Current research shows that there are more internal Web sites than external Web sites. The explosive growth of internal Web servers is due to a number of reasons. Among these reasons is the fact that the protocols are open, meaning anyone can develop applications for them. Another reason is the fact that the Web is cross platform and client/server, two technologies that companies have been after for a long time.
These internal Web sites, or intranets, have different uses, goals, and measures of effectiveness than Internet sites.
The Web's open standards account for much of its tremendous growth. For example, TCP/IP is an open standard, which makes it widely available; it's also one of the mostly widely used networking systems and is the protocol used by the World Wide Web. It is used by NNTP (UseNet), FTP (file transfers), and SMTP (e-mail).
The protocol used to deliver WWW pages, HTTP, is also an open standard. This has enabled many companies to create both servers and clients. There is currently client/server software available for almost every platform: DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows 95, Windows NT, Macintosh, VMS, and almost every version of UNIX imaginable.
HTML, the language that makes the Web come alive, is also an open standard. This makes it possible for people to write converters and editors that create HTML files. You can find converters for Microsoft Word, FrameMaker, LATEX, and UNIX man pages. The converters make it easy to convert existing documents to HTML. There are also many HTML editors for various platforms, which makes it easy to create new pages. Chapter 39, "Essential Tools, Gadgets, and Resources," covered tools to assist you in creating or converting HTML documents.
An intranet is a network designed for internal use. This network might contain many different servers and services. Intranet servers commonly contain confidential company information, such as new projects or sales lists. The internal Web site may include links to the external Web site and may also include links outside the company. The main use of an intranet is to make employees' jobs easier.
An intranet can also be used to describe any supporting programs or protocols. The supporting programs may be e-mail (SMTP), internal newsgroups (NNTP), or any other protocols that run over the internal network. These programs enhance the Web server and enable it to work with existing software.
Intranets are commonly tied into existing groupware applications such as Lotus Notes and Attachmate's Open Mind. Both products have tie-ins to the Web and can be integrated fairly easily into an enterprise-wide plan. These characteristics make it possible to leverage an existing groupware solution with an intranet.
Intranet customers are the employees of the company who use the
internal Web site. They might be engineers who store project documentation
on a Web server. Other
customers may include salespeople taking advantage of the Web's power to distribute competitive information, MIS technicians notifying users of a network outage, or people in the finance department letting people know the quarterly sales figures.
The customers are varied and may have different requirements to be able to use the internal network. A department may want or need its own server, some departments may require a directory tree on the main server, and others may just need a page or two.
Internal users are more interested in getting their jobs done than having the "coolest" site around. This doesn't mean you can't have graphics or other new applications, it just means that you shouldn't use them just because they are available. Of course, the same applies to sites on external servers.
Employees need information in a quick and organized fashion; information on an external site should be easy to find. This information may include directions for performing certain functions, computer-based training, the status on certain projects, competitive information, or any sort of information currently found in paper documents.
By using an intranet, employees can easily share changes in the information in text files-if one user changes his or her text file, everyone else's copy of that text file is immediately changed as well. This is cost effective because edited copies don't need to be printed and distributed. Also, using an internal Web server allows documents to contain a level of interaction that isn't possible in printed formats, such as group annotation or discussion. Web browsers are also easy to use and are independent of the underlying operating system.
In the following section, you learn what some industry leaders are doing to make their internal communication easier by using an intranet.
Many companies are starting to deploy internal Web servers. A company may start an internal Web server just to keep a simple listing of useful sites but may quickly outgrow the single Web server and need to expand to many different Web servers. The following sections give examples of some companies that benefit from intranets.
Sun has always been one of the technology leaders. For years, the people at Sun have had the view that "The network is the computer," so it is not surprising that they have one of the largest intranets around.
Sun has over a thousand internal Web servers and publishes approximately a quarter of a million electronic pages. The whole company (12,000 employees) uses e-mail to communicate, much like other companies use a fax machine. Sun employees are also familiar with FTP and UseNet.
