Planning Your Intranet Environment - Online Article

In this article, you will learn how to plan your intranet. Creating a successful intranet is a matter of planning. Start your intranet on a solid foundation, follow through with good organization, and you can map out an intranet you will be proud of.

This article covers the following topics:

  • The building blocks for creating a perfect intranet
  • Determining the best organization for your intranet
  • Creating content for your intranet
  • Intranet development and resource tools
  • Mapping your intranet in four easy steps

Building Blocks for Creating a Perfect Intranet

Think of the creative process as a building process. Try to build the roof of the house before you lay the foundation, and you are going to have serious problems. Pour the concrete for the foundation of the house before you put in the necessary plumbing for water and sewer access, and you are going to spend more money than you bargained for.

You build a house one step at a time. You ensure the house has a strong foundation. Buildings with strong foundations tend to weather the seasons and time. When you are almost done with theframe of the house, you build a roof. Although the roof of the house is the top of the structure, you do not stop there. It takes more than a covered frame to make a house. You hire an electricianto do the wiring and bring back the plumber to finish the plumbing. Afterward, you hang plaster board, add insulation, finish the exterior, add fixtures, and before you know it, you have a housethat you can call home.

You build an intranet in the same way, one step at a time. Your start on the intranet is about as glamorous as the water and sewer pipes waiting for the foundation to be poured around them; forjust when you are ready to roll back your sleeves and dive into the intranet creation process with both feet, you might discover you need to conduct research, planning, or consider the requirements of the intranet. When you finally flesh out the foundation of the intranet, you start to build the framework.

The basic components of any intranet are the hardware and software that make it work. The hardware your intranet uses will determine the way the intranet operates. The software your intranet uses will determine what the intranet is used for. Eventually, you finish designing the intranet, but find you still have to develop the hot Java-powered applications for the intranet.

Even when you have completed the design and development processes, the intranet still is not finished. You check the structure of the work for flaws. You make sure you have used the right structure and created the best tools. You examine the fixtures. Once all this is done, you finally have an intranet worthy of the CEO's wholehearted embrace.

Try to build the whole house at once and you will be overwhelmed. The same is true for any creative process. When you are building your intranet and its applications, you need to manage many things on a level of general organization and on a more specific level.

Managing Expectations

If you mismanage expectations, your intranet might not turn out as you planned. Your expectations and the expectations of your superiors might be totally different. Before you start to design the intranet and the Java-powered applications for the intranet, make sure your expectations and the expectations of your supervisors mesh. A good way to do this is to ensure that the communications channels are open and used.

To ensure that your project is a smashing success, you should discuss expectations throughout the development of the intranet, especially as you develop your intranet applications. If you develop a rapid prototype of key applications, your superiors should be the ones to verify that the designs meet their expectations. If the prototypes do not meet their expectations, maybe the prototypes were an example of what not to do, or maybe the expectations of management are unrealistic. If your prototypes meet or exceed the expectations of your superiors, you have a green light and your project is well on its way to a successful implementation.

You should also manage your personal expectations for the intranet and its applications. Your expectations play a major role in the success of the intranet. The following is a list of do's and don'ts to help you manage expectations:

  • Do expect the creation and development process to be challenging and fun.
  • Don't expect first efforts to be perfect.
  • Don't expect the intranet to be perfect.
  • Do expect to revise and improvise as necessary.
  • Do expect to learn a lot.

Managing Perceptions

Realistic expectations ensure the success of your intranet. If you perceive the intranet as an impossibly large undertaking, you might cripple yourself mentally. If you perceive the intranetas a trivial undertaking, you will not produce the best possible structure and tools for your organization.

It is best to find a balance in your perceptions about the intranet. As you begin to design the intranet, keep in mind that the intranet creation process is a team effort. Few individuals will be able to handle all aspects of creating the intranet and its applications. For this reason, you should have an accurate perception of your abilities and know when it is in the best interest of the project to delegate tasks.

Managing Strategies

Creating an intranet is exciting and challenging. You'll be breaking new ground, trying new things, and experimenting with new applications. Manage the intranet creation process in whatever way will motivate you. If one way of thinking about the intranet is not motivating you, change tactics. Do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Do not limit yourself to a few strategies or stick with one strategy when it obviously is not working. Make a list of strategies. If one strategy is not working, switch to a new one. If you do not have a new one, create a new one.

