Back in the 1990s, I worked for years as a proposal writer at Deloitte. (See here for details.) While I'd been in the corporate world for years by then, this was the first time I recall having an idea that HTML technology could really prove handy for organizing documents itnernally within an office.
So, I established a simple public folder on the company network, and began organizing files I found myself needing regularly into a handy visual index of sorts. The project grew into a personal portal to pretty much all of the information that would come in handy for people in my position, and the others there eventually saw the utility of it as well. I called it "JimNet". Little did I know at the time, this was called an "Intranet" -- basically, a web site meant for internal access.
Later, I learned that the firm (coincidentally) was at work on a similar project -- although worldwide in scope. It was built on the Lotus Notes platform, which I believe is still around today. While I recall the global effort being absolutely klunky, the training that came along with the rollout did nonetheless illuminate a number of concepts that rang true. One in particular was that corporations tend to suffer from what was termed "silos" of knowledge.
Picture, if you will, a high-level arial photo of several miles of farm land. In the landscape, you see vast fields and, every now and then, a silo. The image is meant to illustrate how individuals within an office (or offices within a multi-location company) tend to develop private repositories of information and processes. It's fairly easy to grasp how this is an inefficient practice, as so many people (and, collectively, offices) are essentially "reinventing the wheel" with respect to numerous files, processes, etc. Not only that; there's usually a huge waste of paper, as well.
In terms of reinventing the wheel, consider the case of a real estate firm looking to sell a house. Without an intranet system, some marketer puts together a flyer, and then sends that flyer via email to all of the agents who might need a copy. Each agent then files it on his or her machine, in who knows what kind of disorganized mess of a hard drive that no one else would ever be able to sift through if needed, and maybe keeps it up to date and maybe not. Also, remember that the file is only available from within the office. If an agent is out at a showing, there's no remote access. Multiply that by 20 agents, 20 computers, and 50 homes for sale, and you can see the file disaster immediately.
Enter the Intranet. In an Intranet scenario, a webmaster creates a private web site. It can be internal on a network, of course. But, for enhanced use, let's assume that it's on a web site somewhere, only behind a password-protected area. So, now the marketing person posts the fyler there one time, and it's instantly available to all agents, both inside and outside the office, 24 / 7. Oops... typo on page 4? No worries... The file is fixed, and replaced once, thus always having the most up-to-date version in one convenient place.
Let's look at another common pet peeve ... wasted paper! Consider a typical board of directors at a nonprofit organization. Ever serve on a nonprofit board? I sure have. And, quite often, that means you'll get one of the old dinosaurs -- the "board book." Jus what you need as a busy executive, right? -- a huge binder with the bylaws, the minutes, the D&O insurance info, the strategic plan, the budget, the directory of other board members, the economic impact studies, and on and on and on ... Oh, and how wonderful that, at each meeting, you receive a new stack of papers that has to be inserted, or that replaces certain pages. And you think to yourself, "Wow, I actually donate money to this group to participate in this?!
Enter the Intranet. Suddenly, you post all of this information one time, and your board members can go fetch it whenever they like. And, since it's all password protected, it's easy to control access. If a board member leaves, no worries... Your webmaster just deletes that user. Likewise, if another joins, he or she gets a new username and password. I've personally done this before, many times! And it's wonderful. Everyone loves being relieved from the big old nasty binders (which, by the way) no one has to lug to meetings any longer.
As a web development company, we've done many of these systems. They're used for HR administration, for communicating with investors, as CRM systems, and for internal "command central"-type screens, complete with all of the functionality you've come to know via the web. The screen atop this page, in fact, is an internal one I use for myself. It basically houses about 200 pages of text that I find myself needing regularly, links to a whole bunch of web-based utilities I use regularly, a few custom calculators I need, all of my contacts, a notepad area, and much more. Most of my experience here is basically standard web technology, although I've certainly used a number of larger systems such as Microsoft Sharepoints (which I really wasn't a fan of at the time).
Actually, I really prefer just normal customized web sites, password protected. I find that PHP has easy-to-work-with file management, for when that functionality is needed, and most other tasks are easy to acomplish as well via normal web developmet means. Again, the only real difference is that it's a private, password-protected site. Need one? Give us a call!
Joomla for Your Intranet!
Here's a newer update to the above piece: Is Joomla Good for Intranets?, in which I cover some of the benefits that the Joomla CMS can offer in these cases.