Our analysis indicates that there may be several pathways for intranet development, especially at the initial stages. In some agencies, intranets were designed by information technology specialists with little guidance regarding potential management uses. In others, mid-level managers controlled the early formation of intranets. In a few agencies, top-level management supported an intranet because they wanted to appear progressive, but had little understanding of its potential or any particular expectations for its use. In still other agencies, much of the design of an intranet was in the hands of information resource managers. Each of these paths gave rise to different objectives, technologies, and results.
We found that intranet development is most effectively directed by administrative staff and program managers, rather than by technical staff. This ensures that employee desires and organizational needs define intranet functions and applications. When decisions are driven by technical capacity, employees must readjust work habits to suit the new technology, discouraging use. The IRM model creates portal sites with potential for management use, but without the configuration that makes the site useful for coordination and performance feedback core management concerns. To be utilized and functional, intranet technology should support employee and organizational needs. If management and staff needs drive development, new technical features may be created. Managers can challenge technical people to find appropriate solutions that may spur new technological solutions.
Managers may not always push for innovative uses of intranet technologies, however, especially for the kind of interactive applications that can have the greatest long-term impact on workflow or on collaboration and learning. Several factors may explain such management reluctance. First, managers may first want to gain employee acceptance of the basic intranet and ensure high use rates. Our cases suggest that making highly salient information, such as phone directories and news clippings, available only on the intranet is a good way to do this. Making key announcements on the intranet or using it to make important documents available, such as regulations or agency housekeeping information, all contribute to high use rates. Additionally, these non-interactive uses of the intranet are relatively inexpensive to administer. Interactive functions, on the other hand, may require expensive changes in intranet architecture, another strike against them. The uses and benefits of self-organizing collaborative teams are also harder to imagine.
Another reason behind the absence of interactive features on agency-wide intranets has to do with the federal setting of our study. In most cases department-wide intranets are more recent than and must compete with established divisional or regional intranets. Different solutions are emerging to the problems in communication and culture that these overlapping intranets bring. No one fixed model now appears superior. In some cases the divisional intranets are dominant and host the employee home page with a link to the departmental intranet. In other cases the departmental Web site may dominate. Collaborative work spaces may emerge more naturally at the program or divisional level, where the day-to-day work of the agency takes place than at the departmental level. Our interviews at the DOC, in particular, support this conclusion.
Finally, use of intranets for collaborative work raises issues of workplace surveillance and monitoring. Employees seem to recognize that if they participate in online collaboration and discussion, they will leave behind an electronic trail of comments that managers can monitor and evaluate. Managers thus need to formulate and disseminate clear policies so that employees will know what information will be captured as a result of intranet use, who will have access to that information, for what purposes information will be used, and how long information will be retained.
What prospects are there for removing these roadblocks to fuller use of the intranet's potential for enhancing the information resources in federal agencies? We think they are good. The successful use of intranets to increase workflow and foster collaboration in the private sector and in local governments can serve to model and encourage intranet applications. Institutions such as the CIO Council and its Intranet Roundtable offer a way to spread the news about the potential for more interactive intranet developments in federal agencies. The capacity of intranets to facilitate workflow and encourage collaborative work across organizational boundaries offers real value to agencies struggling to do more.