Sun's internal site is linked to its massive external site (http://www.sun.com), and employees and customers frequently use the same tools. The internal site is grouped into four categories: corporate information, group information and documentation, applications and tools, and support and miscellaneous.
The corporate information category contains a server for Human Resources, which has Saltool, an automated system for helping managers process an employee's review; an employee training server (with online registration); an online expense report form; and a company newsletter called Illuminations.
Illuminations used to be a paper-based publication but is now Web-based. Because the printing and distributing have been removed, the editors can more quickly update stories-current versions of the newsletter may cover events that happened only a few days prior. Sun estimates that the Web version costs only one-third of the printed version and can be updated instantly.
Sun also uses real-time audio to create WSUN radio. This real-time application broadcasts to all the workstations in the company and is often used to demonstrate the power of Sun machines to clients. Scott McNealy, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, has a monthly radio program in which he talks about upcoming events and interviews Sun personalities and customers.
Sun also has quarterly meetings of all the top executives at which they discuss new technologies and company issues. Rather then having separate meetings to let all the employees know what is going on, they put the minutes of the executive meeting on a Web page, and they allow employees to download demonstrations shown in the meeting. Employees around the world can keep current on what is happening in the company.
On its Investor relations page, Sun has a secure link to an outside Web page that contains competitive information. This information includes executive summaries, quarterly releases, and graphs comparing revenue growth, margins, market capitalization, and other financial measurements.
In the group information category, Sun has a Sales and Marketing server. This server contains information such as price sheets and product listings. The price sheets also have hypertext links to related and compatible products, enabling its sales staff to offer customers multiple solutions to their problems. This server also has links to technical specifications and other marketing material.
Sun also has servers dedicated to various documentation, such as system design goals, specifications, and procedures. There are servers dedicated to hardware specifications, software specifications, and other information. Sun's field engineer handbook is online; field engineers can search it for the latest information on problems they might encounter. Problems are also listed on this server, and any parts that need to be replaced are ordered through this area. This capability helps design engineers build more reliable products by identifying which components hold up better in the field.
Sun's applications and tools server contains engineering and bug information as well as any Sun patches. Sun has connected its external server to this area, allowing customers to search for a known bug and download the patch to fix it-seven days a week and twenty-four hours a day. This area also has different test tools and other useful tools available to Sun employees.
The support and miscellaneous area contains the Sun network survival kit, internal support documents, and an image server. This area acts as a central point for Sun employees to get instructions on how to use different internal applications; it also gives employees lists of information available outside the Sun network.
National Semiconductor has an extensive intranet in place. It uses its internal network to enable employees to find answers to customers questions; the intranet also enables customers to search the parts database from a link on the external site (http:// www.nsc.com).
National's internal Web servers bring different groups together, enabling them to work closely with each other. Some of these groups currently do not work together, but they use the intranet to brainstorm ideas or discuss new products. This capability allows experts in different fields to discuss problems regardless of where they are located geographically.
The internal Web server has also inspired people to be more creative, encouraging them to view problems from a different perspective and free their imaginations. Employees are starting to look at better ways of doing things and are implementing new ideas faster. Employees also seem more willing to share ideas over the Web.
It's easier for the employees at National to develop new applications using HTML because they can develop for UNIX, Macintosh, and PC platforms at once. Employees can quickly try out new ideas across the company and make new technology available to everyone faster than before.
Because National has offices in different time zones, communication is often a problem; using the Web helps make it easier to share ideas or get feedback from employees although they are on different schedules. An employee can draw up a page and let someone look at it and comment on it while at home-no one has to come in early or stay late to discuss projects.
Tying in its internal databases with its external site enables customers to access information 24 hours a day. National uses a Java-based search engine so that its entire parts database can be searched in under three minutes.
