Magazine article CMA - the Management Accounting Magazine

Not without the Net

Magazine article CMA - the Management Accounting Magazine

Not without the Net

Article excerpt

A biotechnology company uses it as a kind of on-line employee handbook that provides information on everything from human resources and benefits policies to corporate announcements. An aircraft maker employs it as a faster, cheaper alternative for delivering daily service bulletins to customers. A computer firm relies on it for sharing project information among international offices and for keeping far-flung salespeople up-to-date on product and market data. "It" is an intranet: an Internet-based technology that is gaining currency among organizations as a cheaper and more flexible alternative to traditional electronic commerce and information-sharing, both within and outside the corporate walls.

"A private Internet" might be one way of describing this technology. Like slipping up a dark-glass partition in a limousine, an intranet allows the organization to effectively wall off its own chunk of the Internet Safely shielded from external view behind its electronic "firewall," the organization conducts its private, internal applications from e-mail to document sharing to newsgroups. At the same time, users maintain their external connections through the public Internet, and can even allow selective access into the intranet for their business partners alongside more traditional forms of business-to-business communications like fax and electronic data interchange.

Armed with nothing more sophisticated than a fleet of desktop computers, an Internet hookup and the appropriate server and browser software, a company can operate an internal network offering a variety of features. One of the most high-profile examples is the network operated by worldwide computer giant Hewlett-Packard. With connections to about 400 sites around the globe, this is "one of the largest private TCP/IP networks in the world," says Beatrice Masini, director of marketing for Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Ltd. Here in Canada, the company uses the system for a variety of functions:

* Gone are the kinds of costly publications that the company once used for communicating with employees on a range of fronts, from job postings to benefit and pension information to salary administration to performance evaluation. "It used to take about six months and cost a lot of money; we spent tens of thousands of dollars per year on corporate communications," says Toronto account manager Dave McDonnell, recalling the system that saw the company contract-out production of reams of paper documents. "When [federal Finance Minister] Paul Martin or [former human resources minister] Lloyd Axworthy gets up and says, 'This is the way it is,' we've just obsoleted our entire six-month process that cost us all that money to get out." Instead the company requires only a couple of days to prepare the same kinds of communications for transmission over the wires to the desktops of its roughly 500 employees cross-Canada. Hardly a one-way street, the system will also enable employees to communicate with head office for, say, filling out health reimbursement claims or expense accounts, according to Masini.

* The same kinds of arguments hold for providing product information to the company's customers. Rather than rely on glossy publications that suffered from built-in obsolescence and whose maintenance required a small library, salespeople and customer service employees can simply find the up-to-date product information they need simply and quickly on their intranet. Beyond Hewlett-Packard's own products, the system offers ready access to competitive information. That's a boon to people like McDonnell, who face the challenge of generating enough new account revenue in order to offset the impact of falling hardware prices. "We need access to quick information and we need to offer more information to customers. Without intranet technology, we wouldn't stand a chance."

* In product development, the technology knits together engineers in various locations. The company can use the intranet to organize project workflow and document management for concurrent engineering. …

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