Collaboration: What money can buy

back to page 2If such services don't provide enough versatility, you have other options, including hosting services, customizedoff-the-shelf software, or groupware. And if that's not enough, you can grow your own intranet from the groundup.

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If such services don't provide enough versatility, you have other options, including hosting services, customized off-the-shelf software, or groupware. And if that's not enough, you can grow your own intranet from the ground up. Choose your direction based on budget, in-house expertise, and company needs.

Hosting Services: A small business without a dedicated IT staff should consider a hosting service, because it will handle most of the administrative and technical details. You can still edit content properties to make them relevant to your business. For example Planet Intra offers both hosting services and a LAN-based intranet solution, plus sophisticated collaboration tools and data management. The service provides a calendar service, contact management, and search engines—and even supports multiple languages.

Off-the-Shelf Software: Slightly larger businesses are better off with off-the-shelf or turnkey solutions. You'll still have to do some customization to mold the application to your company's needs, you won't have to rely on external servers, as you would with a hosting service.

Several turnkey applications provide robust intranet functionality without requiring much development effort. These products usually offer a customizable suite of packaged applications, including shared calendars, document management, messaging, and contact management. Before you get started, use a data-migration tool to avoid re-entering data from already deployed applications.

Designed for corporate intranets, Accent 2.1 includes a choice of three news modules, e-mail, an online messaging system for companies without e-mail servers, a task manager for routing assignments, a time manager for tracking time required to complete tasks, public and private discussion forums, a virtual calendar and meeting scheduler, a library, and an editable electronic filing system. Employee Profiles lets you create and define users, assign security levels and access privileges, and manage the employee database.

IntraNetics 2.0 is a suite of 20 customizable applications designed for organizations of up to 500 users. The software minimizes administrative burdens by letting users update content, and it allows maintenance to be distributed among several departments. Using the Application wizard, administrators can build custom programs to manage data, hold discussion forums, create online schedules, organize company information, and even create a secure extranet linked to partners, customers, and remote offices.

NetObjects Authoring Server Suite 2000 is one of the more robust content-creation and -management tools. NetObjects lets team members update and manage collaborative content quickly, by assigning members role-based developmental privileges ranging from text contributor to full site administrator. A document check-out procedure prevents duplication, and a review/approval publishing process ensures content is accurate before it goes live. Powerful workflow features help administrators manage task assignments and track their status. You'll need to budget for a fairly high-powered server to handle processing tasks, though.

Groupware: Larger businesses with technical personnel on staff would do well with groupware products such as Microsoft Exchange, Novell NetWare, or Lotus Notes. These applications offer robust e-mail, group scheduling, Web-based access, and contact management. But they also require hefty investments of capital, resources, training, and implementation time.

For small businesses heavily invested in Microsoft technology, Office 2000 may suffice. Its collaboration features let users publish, share, and manage documents within familiar applications such as Word and Excel. HTML, which enables direct publishing to intranet Web servers, is now a standard file format for Office 2000. However, complete support for all of Office's intranet features requires a Web server running Office Server Extensions.

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