Historically, sales representatives talk to purchasing agents in a company and sometimes have a hard time getting feedback from the engineers using the product. Using the power of the WWW, engineers can talk directly to the national representatives, or engineers at national. This enhanced communications can help both companies develop better products.
Businesses in the technical fields aren't the only companies that can use an intranet to help their business run more smoothly. Cushman & Wakefield (http://www.cushwake.com) is a major real estate firm with headquarters in New York City. It has 700 brokers working in 30 different countries, and they all need current information. Before the intranet, this was an almost impossible task; however, with WWW technology, the brokers now can get up-to-the-minute information on a variety of topics.
The Web server has sections dedicated to industry news, research services, and useful off-site resources. The industry news section helps keep the brokers current on what is happening in the real estate world. The research services and off-site references sections enable brokers to find information not currently available on their servers.
There is also a link to a broker tools section, which contains information on new sales leads and information on current clients. Brokers can use this section to become familiar with a client before actually meeting the client. There are also sections on travel and weather, and there's a discussion room for brokers to discuss various topics. In this discussion room, brokers share ideas, talk about various properties, and discuss upcoming events.
The most popular feature of Cushman & Wakefield's Web site is SiteSolutions (SM). This is its proprietary database that contains information on properties in 40 U.S. markets, covering over two billion square feet. This is fully searchable and enables the broker to search on market type, city, space, and rent.
After filling out the search criteria, the broker gets a list of properties that fit the search. The properties in the list are hypertext links to another page, which contains information on the property such as price, total square feet, year built, and other statistics. This page may also include a picture of the property or other information. There might be a link to a floor plan or more detailed information, such as security information, parking, type of heating/air conditioning, and electric rates.
All this information at a broker's fingertips makes for a very impressive demonstration of how serious Cushman & Wakefield are about the real estate market. Using a WWW browser also enables the brokers to access new information as it becomes available on the main Web site.
You have seen how some companies are using internal Web applications to make communication between employees easier, cheaper, and faster; these are just a few examples of what can be done with an intranet.
There are an almost unlimited number of goals that can be accomplished using an intranet server, but they generally fall under three categories: publishing, interacting, or discussing. The next few sections discuss these three groups of applications and give some real life examples of them.
Publishing applications are applications that enable one person to talk to a group of people. Groups can quickly share information between others in a quick and concise manner. Publishing applications enable companies to see an immediate payback because they can cut the cost of printing and distributing company information.
Salespeople need accurate information to make a sale; unfortunately, it is not possible to use printed material and have the most up-to-date information available out in the field. Inaccurate information can cause lost sales. A great use of the WWW is to get sales information to the salespeople in the field in real time. As soon as a page changes, the sales staff has the update; they have current product information wherever they are.
Another great benefit is having competitive data immediately available that can help a salesperson convince a customer that his product or company is better than another product or company. Having a competitive analysis available online for all the outside support staff helps them realize the benefits of their product over someone else's.
It is also a good idea to have a list of upcoming announcements available to help the sales department plan for the future. Knowing when a new product is going to be available can help the customer make better choices.
The sales department isn't the only group that can use the power of Web publishing to make its job easier; customer support can also use this medium. Product announcements, special promotions, and availability lists can all be published on the Web so representatives can find the information easily.
The development team also needs up-to-date information to perform its functions. Team members need to be kept current on management issues such as project schedules and deadlines. Product specifications and designs are useful; so is a listing of competitive products and customer feedback. Hardware design teams can post a list of approved components and their specifications available online, while software teams can post a list of prewritten modules and the specifications required to use them.
Human resource employees may have the most information to publish because one of their jobs is to keep employees informed of company issues. An online employee handbook is a good first step. Other documents may include insurance policy handbooks, benefit lists, job postings, and company goals. Most of these documents are currently reprinted yearly, meaning that data in these documents may be several months old. Using a Web document instead of a printed manual allows for immediate changes at almost no additional charge.
