The case studies reveal six overall trends in intranet use and development.
Within federal agencies, more attention and energy is devoted to the agency's Internet than to its intranet. This is not remarkable given legislative and public support for online government to citizen interactions, the federal government's commitment to digital government, and the number of Internet champions. Despite agencies' focus on the Internet, all agencies are experimenting with transferring Internet technology and software, as well as the knowledge gained from developing and deploying Internet Web sites, to an internal agency intranet.
In the majority of the agencies examined, staff and resources were shared by the Internet and intranet. This was the case in the Departments of Transportation, Justice, and Commerce. Although HUD had a separate staff dedicated to the intranet, the intranet was still considered the Internet's "baby sister." At the EPA the intranet team members were separate from the Internet team, but the EPA intranet's budget was not separate from that of the Internet.
Upper management active support for and interest in the agency's intranet is especially critical in initial planning and launching. In virtually all the agencies examined, support from the Secretary or Deputy Secretary level was essential. An agency-wide intranet would not have developed without this interest and support.
In three of the six agencies examined, support came directly from the Secretary. At HUD, both Secretary Cisneros and Secretary Cuomo were constructive in the development of the intranet and found opportunities to broaden its use. At a GSA information technology meeting in 1996, GSA administrator David Barram proposed that he order GSA to offer employees Internet and intranet access within four months. This proposal resulted in the development of the intranet. Commerce Secretary Daley challenged his department to become a "digital department" within 45 days and he built a consensus for this with a series of town hall meetings.
In two agencies, the Departments of Justice and Transportation, support came from the Deputy Secretary level, primarily from the CIO. At the DOJ, the CIO believed that an agency-wide intranet was needed to provide information and better communication to the department as a whole, as well as to reduce the cost of copying and mailing information throughout the subunits. A subscription to an online news service linked through the agency's intranet replaced the in-house news clipping, copying, and distributing. The CIO in the DOT took the lead in developing an intranet whose goal was to foster a common DOT culture by generating linkages across divisions.
In the EPA, support from the top of the agency was less active and visible than in the other agencies, but was nevertheless vital to the success of the team from the Office of Information Resources and Management, which was delegated to develop the agency-wide intranet.
Marketing of an agency intranet is crucial in encouraging staff use. In some agencies, actual advertising campaigns were developed. In other agencies, events were held to publicize and showcase the intranet. Active promotion was regarded as critical by all agencies.
Three of the six agencies had aggressive marketing campaigns to generate staff interest and use. Marketing of the intranet was important throughout the EPA's developments and deployments. "Intranet Weeks" were held several times and provided the intranet team with an opportunity to do a "dog and pony" show to illustrate the benefits and capabilities of the intranet. In September 2001, with the launch of a new iteration of the intranet, the intranet team designed a "power-up with EPA@Work" campaign using an "Empower Bar" theme to convey the idea that employees can get "vital, up-to-date information" by starting their day with the "new and improved" agency intranet. The campaign involved posters, flyers, and bookmarks with the same slogans and images. HUD also had a concerted marketing campaign to launch each iteration of its intranet. In 1998, HUD held a "Web Awareness Day" in Washington and the regional offices to highlight the message that the intranet was a "tool, not a toy" and to help differentiate HUD's intranet from its Internet site. Again in 2001, when HUD added customization features to the intranet, it was marketed as "HUD's Next Generation Intranet." GSA also aggressively advertised the launching of its intranet on Flag Day in 1996.
Three departments - Transportation, Commerce, and Justice - made more modest attempts at marketing their intranets. For example, the DOC held a town meeting to introduce its intranet in 1999 and followed that with a demonstration in 2000.
In all cases, marketing makes employees aware of the intranet and its possible value for their particular jobs. As employees begin to explore and experiment with the intranet, they tend to rely more on the intranet and to spread the word to other employees.
Agency-wide intranets co-exist with bureau, program and field office intranets. In five of the six agencies examined -DOT, EPA, GSA, DOC, and DOJ-there were smaller bureau, program, or field office intranets that predated the creation of a department-wide intranet. In many cases, employees were routinely using these intranets to conduct their daily work. This was especially true in the Departments of Commerce, Transportation, and Justice. Often, bureau, program, and field office intranets were more sophisticated and better funded and maintained than the agency-wide intranet.
This is evidence of the usefulness of an internal, closed Web site. It may be that there is an optimal size for intranet utility and functionality. In most agencies examined, the agency-wide intranet was eclipsed by sub-agency intranets. It would appear that most of the work of the department occurs in the smaller units and those intranets are more valuable to staff on a day-to-day basis.
These smaller, more focused intranets pose a challenge for the success of an agency-wide intranet. Within all the agencies examined, there was clearly evidence of the usefulness of an internal Web site. To be successful, a department-wide intranet needs to identify a role for itself that will attract employees to the site. The DOT was somewhat successful in doing this by emphasizing the role of the intranet in fostering a common culture within the agency. Similarly, the EPA recognized that it should not duplicate the roles of the divisional and regional intranets but should concentrate on providing information and functions common to all EPA employees. The Department of Justice and GSA appear to be struggling with the role for an agency-wide intranet, especially in light of the strong identity that employees have with their smaller units.
The development of agency-wide intranets is an evolutionary process. Agency personnel responsible for intranets are continually evaluating the effectiveness and use of their intranets and devising ways to improve them. All consider their intranets to be a work in progress and not a finished product. All agencies examined have had several iterations of their intranet. For example, since 1996 HUD has had five different iterations.
To date, intranet applications in some agencies are limited to providing one-way information on fairly mundane agency tasks such as room scheduling and cafeteria menus. But many agencies are adding interactive services such as travel arrangements and personnel record changes. Only a few agencies are developing more interactive managerial uses such as online collaborative work groups and personalized intranet home pages. Security concerns in some cases limit interconnectedness.
As part of this iterative process, several features have been attempted. Chat rooms have been popular in a limited number of agencies. Their use has been more episodic and difficult to sustain. For example, GSA's bulletin board, "My 2 Cents," began as an anonymous, open bulletin board for posting questions and answers, but problems arose as some users did not follow standard conversational norms. Another feature of the evolutionary process has been the customization or personalization of intranets in a few agencies. This feature generally occurs late in the process of intranet development when employees have become used to the intranet and are looking for more innovation. DOT's most recent iteration offers a personalization feature whereby employees can create their own version of the standard home page elements, can establish links to favorite sites, and can include their personal calendar. Development of collaborative or shared work areas is another feature that has evolved in some agencies and is being planned in others. At the DOJ, for example, virtual work groups and collaboration are facilitated through divisional and program intranets where litigation preparation can be shared.
Cost constraints limit the ability of agencies to purchase the applications and the consultant work they would like. In most agencies the development of an agency-wide intranet began as a small-scale pilot project with the active involvement of a few staff. These projects generally had upper-management support and thus received some money, although not a separate budget line that was funded and refunded on a yearly basis. Resources were limited and not predictable. Much of the work of intranet development and refinement was done in-house. This was particularly true in the Departments of Justice, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. In all cases, staff experimented with innovations that they had seen on other sites or had heard about through conversations with employees in other agencies or the private sector. Staff reported that they did not always have the funds to purchase new off-the-shelf software or to contract with specialists for development of customized software.