The strategy you use can be very basic. A great strategy to start with is to plan to work on the project every day until it is completed. In addition to this strategy, you should add planning to involve both management and users in the development process. The degree of involvement for management and users might need to be adjusted throughout the development process.

Your role in the project should be a part of your strategy. Initially, you might want to work closely with the development team. Later, you might discover that your best role is to manage the development at a higher level. Or if you are the top programmer or network administrator, you might find that you need to work on application design rather than the actual programming. Adapting your role as necessary can help the project succeed.

Managing Goals

When you start working on the intranet design and creation process, one of the first things you should do is develop goals. Your goals should take into consideration the complexities and nuances of the intranet you plan to develop for your organization. Goals should be clear and relevant to the problem at hand.

Set major goals relevant to the purpose, scope, and audience of the intranet. Also, set minor goals or milestones for the stages of the intranet development and its applications.

Goals and milestones help define the intranet development process as a series of steps or achievements. One major goal could be to complete the planning of the intranet; another major goal could be to complete the design of the intranet.

The series of steps necessary to complete the major goals are the minor goals or milestones. Your first milestone will be to start work on the intranet. Another milestone might be to selectand purchase the necessary intranet software, such as Web server software, browser software, and a Java Development environment. Your goals are to complete the major steps of the development process, such as planning and design. You will learn all about these major steps later in this article in the section titled, "Mapping Your Intranet in Four Easy Steps."

Managing Rules

As the intranet designer and manager, you will probably create or be provided rules that pertain specifically to the intranet's layout or scope of control, such as the Information Systems department that will have overall responsibility for the intranet after completion. As you start to create the intranet, these rules might seem perfectly acceptable. However, as you conduct planning for the intranet and its applications, you might find that the overall responsibilityof the intranet should be divided amongst the departments that will set up intranet servers. If these early rules cannot be modified to fit the current situation, you will have problems. You might encounter delays due to loss of efficiency or the final product might not be what was expected.

No rule should ever be considered absolute. Even the best of rules should be interpreted as guidelines that can vary depending on the situation. Rules for a complex project like your intranet should be flexible and make sense. A rule that conflicts with something you are trying to do should be reexamined. The rule might be inappropriate for the situation you are trying to apply it to.

Managing Behavior

Your intranet will never be implemented if you avoid working on it. Putting off work until something is due is a poor practice. Quitting when things do not go your way or when you seem to have a block is another poor practice.

Even if you thrive on deadlines, plan to work toward intranet's goals and milestones regularly-every day if necessary and possible. You should also plan to work on the intranet and its applications during those times when your thoughts are not flowing. Everyone has bad days and good days. Some days you take more breaks. Some days you work straight through the day and into the night.

You might tend toward other destructive behavior besides avoiding or putting off work. Sometimes programmers go to the opposite extreme. They tear things apart impulsively before letting the work cool off so they can look at it objectively. Never hack your code just because a few users didn't like your application's interface.

Determining the Best Organization for Your Intranet

Managing the aspects of the intranet's design and creation is only the beginning. The next step is to determine the best organization for your intranet. Over the years, three models have developed for information systems like your intranet: centralized, decentralized, and a combination of centralized and decentralized.

Learning from the Past

The three computing models are really driven by the types of computers in use at an organization. Following the centralized model, all computer resources are centered in one location and under the management of one organization. When you think of centralized computing, think of mainframes and computer centers.

With the introduction of file server and client server computing, most organizations moved away from the centralized model toward a decentralized model. In decentralized computing, computer resources are spread throughout the organization and under the management of the departments in which the computers are located. When you think of decentralized computing, think of the high-power workstations and servers.

After the big move to decentralize computer resources and dismantle massive computer centers, many managers had a rude awakening to the anarchy decentralized computing can cause. Imagine an organization where each department sets the rules and decides the standards, like what hardware and software to purchase and how that hardware and software should be set up. Then imagine the nightmare of trying to support the gauntlet of software and hardware installed throughout an organization the size of AT&T.

Because of a lack of control with decentralized computing, many organizations are moving to the happy middle ground of a mixed computing model. In this mixed model, a centralized InformationSystems management sets broad policy, such as the direction and purpose of key computing initiatives, and the individual departments are free to work within those guidelines.