Finance department employees may also want to publish quarterly sales figures as well as other financial data. Not everyone should be allowed to see financial data, so it may be important to have security on these pages. Purchasing department employees may want to have a list of supplies that are in stock and their prices, allowing people in other departments to know what supplies are available and at what cost so that they can budget properly.
MIS employees may want to publish lists of services that are available,
such as printer types and locations, file systems, and applications.
Other things the MIS department may want to publish are scheduled
downtime and contact lists. Having this sort of information available
to everyone can make problems easier to deal with because people
will be warned of shutdowns and have someone to call if there
is an unplanned outage.
Publishing applications are HTML documents that enable one person to reach a group of people. These documents can be simple static HTML pages, PostScript files, or images. The easiest way to start using publishing applications is to review the company literature in the office. Any piece of literature can be converted to an electronic format and posted to the Web server. Publishing electronically also enables you to hypertext link pages together; for example, in the employee handbook, you could discuss the company 401K plan and include a link to a more detailed explanation of the plan. Be careful when hyper-linking so that you don't create a maze of links that point nowhere. Use the techniques described in Part I of this book, "Writing Great HTML," to help make sure your site is designed logically.
Interactive applications are used to communicate between two people or programs. These programs are the link to traditional legacy systems. They enable users to search for records from a database, request a report, or submit a proposal. Interactive applications are the workhorses of the intranet and are limited only by your imagination.
Salespeople may use interactive applications to get a price quote for a particular customer or to check if an item is in stock. Interactive applications can also be used to search for a particular solution to a customer problem; for example, a builder may want information on different ways to build a house. He could use the Web to read about how other people have done the same thing using new products or to see images or video of the new products in use.
Salespeople may also be able to download new brochures or demos using the intranet so that they always have the most current information. They may also be able to generate new sales leads from the sales database or add new contacts to the sales database. They should also be able to order new literature for customers online.
Using a customer support database could enable phone support personnel to query a company-wide knowledge base and quickly find the solution to a problem. Applications could also be tied into existing databases to query ship dates, check stock, or check credit inquiries. Using Web technology, a company could build an entire customer support system that could be available for use from a single browser.
Development teams may be able to use interactive forms to post test results or to asmËfor a specific test to be run. They could also use a form to request a patent and have the paperwork submitted to the correct departments. Interactive applications can also be used to build a parts database and enable designers to search for a specific part.
Human resources personnel could use interactive applications to enable employees to check their remaining vacation or sick time. Employees could also submit their time sheets, request benefit changes, or enroll in new plans such as 401K. Using secure forms, managers could submit employee performance reviews.
Finance department employees could use interactive applications to query the accounting records, check credit for a company, or enable employees to check financial information. Interactive forms can be used to enable departments to order supplies from the purchasing department and consolidate all the orders into a single bulk order.
Controlling assets is another good use of the Web. Having a database of excess equipment or outdated machinery can help in many ways. A 486 IBM-compatible computer might be too slow to do CAD designs but plenty fast enough for a data-entry person to use. Having a searchable database of unused equipment can make it easy for departments to use each others' old equipment.
MIS employees can use interactive forms to enable managers to
request new accounts or network changes. They can also build dynamic
pages to enable users to view a print queue, view network performance,
or perform backups. Internal support personnel can build a knowledge
base and allow users to search it for common problems. Users can
also submit requests and receive online training over the intranet.
Someone could combine interactive forms with a database to create
a problem tracking database. This database could have e-mail notification
to the proper system analyst to fix the problem, as well as online
Interactive applications help to tie in existing systems. They enable users to search databases, add information, run reports, or any sort of action. Creating interactive applications often requires CGI programming, server-side includes, and Java.
When creating interactive applications, you may want to mimic the existing look and feel to make people more comfortable using it. After they get used to the browser, though, you can easily change it to something that makes more sense. For example, you can use frames to have multiple "screens" up at once.
