Last month, I sang in a production of Verdi?s Aida. We were a small company, performing a large opera, which left us distinctly short-handed, especially during the Grand March scene, where the Egyptian army returns from a successful away fixture against Ethiopia. Once the chorus had been divided into priests, prisoners, townspeople and so on, there weren?t many left over for the army. So to create the required impression, the dozen or so blokes who were portraying the conquering troops would march in stately procession across the front of the stage, then belt round behind the scenery, regroup, and march across again. It was a brave attempt, but it fooled no-one, and left the war heroes distinctly out of breath by the end of the scene.
There is an uncanny parallel here with the current state of the intranet, the latest in a series of panaceas which the IT industry is attempting to foist on an unsuspecting user base. Judging from the pundits, you would have thought no self-respecting organisation could afford to be without an intranet. Almost every week, some survey claims three-quarters of Times 1,000 companies are using intranets to publish their internal telephone lists, or that nine-tenths of family firms in Macclesfield plan to implement one within the next four-and-a-half months.
So when I was asked to organise a conference on intranet issues, I figured Times 1,000 companies and family firms in Macclesfield would be queuing up to volunteer as speakers. I began by calling some firms which have been praised in the press for their ground-breaking intranets. I phoned a well-known European bank, and asked to speak to the person responsible for its intranet. What, asked the switchboard operator, was an intranet? I told her it was something that made it easier to find people?s telephone numbers. It was news to her, she said: without a name and location, there was no way she could find the person I wanted ? if they existed at all, which she seemed to doubt.
I then called a US manufacturing firm. Its intranet supremo had been quoted in a magazine article, so I figured it would be simple enough to call the company?s UK office and ask for him. I was wrong. A rude young woman told me I had got the wrong number. I explained that he probably worked in a different office, and that she could look him up on her intranet. She snorted and hung up.
So I called British firm where I know the Web master. His voicemail said he was out of the office for three weeks, but might be contactable. I asked the switchboard where he was, but the operator said she had no means of finding out, and put me through to tech support. Tech support had never heard of him, and put me through to personnel?s voicemail. Nobody thought of looking at his intranet home page.
My next strategy was to get a list of delegates who had attended previous intranet conferences. If most big businesses are said to be installing intranets, I reasoned, then these people will be in the vanguard. They weren?t. Most of them said: ?If you ask us in a year?s time, we might have something to say. But this autumn we?ll scarcely have launched our pilot!? A few (mostly family firms in Macclesfield) said: ?Yes, we thought about an intranet, but the board/IT department/tea lady went off the idea.?
Out of the 65 former delegates, only 18 felt able to be considered as potential speakers. Twenty-nine people, by contrast, said it was too early, or they hadn?t decided what to do, or hadn?t done anything. This means that, of the firms that were interested enough in intranets to attend specialist conferences in July 1996 or February 1997, nearly half still have no significant intranet implementation. And that doesn?t include the couple of dozen people who never called me back ? either out of embarrassment at the puny nature of their intranets, or because no one could find their internal telephone number to relay the message.
What does this say about all those other surveys that claim intranets are already established? Were the pollsters very careful to select only the right Times 1,000 firms, or the most go-ahead family businesses in Macclesfield? Were the companies they asked ashamed to admit their apathy towards this world-saving technology, and did they claim to have HTML phone lists or Java-enabled stock catalogues when actually they were still using trusty old paper? Or did the pollsters take any glimmer of recognition of the concept of intranets and call it a fully rolled-out system?
Whatever the truth, I shall be a little more sceptical about the intranet hype in future.
Dell EMC partner 'very keen' to make acquisition
Robotics company UiPath claims to now be valued at $3bn after $225m funding round
Struggling security titan makes three board appointments after investor took 5.8 per cent stake last month
Commvault ousted its CEO in May and has since undergone a radical refocus