able to track usage so they can detect security breaches quickly. If any business transactions are subject to potential litigation, make sure the auditing procedure monitors these processes. Compile these tracking and auditing procedures into an intranet security-policy document that informs employees that usage is monitored and subject to review. A common-sense manual will go a long way toward keeping critical information safe. Once development is complete, you can choose any of the off-the-shelf software packages for content creation and management.

Choosing the proper path for intranet deployment takes planning and forethought. Examine the type of data you wish to share. How quickly does it change? Is there a need for robust security? Is intranet access intended only for resident office employees, or for remote users as well? Is your user base technically advanced or novice?

Once you answer these questions, you'll know whether you should opt for a hosted service, a turnkey intranet suite, a customizable groupware application, or an internally developed solution. Whichever you choose, a well-designed, Web-based intranet solution will increase productivity, improve teamwork, and ultimately produce a tangible business return.

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