Discussion applications are used for group communications. This type of application may enable groups to communicate with other groups or within the same group. Examples are local newsgroups, mailing lists, and chat rooms. These applications enable groups to discuss various aspects of their jobs and can result in less time spent in meetings or flying to remote offices.
Sales department employees may want to have discussions on new products. They could discuss with the engineering people what customers like and dislike about current products; they can also get feedback on new ways to use existing products. Sales people may want to discuss selling techniques that work well with different customers and ways to outsell competitors' products. Marketing personnel can also get an idea of which marketing programs are working well and which ones need to be changed.
Customer service employees can discuss various common problems and ways to solve them. These discussions can serve as an early warning sign of a more widespread problem. Managers may want to pay attention to recurring problems that customer service employees keep seeing and then try to address them in future products.
Developers can use discussion rooms to brainstorm new ideas with other developers or with sales and marketing people. Using a common forum can allow developers in different areas to share ideas and problems and formulate a group solution. This type of forum can help experts get input on local problems or offer advice to people in other offices.
Human resource departments can have an area for employees to discuss different policies. This is a good way to find out about employee concerns before they become problems. Groups of people can get information on a specific topic by using discussion groups. For example, the human resources department could develop a newsgroup or mailing list dedicated to employees enrolled in 401K; when a 401K-related announcement needs to be made, HR could send it to this list or group.
Purchasing department personnel could use discussion rooms to talk about alternative products to use. For example, it might be possible to get 1/4-watt resistors cheaper then 1/8-watt resistors, but the purchasing department would need to know if this is feasible. Discussing this with engineering might allow them to save money and still have an acceptable part. The purchasing department could also use a discussion forum to discuss problems with purchased goods. An example would be letting the purchasing agent know that a number of defective floppy disks have come in.
MIS groups can set up discussions to allow users to help with
each others' problems and reduce the number of support calls.
A good example would be a local Windows newsgroup that enables
users to ask and answer questions, resulting in fewer calls to
the support desk and more time to address more serious problems.
Discussion applications can also be used to discuss changes and
address concerns users may have, such as security or privacy issues.
Chat rooms, newsgroups, mailing lists, and discussion groups can be very productive. They can allow disparate groups to effectively discuss new ideas or current problems. Open discussion can also help a company realize potential problems before they reach a critical stage.
Discussion applications can become a problem if they start to constantly get off the topic. A little bit of free discussion, however, can help boost morale and help employees be more creative. If every time the conversation drifts slightly away from work-related topics a warning is issued, employees will start to feel as if "Big Brother" is watching, and morale may suffer.
In Chapter 15, "Performance Tradeoffs: Keeping Chat Messages in Memory," you learned the difference between a publisher and a carrier and the legal consequences of each. The legal problems in the intranet are just as real as on the external site, and it is important for the company to have a policy covering the legal issues.
Intranets are geared towards a different type of customer. An intranet is not used to sell products but to sell ideas. Much like encouraging users to learn a new system, motivating them to appreciate the intranet applications takes time and patience; however, after a few people start experimenting and appreciating what can be done, the intranet will take off.
Intranet servers differ from external Web servers in other aspects as well. Some design considerations that restrict what can be done with external sites can be lessened with an intranet. These considerations are covered in the next sections.
Many companies have links to the Internet using 56-Kbps lines, others have T-1 (1.54-Mbps) or higher lines. Others have dial-up links, which are much slower. The customers dialing into the Internet commonly have dial-up links at 14.4 Kbps. When designing a Web site for external use, it is necessary to remember that large graphics or even large pages take some time to download. (This was covered in Chapters 4, "Designing Faster Sites," and 5, "Designing Graphics for the Web.")
Internal networks commonly run ethernet, which runs at 10 Mbps,
or token ring, which runs at either 4 Mbps or 16 Mbps. Both internal
network speeds are much faster than the speed at which information
can travel over the Internet. There are also other network topologies
such as FDDI, which runs at 100 Mbps, or ATM, which can run at
speeds from 25 Mbps to 622 Mbps. These network speeds enable larger
graphics to load in a fraction of the time it takes to download
over a modem.
