Human resource information intranets are more than just a newer and better way of communicating with staff. They can be a nice little earner, and are even credited with playing a role in the turnaround of IBM in the 1990s.
Corporate intranets and information portals arrived in the middle of the last decade and are now commonplace at larger organisations.
Now thanks to companies like IBM, newly absorbed Telecom unit esolutions, Oracle and EDS, off-the-shelf intranet solutions are being marketed to small and medium-sized businesses as a quick way of implementing their own system. TelstraClear plans to jump further into the market in the coming year after developing its own systems.
The market is seen as lucrative. After developing its own portal, w3, IBM says industry analysts estimate that key elements of the “e-workplace” market could be worth as much as $US12 billion in 2002, rising to $US53 billion in 2005.
There is a spectrum of intranet products around, says Crispin Garden-Webster, director of Wellington HR consultancy Talent Solutions, with large organisations having extremely sophisticated systems. Garden-Webster, a vice-president of the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand, says business to employee information (known sometimes as B2E) is not just that which would previously have been printed and included in a binder, but online collaboration, recruitment, training, newsgroups and knowledge management.
The driver behind this, he says, is their lower cost and higher speed, and the fact that they replace lengthier and costlier manual and paper-based processes.
In the not-so-distant future, he says, there will be seamless integration between web, email and intranet, allowing the presentation of work in progress, claiming expenses, booking travel and chat groups. There will be more links to external customers, and perhaps even links to kindergartens so that staff can keep an eye on their children. E-recruitment will be part of this change.
Jack Goodman, the global director of IBM’s w3 intranet, says Big Blue’s electronic workplace model, developed in the mid-1990s, has played a crucial role in driving cultural change among the company’s 300,000-plus employees.
Goodman describes w3, now in its seventh edition, as “everything from traditional employee communications, to strategy, to a full suite of HR software applications, health, benefits, expertise”.
In 2001 IBM’s e-workplace went against a longstanding trend by becoming employees’ most credible, preferred and useful source of company information — ahead of managers and co-workers.
Goodman claims changing HR processes and moving to the web reduced costs by 40% and doubled employee satisfaction with HR processes to 92%. It also saved itself close to $US400 million through e-learning as around 43% of classes are now taken online. IBM’s online expert directory, Blue Pages, which provides information about colleagues — their name, contact details, role, manager, department, areas of expertise and details of past projects — has helped save the company about $US10 million.
Goodman says w3 played a crucial role in saving IBM from an expected split-up in the 1990s. It integrated workplaces globally, allowing thousands of people to participate in company matters and stay in contact remotely.
TelstraClear also sees profit in its intranet. In addition to existing systems, it created Tuitui to inform staff of its recent merger, giving them some input into the structure of the new company and the chance to quiz bosses anonymously. Chief executive Rosemary Howard says the firms communications strategy helped the HR integration processes run smoothly and keep the number of unfair dismissal claims to less than a dozen.
The new company sees a potential moneyspinner in selling its expertise to others looking to develop their own intranet sites. It already offers the Envision product small business intranet and content management solutions through ClearNet. The integrated system should lead to intranet solutions that could be portable and offered to medium-sized and large businesses within the next 12 months, says spokesman Ralph Little.
Little says the intranet, which receives around three million hits and 70,000 visitor sessions a month, helps staff understand and achieve the company’s goals and lets management tell staff what is going on while staff can ask company questions directly.
TelstraClear uses the intranet to distribute daily or weekly distribution of company media releases, analysis and industry reports, and host the monthly staff magazine, offering a less formal communication tool for staff.
It provides staff address/contact details, holiday leave, company forms and procedures, a notice board, policies and strategy, company presentations and templates, as well as access to copy logos and brand policies.
Each department administers its own section of the intranet.