FROM: Michael Calder
DATE: December 14, 1996
RE: Submission of Intranet Feasibility Study
Per our agreement of September 22, 1996, I am submitting the enclosed departmental intranet feasibility report. I hope that meets with your approval and fulfills your needs with the Budgeting and Oversight Committees.
FEASIBILITY OF IMPLEMENTING A DEPARTMENTAL INTRANET
Office of Admissions
University of Texas at Austin
December 14, 1996
TABLE OF CONTENTSLIST OF FIGURES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . iii ABSTRACT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . iv I. INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 II. INTRANETS AND COMPONENT TECHNOLOGIES . . . . . . . . 2 Definition of Intranets . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Component Technologies . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Intranet Server . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Firewall . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Communication Protocol . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Markup Language . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Browser . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 III. NEED FOR AN EFFICIENT MODEL OF INFORMATION DISTRIBUTION . . . 4 Rapid and Frequent Changes in Policy and Procedure . . . . 4 University-wide . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Office-wide . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Introduction of New Technologies . . . . . . . . 4 Inadequacies of Paper Distribution Model . . . . . . 5 Slow and Incomplete Circulation . . . . . . . 5 Redundancy of Storage and Information . . . . . . 5 Inaccuracy of Documents . . . . . . . . . 5 Cost . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 IV. BENEFITS OF A DEPARTMENTAL INTRANET . . . . . . . . 6 Efficiency, Accuracy, Accessibility in Information Distribution . 6 Additional Benefits and Uses . . . . . . . . . 6 V. IMPLEMENTATION OF AN ADMISSIONS INTRANET . . . . . . 8 Hardware and Software Needs . . . . . . . . . 8 Network and Servers . . . . . . . . . . 8 Client Machines and Software . . . . . . . . 8 Staff Training . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Server Administration . . . . . . . . . . 8 Content Publication . . . . . . . . . . 8 VI. CONCLUSION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 APPENDIX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Information Sources . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
LIST OF FIGURESFigure Page 1. Relationship between Internet, LAN, and intranet . . . . 3
|Informative abstract goes here (eventually...)|
As the University of Texas community undertakes many quality initiatives, customer service (both internal and external) becomes paramount to the success of the Office of Admissions. Through decisive and flexible policy-making, the department has been extremely successful in adapting to the demands of numerous University initiatives, as well as the challenges of enrollment management. To achieve complete success the Office of Admissions must now focus on an expedient method of alerting staff to changes in policy, procedure, and other pertinent office data, so that this information can be further disseminated to prospective applicants, the general public, and the department's internal University customers.
The Office of Admissions' current system of paper circulation has proven to be slow and problematic, often leading numerous inconsistencies, redundancies, and errors in information distribution. This report details the current problem, examines the new technology of the intranet as a possible alternative, and makes recommendations on the feasibility and possible benefits of implementing the new system. It also provides the basic technical background necessary to understand intranets and make informed decisions about their use and implementation.
A minimal technical background on intranets and component technologies is necessary to make informed decisions concerning their potential benefits and uses.
Definition of Intranets
An intranet is essentially an small, internal version of the Internet--an internal computer network designed specifically for efficient and easy sharing and distribution of information, data, and applications. A Web server is established to house data, electronic documents, and possibly applications. This server is hidden from users on the Internet and kept secure by means of a firewall (see Figure 1). Intranets make use of TCP/IP, the extremely robust, stable and portable protocol for transmitting data between computers used on the Internet. Intranets also employ a the markup language HTML to format documents which appear the same on any computer. These two core technologies allow information and applications to be accessed through one homogenous interface (the web browser), regardless of the client machine used.
Several core technologies mentioned above are integral to the function of an intranet. In an intranet, these components work together to determine how the server (computer providing information and services) and client (computer requesting information and services) interact.
Intranet server. An intranet server is simply a computer that runs Web server software. The server application monitors network connections for incoming requests for information. It then handles every aspect of these requests, i.e., determining if the client machine or user has clearance to access files, finding information on the server, and returning any necessary information or communication to the client .
Firewall. Firewall is the term for security measures that separate the intranet from the much larger Internet. The firewall determines what machines and users have access to the files on the intranet server, and blocks access to unauthorized clients.