Network topologies can vary inside a corporate network. WAN links are often as slow as an Internet link, and some users may still be dialing into the LAN over modems. A detailed network map showing how the different departments are tied into the backbone will prove to be invaluable when you are designing your intranet (see Fig. 43.1).
Figure 43.1: Having a network map will prove to be useful when deciding where to place you server.
For example, say you have a 60K graphic. Downloading this graphic
over the Internet using a 14.4 Kbps modem takes about a minute;
over a normal Ethernet link, it takes less than a second.
These times are for reference only.b The actual time will vary depending on the network speed and the processing speed of both the server and client.
This is not to say you can ignore the size of graphics on intranets, but graphics can be used a little less conservatively than with an Internet server. Graphics should still not be abused, but a good use of graphics might make sense to enhance an explanation, such as an illustration showing how to replace toner in a laser printer.
High-speed networks might make other applications more feasible as well. In Chapter 35, "How to Add Video," you learned about video and why it should not be used in an Internet environment. Because the bandwidth is much higher, it might make more sense to use real-time video conferencing on your intranet. Video conferencing can often add a more personal touch and can allow remote users to feel like part of the team. People in remote sales offices can see various products work, engineers can have remote meetings, and marketing people can show a new presentation to all the salespeople at once.
Even at 10 Mbps ethernet speed, many video conferences can bring the network to a crawl. Careful use of video can make sense, but the network must be carefully monitored to make sure it is not overburdened. Using switched networks instead of shared networks can help reduce resource hogging, but switched networks tend to be much more expensive and harder to maintain. Switched networks are covered in a later section.
Real-time audio is another alternative that might make more sense on an intranet than on the Internet. Like video, audio can make a normal presentation more lifelike. A personal speech from the president running over the network can be used to motivate employees or let remote users be aware of corporate changes.
Audio, like video, can put a strain on slower WAN links; many sessions can slow down a shared network such as ethernet. Again, going to a switched network can help because each user has a dedicated pipe to the backbone or to each other.
When designing an intranet, always try to put your servers as close to the users as possible; this is especially important if one group is on another side of a WAN link (see Fig. 43.2). If you have multiple groups using the same server, try to place the server as close to the backbone as possible; this will allow the most people to get the best bandwidth (see Fig. 43.3).
Figure 43.2:Place the server as close to the users as possible.
Figure 43.3: For multiple groups, put the server on the backbone.
Network speed is controlled by bandwidth and latency. Bandwidth is how much information can be sent at once, for example, 56 Kbps. Latency is how long it takes to get each piece of information to its destination, for example, 26 ms (milliseconds). Latency is con-trolled mostly by the number of "hops," and distance traveled while bandwidth is controlled by the speed of the connection.
There are several utilities that can help measure latency and bandwidth. Ping, which is used to see if a host is reachable or not, usually has an option to report how much time the response took. In SunOS4.1.x you can specify ping with the -s option to see round- trip time. On a locally connected ethernet you may see times of 1-2 ms, depending on the load. Over a slower WAN link, you may see 200-300 ms; over the Internet, you can see times in the 1,000 ms range.
Traceroute is another package useful for tracking latency and hops. It shows all the network routers between you and the remote host and the time it took to get a response.
Most versions of FTP tell you how long it took to download a file. This is an effective measurement of the speed; however, unless you are the only one using the link, it doesn't report accurate numbers on total bandwidth.
Shared networks such as ethernet have a specific bandwidth that must be shared among all the users of that segment. So, if you have 10 Mbps available and 10 users accessing it at once, you only have 1 Mbps per user. Switched networks are different because each user gets the full bandwidth. In the previous example, each of the 10 users would get 10 Mbps of bandwidth.
Shared networks are much cheaper and more common. Because they are more common, more people are familiar with them, and troubleshooting is often easier. Switched networks are faster and more expensive but because they aren't as common, not as many people use and troubleshoot them.