Applying the Past to Your Intranet's Future

As you discuss the implementation of the intranet with management, keep the three computing models in mind. While your organization might currently use a specific model, you can apply any of the models to the design of your intranet and should encourage management to choose the model that will best serve your organization. Ideally, the final decision will be based on the necessary responsibility and control of the intranet resources.

Following a centralized model, a specific department within the organization will be responsible for the intranet. This same department will be responsible for the setup, design, and administration of your intranet servers. The department will also be responsible for creating the necessary publications and applications based on user requests.

With a centralized model, there will usually be a formal approval process for new publications, applications and services. This means that if the Human Resources department wanted an application to track employee files, a formal request would be required. Once the request is approved, the intranet developers would work with Human Resources to create the application. The problem with centralized control and formal approval processes is that they put creativity and timeliness in thumbscrews. Can you imagine having to get formal approval to change the dates in an intranet published memo?

Following a decentralized model, each department within the organization is responsible for its section of the intranet. All departments that want to create intranet services will have to set up, design and administer their own intranet servers. Each department will also be responsible for creating the publications and applications used by the department.

When you use a decentralized model, you cut out the formal approval process for new publications, applications, and services. This means anyone can create intranet resources. Greater freedom and few controls means that new services can be set up quickly by anyone who wants to set them up. This freedom and lack of controls can also lead to abuse of the intranet resources. Who do you blame when someone publishes potentially offensive material or when the usefulness of the intranet deteriorates because so much junk has been created?

By adopting elements of both the centralized and decentralized model that fit the needs of the organization, you might be able to balance the need for strict control with the need for creativefreedom. For example, you could create an intranet with a centralized Web server that links together departmental servers. The IS staff would be responsible for maintaining the central server and updating links to resources throughout the organization. The individual departments would be responsible for maintaining their own servers. To ensure the intranet is not abused, one person within each department could be responsible for that department's intranet resources.

Creating Content for Your Intranet

The real stars on your intranet are the applications you plan to develop. Still, you will need content for your intranet. Most of your content will be in the form of hypertext documents thatare served by your Web server and displayed by your chosen Web browser.

As you consider the type of content you want to publish on your intranet, think about how you will organize that content. You can organize hypertext documents in many ways. The structure thatis best for a particular document depends on the complexity of the material you plan to present. As complexity increases, you manage it by adopting a more advanced structuring method. Specificdesign models for hypertext documents include:

  • Linear
  • Linear with alternative paths
  • Hierarchical
  • Combinations of linear and hierarchical
  • Integrated web

For a small document with limited complexity, a simple structure is often best. Simple structures include linear and linear with alternative paths. The simplest way to structure a hypertext document is in a linear fashion. Using a pure linear structure, you can create a hypertext publication with a structure resembling a traditional print publication. Readers move forward and backward in sequence through the pages of the publication.

An alternative path structure gives readers more options or paths through a document. By providing alternative paths, you make the structure of the publication more flexible. Instead ofbeing able to move only forward and backward through the publication, readers can follow a branch from the main path. In a linear structure the branches will rejoin the main path at some point.

The hierarchical structure is the most logical structure for a publication of moderate complexity. In this structure, you organize the publication into a directory tree. Readers can navigate through the publication, moving from one level of the publication to the next, more detailed, level of the publication. They can also go up the tree from the detailed level to a higher level and possibly jump to the top level.

The directory tree closely resembles the way you store files on your hard drive in a main directory with subdirectories leading to files. You could also think of the hierarchy as a representation of an actual tree. If you invert the tree, the trunk of the tree would be the top level of the publication. The trunk could be the overview of the publication. The large boughs leading from the trunk would be the next level of the document structure. The boughs could be article overview pages. Branches leading from the boughs would be the next level, or the pages within articles.

A combined linear and hierarchical structure is one of the most used forms for hypertext publications. This is because it is an extremely flexible, but still highly structuredmethod. Readers can move forward and backward through individual pages. They can navigate through the various levels of the publication by moving up a level or descending to the next level. They can also follow parallel paths through the document.

The most complex structuring method is the integrated web. This method lets the reader follow multiple paths from many options. This is a good method to use when you want the reader to be able to browse or wander many times through the publication you have created. Each time through the publication, readers will probably discover something new.

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