By Greengard, Samuel
Personnel Journal , Vol. 74, No. 6
Companies that have created internal web sites are saving time and cutting costs by training employees to use these one-stop information sources.
Anyone who has browsed the Internet's World Wide Web knows just how alluring--and powerful--the journey can be. Graphics, video, audio and text provide a multimedia experience that's difficult to match. You can read about IBM and its products while viewing photographs or videos; you can download a White House report or tour the Louvre and look at its art. Remarkably, the Web's hypertext links make it possible to navigate a whopping 3.2 million host computers in 70 countries--without cryptic commands or complicated log-in procedures. It's sort of like being at the World's Fair: You're able to visit faraway places or interesting exhibits without the jet lag and stomach problems.
"It's the transparency of the process that makes it so effective," says Greg Sands, a product manager for Netscape Communications Inc., the Mountain View, California-based firm that produces highly popular software for navigating the wild frontier of cyberspace. "The appeal of the World Wide Web is that it's possible to access data far more efficiently than through conventional networks. For the user, everything is in one place and there's no need to go anywhere else. There's no need to learn access codes and commands for a half a dozen or more systems."
That's an important point, and one that's attracting the attention of a growing number of companies. If the World Wide Web--a loosely structured network of computers that are connected globally and offer hypertext links to one another--can facilitate communication so effectively in the general world, then why can't the same structure work within a company? Why can't employees browse an internal web site, one that's inaccessible to people and computers outside the company's network, to access relevant data--particularly in the to field of human resources? Fact is, they can. And a growing wave of companies--including Sun Microsystems, Motorola and Cisco Systems--are turning to this leading-edge technology to solve many of the problems that have long burdened HR. They're venturing into new territory that allows employees to access information, fill out forms and change records with little or no human intervention. "Enterprise computing is an extremely important application of web technology," says Sands. "It's revolutionizing the way companies operate. On most networks, people simply don't access all the information that's available. People don't know where it is, or wind up spending a lot of time logging in and out of systems to get the information. As a result, everyone keeps inventing the wheel over and over or spins his or her wheels trying to figure it out. A web makes it all transparent. You simply go to a central place and find exactly what you are looking for," he says.
Here a click, there a click. Consider Cisco Systems, Inc., a San Jose, California-based networking company. It uses an internal web site, known as CiscoWeb, to keep its 3,000 employees informed and their records up-to-date, regardless of whether they're working right at headquarters or a continent away in Europe. Using a web navigator called SpyglassTM, they're able to examine benefits information--including preferred providers on the firm's medical plan. They can look up employees in an online directory and access a new-hire survival guide that includes information on everything from the E-mail system to the proper use of voicemail to scheduling meetings. And employees can fill out various electronic forms, including one that updates their address in the organization's files. If an individual doesn't know where to find specific information, he or she can access an online Yellow Pages and White Pages that are capable of conducting keyword searches. "The system transcends equipment and geography," explains Ed Terpening, IS Tools Technology manager for Cisco Systems. …