Another important design factor to consider when developing Internet sites is which browsers are used by customers. In Chapter 3, "Deciding What to Do About Netscape," you learned about the Netscape extensions and the trade-off of using these new technologies. With an intranet, you can set a corporate standard browser and design specifically for that.
Designing a site with frames can make life easier for a customer using a frames-capable browser, but it can be confusing for someone without such a browser-if it isn't done carefully. The same is true internally. However, if the standard is for a browser that can handle frames, it makes sense to use that browser to allow for easier navigation. Figure 43.4 shows a page using frames.
Figure 43.4: A page that uses frames.
Standardizing on a sophisticated browser with e-mail and UseNet support, such as Netscape Navigator, can make other decisions easy. Hypertext links in e-mail are easy to use because you just have to click the link to go to it, instead of having to cut and paste between e-mail and your browser. The same holds true for UseNet postings. The standardization makes it easier for employees to understand and use.
Also, standardizing on a browser that understands Java allows you to develop applets that perform complex functions without bogging down the main server. Using Java can make distributed client/server applications easy to build and maintain. Because they are distributed each time they are used, upgrades to applets are easy to do; because they run on the client, there is less load on the server.
Just as important as the browser are the viewers. Standard viewers can make it easier for the designer to decide which formats can be used.
Choosing a PostScript viewer can make adding static pages even easier because almost every word processor program can save or print to a PostScript file. As long as the users can write to the Web server area, they can add their own documents without having to learn HTML. There is a free PostScript viewer package called Ghostscript. There is also a package called Ghostview that works with Ghostscript and is more user friendly. They are free of charge and are available for most platforms.
Another good viewer is Adobe's Acrobat Acroread. Acroread allows the viewing of PDF files, which are similar to PostScript because they allow precise formatting-unlike HTML, which has very basic formatting. Acroread is free and is available for PC, Macintosh, and UNIX systems.
Of course, if you have just one type of platform in use, say Microsoft
Windows, you may want to stick to viewers specific to that platform.
Using Wordview for Windows allows anyone with Microsoft Windows
to view or print Word files. If everyone in the company uses the
same application to create and print files, it might make sense
to use that
application for the standard viewer. For example, if everyone in your company uses FrameMaker, it makes sense to save static documents as FrameMaker documents and configure everyone to use FrameMaker as a viewer for it.
There is also a free viewer called FrameReader that can be downloaded from ftp.frame.com in the /pub/techsup/product_updates directory. There are versions for DOS, Macintosh, and UNIX ( SunOS, Solaris, and HP ).
It is possible to define a new MIME-type and develop a specific program to view a file. For example, if your company distributes a software package that works with .GKR files, you could create a special MIME-type and configure your viewer to automatically start when it gets a .GKR file. The ability to add custom viewers is one of the most useful features of WWW browsers.
When using real-time audio or video, a special viewer is required. When designing an external site, it is necessary to assume that the user has these viewers configured properly. In an intranet, it is possible to verify that viewers are available and set up properly.
It may not be possible or convenient to use one browser for the entire company. In these cases, you may need to have separate browsers per group. For example, one department may be using VT100 terminals over RS-232 links. These terminals don't allow the viewing of graphics, so these users will require a text-only viewer such as Lynx, while another department might have UNIX workstations that can handle a wide variety of graphic formats. It probably wouldn't make sense to standardize on a text-only browser because some groups may need graphics to perform their jobs. In this case, you might decide to support multiple browsers in the company.
An internal Web site is built differently than an external site and has different objectives. An external site is designed to allow customers to learn about the company, its products, and its goals. An internal site is designed to allow employees to get the information they need to do their jobs.
External sites need to attract customers and guide them through the site to the end, which ideally results in a sale. However, internal sites must be able to give the employee the information she is after in a format she can use.
