By Daniel Blum
Network World, 03/17/97
Intranet software vendors are using guerrilla warfare tactics to infiltrate customers at the departmental level.
This is true, for example, of Worldtalk Corp. and Radnet, Inc., which last week announced an agreement to jointly market their respective NetTalk and WebShare products to customers looking for an open groupware, Internet mail and gateway connectivity suite.
Worldtalk and Radnet believe they can sell their software at the departmental level to managers who want to deploy a solution independently, but know they'll run into flak from the central IT group if they pick the likes of Lotus Development Corp.'s Notes or Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange before either has become "the corporate standard."
It's necessary to walk a fine line be-tween excessive centralization, which stifles content creators and causes business units to lose flexibility, and too much decentralization, which can lead to duplicative deployment and proliferation of solutions that are difficult to integrate into a common support structure.
The strength of the Worldtalk and Radnet approach compared with those of others is it integrates application administration around a Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP)/X.500 directory. Regardless of whether IT or another department is writing the checks, this kind of technology offers the ability to deploy intranet directory, management and security infrastructures that can be integrated with the rest of a company's applications today and reused by other applications tomorrow.
Unfortunately, many companies are starting to realize that de-spite the great potential benefits of intranets, these networks have a seamy underside.
The muck includes hidden costs created by the deployment of new applications that overload the network and introduce new directories and other support structures. Then there is the too-fast treadmill of new releases coming from vendors and the difficult trade-offs between standards-based and proprietary products.
The sirens of product hype say the best way to go about building an intranet is to involve employees in Web content creation and to update the site through a consistent set of easy-to-use tools. Deploy groupware and workflow applications to share, collaboratively develop and ap-prove information needed by end users to do their jobs.
But the truth is you'll need more than new "gee whiz" software. Creating a solid intranet takes a solid infrastructure that can only be built by defining a clear architecture vision, establishing efficient enterprise decision-making processes and making the right moves when it comes to selecting products.
The right vision almost always involves deploying open standards-based technologies. Standards such as Post Office Protocol 3 and LDAP are your aces in the hole when changing vendors or absorbing a chaotic corporate reorganization.
But paying lip service to the standards is the easy part of building intranets. The hard part is getting IT and business units to agree on how to build them.
Daniel Blum is a principal at Rapport Communication, a consultancy that focuses on messaging, groupware and electronic commerce. He can be reached via E-mail at email@example.com or via the Web at www.rapport.com. @
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