Intranets offer firms efficient method for sharing information

When agencies need to share updates on employees, clients, or new business opportunities, many use intranets to ease internal communications across offices or locales.

When agencies need to share updates on employees, clients, or new business opportunities, many use intranets to ease internal communications across offices or locales.

Preparing for new business was once a cumbersome task for the GCI Group.

To find information - such as case studies that showed relevant experience - the agency relied on a single employee to meticulously sort through file cabinets and coordinate with staffers across the globe.

"We'd go through this very bulky, lethargic process to pull the best information together," says CEO Jeff Hunt.

About 18 months ago, the agency undertook what Hunt describes as an exhaustive search for a tech platform that could move information quickly and efficiently. They chose the Vignette portal and created "GCIWire," an intranet that allows employees to readily access past RFPs, account updates, message boards, and staff information.

Mark Williams, VP of marketing at Vignette, now a GCI client, notes that intranets can also help reduce the hassle of turnover because the outgoing employee's work is already stored in a central location.

It also allows agencies to move documents back and forth for editing and approval, and offers chat rooms for brainstorming sessions.

"Where we've seen the largest impact is in new business," Hunt says, adding that the agency's win ratio has increased by 30% since implementing the technology. "It's paid for the investment we made."

Multi-office agencies are using intranets to juggle global assignments and speed information sharing across time zones and continents.

About two years ago, Edelman decided to upgrade its 10-year-old electronic library. The agency wanted a portal that was more than just a dumping ground for information.

"The ability to get, share, and capture information is vital to what we do," says chief of staff Derek Creevey. "Our system is not flashy; it's database driven."

One application for its Infusion platform is tracking clients and business opportunities in real time. For instance, when new leads come in, staffers enter them into the database to immediately alert colleagues around the world.

"People love to put out those alerts because they know they're going to get a response from the network, and that's going to better their [pitch]," says Jim Markowich, VP in charge of development. "It becomes a virtuous cycle."

The portal has an RSS feed that alerts staffers when pages have been updated, and it can house large files, like training videos featuring Edelman's most challenging cases.

Even smaller shops are finding that intranets help keep staffers in the loop.

Melody Townsel, director of agency Townsel Communications, which works with remote and freelance practitioners, says intranets provide "a one-look capture for everything going on."

She notes that the technology has made it easier to track time sheets in real time, providing a more accurate sense, for instance, of how the agency is using a particular retainer.

The Hoffman Agency similarly invested in an intranet system - the Hoffman Portal - more than three years ago and is now looking to upgrade.

"Our challenge as a midsize global company is really just connecting people," says CFO Leon Hunt. "Technology is the bridge that enables us to be successful. It's being able to provide better client service."

Before its intranet system, Hunt notes, there was a loss of control when documents were e-mailed between offices. The Hoffman Portal lets staffers revise documents in real time, as well as track changes.

Bromley Communications launched Bromleyville after acquiring three additional offices across the country. Having a single point of access allows the team to be more unified, says MD Deborah Charnes Vallejo.

In addition, Bromley had become increasingly dissatisfied with using e-mail as the primary source of communication, notes IT director Jo Ana Alvarado. Large files bounced back or were caught in spam filters. There were also greater security risks when e-mail was sent from one server to another.

Not only do intranets reduce "passive" e-mail, says Markowich, they can ensure that everyone who needs to know something is automatically copied - even if senders aren't sure who they need to reach.

Stan Wagner, operations manager at Sterling Communications, recalls how the firm's intranet kept account teams in touch during the Consumer Electronics Show. A reporter had approached a client for an interview that wasn't a fit. But because Sterling was tracking reporter activities via the intranet, another client was matched to the story.

Breakdown of costs for intranet services

  • Intranet systems can be purchased "off-the-shelf" or customized to fit a firm's needs

  • Although the basic technology can be implemented for less than $5,000, larger firms should expect to make an initial investment of at least $75,000, scaling into the low- to mid-six-figures for more complex systems

  • Other costs include training and installation. Agencies might also need to upgrade their networks and servers in order to support the system

  • There is also a yearly maintenance fee of about $10,000 to $15,000, which includes upgrades and support

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