To make migrating easier, you may want to set up an internal site to mimic existing screens. An existing menu usually can quite easily be duplicated in an HTML page with links corresponding to different menu picks. Input screens can also be re-created in an HTML form. This helps users get familiar with the browser while keeping the same look and feel to the system.
After users get familiar with the browser, you may want to change the forms or make the output contain hypertext links to other information. For example, a bill of materials (BOM) could have links to a description of each part. This would make it easier than having to look up a part in a BOM and then go back to a menu to select the part. You may also want to create a frames interface to allow multiple menus to be up at once. For example, in the last example you could have had the BOM in one frame and the selected part in another.
Keeping the format the same as the existing format is one objective of an internal server. External servers, on the other hand, usually try to incorporate some information from sales brochures and other existing literature.
It is common for the internal server to reference material on the external server. For example, sales will want to be able to access the latest information on the external server; the information should be linked in rather than duplicated on the external server.
External servers are used to gather customers into the company,
and using links from your external site to other resources on
the internal site makes good sense. Internal users don't want
to have to spend all their time searching the Internet for information
relating to their jobs; having a list of related or useful sites
can be helpful. For example, having a link to the FedEx and UPS
pages may be helpful for the purchasing department to check the
status of deliveries.
FedEx (http://www.fedex.com/) and UPS (http://www.ups.com/) both allow customers to track packages over the World Wide Web. FedEx started using its tracking software on its intranet, and it worked so well that it made it available to everyone on the Internet (see Fig. 43.5).
Figure 43.5: Using the FedEx site to track a package.
External sites need to attract customers from across the Internet, and doing so requires your site to be an outstanding resource. It needs to offer something special to convince people to use it. Internal Web sites aren't used to attract new customers but to deliver information to employees, which tends to make internal sites more "bare bones" and content-intensive than external sites. For example, external sites may have contests or other techniques to get customers to stop in and check out the site. Employees already have a reason to use the Web site, so they don't need to be convinced to visit.
At some point, managers are going to want to see a return on their investment in the Web server. Having this information available will make your job more enjoyable. Return on investment can be calculated by viewing dollars saved, dollars earned, or other value gained. External sites generally prove their worth in sales dollars. They can also be used to gather a sales database by having customers fill out a request for more information. These are fairly easy to measure and to prove. External sites also perform other critical roles, such as marketing or public relations. Internal sites, however, are not quite as easy to prove as profitable. One way to do this is to determine how much money is saved by not having to print and redistribute information. It commonly costs thousands of dollars to print and distribute the company handbook alone, and that is only a part of the documentation that can be made available online.
The time it takes for employees to find information is another way to measure a site's effectiveness. If an employee is looking for another department's phone number, it can take up to a minute to get the phone list and search through it to find the right number. Using a Web tool, an employee can easily find the user's name in just a few seconds; in addition, he can search by extension or first name. Searching through a printed phone list is time-consuming and wasteful. Proving how much time is saved is unfortunately not easy to do, and often the best you can do is estimate.
Using the Web for an asset management tool can be a good way to prove that it is paying for itself. The purchasing department can generate reports on which equipment was reused in the company and give an immediate dollar value on how much was saved.
Many product ideas come from brainstorming, and the Web enables many different departments to get in on the action. Getting different departments talking together can lead to many new and innovative ideas. For example, sales may have an idea for a combination of products that engineering may have dismissed as useless. By interacting over the intranet, they may have discovered a useful product.
By using an HTML front end, you can create applications more quickly because one application runs on different platforms. This can save considerable time when creating your own front-end programs. By having a list of frequently asked questions or a searchable knowledge base, calls to a support center can be reduced. The number of accesses to the knowledge base can be found by analyzing the httpd logs. This is discussed in Chapter 42, "Processing Logs and Analyzing Site Use." Having online computer-based training (CBT) can also save time by reducing training costs. CBT allows users to work through applications at their own pace, without the cost of a trainer. CBT can be used to teach employees how to use new applications, fix common problems, or use other equipment.