Communication protocol. Transfer control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP) is the universal set of rules that governs how information is passed between many different types of computers. It is this protocol that is at the core of the Internet and its ability to link computers and operating systems of all kinds around the world. When this protocol is used on a smaller scale, over a local area network (LAN), an intranet can also be employed to enable computers of different kinds to access and share the same information [1:151-153].
Markup language. Hypertext markup language (HTML) is another important component of the Internet, specifically the World Wide Web, that enables intranets to efficiently distribute information to numerous, diverse clients. HTML is a simple language used to mark-up text, sound, images, and other types of content in such a way that tells a browser exactly how that content is to be displayed and acted upon. Content from many popular document formats can be converted to HTML with filters. Filters are programs that automatically convert formatted content into HTML files.
Browser. The browser is software on client machines that handles all communication with servers, and is primarily designed to interpret files formatted with HTML. It is a single application environment that can handle any type of information available on the server: text, sound, images, and application. This eliminates the need for multiple applications to view files of different types.
|Figure 1: Diagram of the relationship between Internet, LAN, and intranet. The red bar indicates the firewall; arrows indicate the flow of information.|
Accurate and timely information is the key to an efficient workplace. As policies, procedures, schedules and contacts for the Office of Admissions (as well as the entire University) constantly change and become increasingly complex, an effective means of distributing this information among staff of several offices becomes paramount to our goal of increased customer service--both internal and external. The current system of hard- copy distribution of office data, manuals, and policy updates is plagued with obvious issues redundancy, inefficiency and inaccuracy.
Rapid and Frequent Changes in Policy and Procedure
Timely revision of departmental policy and procedure is on key to success for the Office of Admissions. Perhaps as important is the need to quickly alert staff to changes and provide them with the necessary tools and information to effectively deal with new guidelines that may originate from one or more sources.
University-wide. The University must constantly adapt and change to remain responsive and competitive within the educational community. Being responsible to groups both numerous and diverse including students, faculty, staff, state and federal agencies, as well as corporate entities means ever-evolving University policies which impact departments throughout the institution.
Office-wide. The Office of Admissions must be able to quickly adapt to University policies and issues, as well as remain responsive to its customer base--student applicants. From an administrative standpoint this means constantly reviewing and/or revising office policy and procedure. The Office of Admissions is responsible for disseminating information about its own policy, as well as that of the University, to its staff. This is essential to achieving the department's goal of good customer service, and necessitates an efficient method of information distribution.
Introduction of New Technologies
As departmental procedure becomes more complicated and labor-intensive, new technology is introduced to the office at an increasing rate to ease the administrative burden on staff While these new tools often foster improvements if office efficiency, it is necessary to provide training and information quickly to enable staff to implement new office technologies.
Inadequacies of Paper Distribution Model
The Office of Admissions current system of paper information distribution is plagued with potential problems and inefficiencies. In the current system staff members (usually a single person within each section) produce information which needs to be distributed to the staff of a given section, or to all offices within Admissions. The document or documents are then photocopied and distributed by hand or campus mail. This system has several inherent shortcomings.
Slow and incomplete circulation. Each section has a single staff member responsible for document publication and circulation. Any information that needs to be published to a section or the department must first be submitted to this person, who then creates the necessary documents. Photocopies of these documents are then circulated by hand or the campus mail system. This means that the average duration from document inception to full delivery can range from 2 - 5 days. Complex documents are often a week or more in publication and circulation .
Redundancy of storage and information. There is no single repository for information used by the Office of Admissions, making timely and thorough maintenance of departmental documents difficult. Rather than a single location for information which always has the most current information, a single document must be duplicated and stored by each employee needing access to the information. These multiple documents cannot be accurately revised--new copies must be distributed to the entire office each time a change in the material occurs.
Inaccuracy of documents. An inherent problem of the manual distribution system with redundant storage points is the inaccuracy of dated or poorly circulated information. As employees either never receive or never replace dated documents, incorrect and out-of- date information becomes a problem. This information is subsequently passed on to other University departments or the general public resulting in poor customer service.
Cost. Printing, duplication and distribution costs average from $50 to $100 per employee per year  . This means that, with its approximately 300 full-time employees, the Office of Admissions spends $15,000 to $30,000 per year on system of paper distribution that is fraught with inefficiency and potential errors.
The implementation of a departmental intranet has the potential to remedy many all of the problems with the current system as well as bring additional benefits to the Office of Admissions.
