By

Have you ever heard co-workers say things like: “I didnt get a copy of that” or “No one told me that”? Do you send internal information to your staff via paper or e-mail, asking everyone to organize the same information at each desk?

An intranet is a mechanism for distributing information within your company quickly, efficiently and at a low cost. Think of it as an internal Web site, displaying pages of agency-specific information through the same Web browser software (such as Internet Explorer) that you use to access information on the Internet.

An intranet allows you to gather all of the critical information you may now be keeping in manuals, on bulletin boards, in desk drawers, in managers filing cabinets or hard drives, and in that certain persons head–all organized into an easy-to-navigate structure. Here are just a few ideas of what can be included in your intranet:

Procedure manuals and departmental workflows.

Agency handbook and employee benefits.

Company-specific notices.

Marketing campaigns, details on new packages and programs offered by your carriers.

Contact directories for your carriers and vendors including their e-mail and Web addresses.

Rating and commission schedules.

Vacation schedules.

Internal forms such as vacation requests, time sheets, supply requisitions, etc.

Links to relevant Web sites such as carriers, trade magazines, and rating services.

Anything else that you would normally distribute to your staff on paper.

The first time I heard of the term intranet was in some writings from a famous computer entrepreneur. He noticed all of the internal forms that his company was maintaining on paper. He sent a memo out to all his employees, asking them to provide him with a copy of each internal form they used. He received close to 2,000 forms back.

He immediately had people create an intranet structure that contained each of these forms, allowing the employees to fill them out on their computers and e-mail to the correct person. After seeing the benefits of this, they started putting all of the other internal information into the intranet.

There are many benefits to publishing this information over a corporate intranet instead of on paper.

One obvious benefit is reduction in distribution costs. What does it cost to copy and distribute new internal information? (Labor, paper, ink and, of course, postage when you have multiple offices). How often does this have to be done? It has been estimated that 18% of corporate material becomes outdated within 30 days (i.e., internal phone lists, procedures, marketing materials, company notices, interoffice memos, etc.).

Costs decrease to virtually nothing when the information is posted on an intranet, and savings increase each time the information is updated.

Another benefit is reduction in information access costs. All of your relevant information is readily available on everyones desktop. Conservatively speaking, if every employee saves 15 minutes a day locating an important procedure or company notice, it can quickly add up to more than 1 hours a week, 5 hours per month, and even 60 hours a year. Wouldnt this time be used more effectively in servicing customers and rounding out accounts?

An intranet can also increase productivity. Having an internal “knowledge base” to refer to will decrease confusion and the need for correcting mistakes, thus reducing your E&O exposure.

With training materials available through the intranet, employees can schedule their own training and even satisfy CEU requirements simply by clicking a link to access online courses. You can use your intranet to keep track of CEU credits for each employee.

Maintaining a central resource for employees to share information and ideas will spark creativity and teamwork, thus decreasing time spent in meetings.

Most companies produce thousands of pages of information every year. Your agency, undoubtedly, is no exception. The amount that you spend on printing, copying and distributing this information is considerable. Then, to add insult to injury, just think about how much of that paper is tossed in the recycling box within hours after its produced.

Here is a standard formula for measuring the return on investment that you would immediately recognize from installing an intranet:

Estimate the cost of reproducing/distributing a single internal document;

Cost it out over four versions of the document (an average for most business documents);

Consider the expense in terms of supplies (paper, ink, postage) and labor;

Consider the revenue-generating advantages of an intranet, with pertinent information immediately available to your sales force (i.e., sales points, information on your competition, etc.), thus increasing their effectiveness and productivity.

If an intranet looks like a wise move, you need to consider whether you should house your intranet on your internal network or out on the Internet.

Housing the intranet internally keeps the speed of accessing that information fairly fast. The downside to this is that people can only access this information when they are in the office or at a location that can access your internal system.

If you have a Web site, you are probably paying for up to 50 megabytes (MB) of disk space. Your Web site may be taking up less than 10MB of disk space, meaning you probably have plenty of space already available on the Internet.

The big question to ask is whether your Web hosting company can create a password-protected folder for your intranet, and whether you will be able to add or change users to that folder as needed. The advantage to this setup is that anyone, with the correct authorization, can access this information.

Creating a simple intranet is not a “technically” difficult process.

First of all, make a commitment–from the top down–that this is an important step toward becoming more efficient, and that the intranet will be used.

Assign a Webmaster, who will be responsible for creating the look and adding the contacts. Talk with each department about what information would be posted. Once people understand the intranet concept, they will begin to see many things that would be useful to be posted on an intranet.

You can get outside help in setting up your intranet or you can buy some Web editing software (i.e., FrontPage) or use Microsoft Word to create an intranet structure.

As your intranet takes shape, be sure to meet on a regular basis to talk about the progress of the intranet and where else it can go.

is president of Newburyport, Mass.-based Intranet Concepts Inc.,
www.intranetconcepts.com, an insurance automation company.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, October 21, 2002. Copyright 2002 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.