Step outside your office and take a close look at the bulletin board in your lunchroom. What if all the information there - company policies, alerts, work schedules - could be converted into a universally accessible resource that even your field crews could access from outside the office?
These days, this scenario is a reality for many contract shops that are launching their own Intranets. No longer the exclusive tools of larger companies, an Intranet is a great resource for maximizing your businesses efficiencies, increasing customer satisfaction and, in the process, growing your revenues.
"Thanks to Intranets, we've seen a reduction in delivery of documents that has delivered a return on investment within six months for our customers," says Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, a company that launches Intranets for contractors and other businesses. "We've seen small businesses save on office space because they have field workers now communicating more effectively with the office team. If you have more than one person who needs to share information, an Intranet is something to seriously consider."
To get started, many contract shop owners consult with an outside information technology (IT) professional to launch the Intranet. To get the best advice, chose a consultant who has strong experience with small business owners - preferably one familiar with the building industry. Be wary of consultants who advise you to build an Intranet that can do everything. In many cases, these versions of an Intranet are too costly and complex for a small business. "They have so many features that no one knows how to use them," says Sobel, who adds that contractors should expect to pay up to $10,000 to hire a professional to launch an Intranet. "We advise clients to start small. Pick a few functions to launch the site, then think about adding on."
Another common mistake is failing to properly train employees on the new Intranet. Too many contract shop owners conclude that if they launch the site, everyone will flock to it. But it often doesn't necessarily work out that way. Employees need to become familiar with all the functions of an Intranet, such as maintaining client/prospect contact lists, editing installation plans for upcoming projects and storing contract templates. "To be successful, employees must be trained to use the Intranet and then must actually utilize the tool," Sobel says.
Beyond these concerns, starting your own company Intranet may not be as complicated as you'd expect. There are many businesses out there that can help you get started. PBwiki.com now provides what it calls hosted "business wikis" to more than 30,000 customers, and more than half are used by small businesses as Intranets for a variety of applications. For these small-business owners, having an Intranet is preferable to connecting to employees via time-consuming meetings. "If you spend a significant part of your day looking for documents, communicating the same facts or instructions to your staff over and over …you should launch an Intranet." says Chris Yeh vice president of enterprise marketing for PBwiki.com.
For contract shops that want to avoid outside consultation and launch an Intranet on their own, the most affordable route may be using web-based software programs. "With these tools, you eliminate the need for IT staff, because there's nothing to install or maintain, yet you still have the ability to direct the layout and design of your Intranet without web-design knowledge," says Farzin Arsanjani, president at HyperOffice, a company that offers similar software. These tools can be relatively affordable.
Another factor to consider is the value of investing in an Intranet. Some technology advancements - such as wireless connectivity tools - have brought into question whether elaborate Intranets are necessary at all. MyOnlineToolbox.com, for example, is a web-based application used by building-industry contractors to communicate work needs to each other and store data such as job plans. "Contractors have to consider the alternative of wireless connectivity since they are mobile the majority of the time," says Brian Javeline, president of ServusXchange, the company that sells MyOnlineToolbox.com. "It allows them to work independently or in conjunction with others, with less limited office staffing needs. An Intranet does not necessarily allow for that."
Whether you launch an Intranet or try another online product, even those who make a living off of such innovations caution contractors on becoming too dependent upon such technology. "There are things that technology cannot do," Yeh says. "It doesn't help you have conversations with your people. It's not a substitute for good vendor, partner or customer relationships."