Efficiency, Accuracy, and Accessibility in Information Distribution
A departmental intranet provides instantaneous electronic circulation of published information through the LAN connections. Once and document has been created and published on an intranet, it is immediately available to all staff, in all sections or departments, through the familiar browser software. Additionally, the information may be selectively circulated according to security clearance or realms.
Intranets serve as a central repository for data and information, eliminating redundancy and inaccuracy generated by multiple revisions and copies of various documents. The departmental intranet serves as the sole source for office information, and always maintains the most current version of any document or application. Revisions take effect immediately (often transparently), and are seen the next time any staff member access the site. This eliminates the need for employees to store potentially outdated material in their work areas, and drastically cuts the office's duplicating costs.
Intranets also provide a high degree of accessibility to the publishing process. Many tools which facilitate almost effortless conversion and publication of on-line content currently exist at little or no cost. Filters for most document formats already in use in the Office of Admissions are available at no cost to the University. With minimal training, and readily available tools, any staff member can prepare a document for publication. This allows the employee who is expert in the subject matter to create the necessary document, rather than the publication specialist who may know little or nothing of the content material. This eliminates error that may creep in as a result of miscommunication. The resulting files may then be forwarded to the site administrator for immediate distribution on the intranet.
Additional Benefits and Uses
Intranets serve information in many formats (text, graphics, applications, multimedia) in one familiar interface--the web browser. With the easy addition of these other types of information, office documents can be more informative and portable across any type of computer platform [2:107].
Also, with the addition of messaging software, an intranet can become interactive, allowing staff to discuss internal issues, share ideas on projects, and post important news on electronic bulletin boards. Again, this type of software is available free on the Internet, or for more full-featured applications, at minimal cost to the University--approximately $50.00 to $85.00 per license [4:37-38] . Internet mail server software may be added to the
intranet to provide a more private and standardized means of communication. Apple Internet Mail Server (AIMS) is a robust and well-respected application of this type, and is available for free from Apple [4:38].
As an electronic means of distribution, intranets may also be employed to distribute software upgrades to client machines. Software archives reside on intranet servers, and users may download applications much as they do from the Internet .
Finally, an intranet solution is very cost effective. Intranet server software can be had at prices ranging from free to $250. The application recommended by this report, MacHTTP 2.2, would cost the department $65.00 per license.
The existing office infrastructure of hardware and networks readily supports the use of one or more intranet servers. The primary needs for a successful implementation will come in the area of staff training, for both server administration and content publication. Security, while important, will not be a key issue or problem. Finally, costs for the first year of operation will be minimal in relation to the costs of the current paper system.
Hardware and Software Needs
Computer system needs (both hardware and software) will be minimal, as the University has already made a significant investment in both to support other office systems.
Network and servers. The hardware requirements for the network and server side of the intranet equation are already in place. The Office of Admissions' LAN is equipped with TCP/IP and the high-performance routers necessary to accommodate it, often the highest cost associate with intranet implementation [2:107] . Servers can exist on an one of several Power Mac 7200s already purchased by the department. As intranet traffic increases, it may be necessary to dedicate a single machine entirely to server duties. The necessary server software may be purchased for $65.00 per license for MacHTTP 2.2. This package is easy to administer and configure, and supports all industry standard upgrade options [4: 39].
Client machines and software. No additional equipment or software will be required for client computers. Currently all full-time Admissions employees have desktop Macintosh computers with more than the minimum requirements needed to access an intranet. All client machines have TCP/IP capability. Netscape provides the industry standard browser software, Navigator, to educational institutions at no cost.
The primary focus of an intranet implementation for the Office of Admissions should be in staff training. Most, if not all, aspects of necessary training can be handled within the University community and should again be achieved at a low cost to the department.
Each section's LAN Administrator should have the necessary skill for the initial setup and maintenance of an intranet server [7:38] . The majority of special skills and techniques related to site administration can be learned from server documentation, with analysts from the Universities Data Services Department serving as guides .
Employees from all areas of the department should be encouraged to learn to use HTML or filters for the most common file formats. This relieves the burden of content production from any single person, and places the opportunity in the hands of those best qualified to provide information.
A departmental intranet is an excellent solution to the Office of Admissions current problem inadequate information distribution. The current system of manual paper reproduction and distribution of documents is plagued with redundancy, inefficiency, and potential error. With little additional training, no initial equipment needs, and minimal server software costs, an intranet can provide a single repository for office data, instant availability of published documents, and a sole authoritative source for the most current information available.
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