Public sector ignoring intranets for internet

Local authorities have been falling behind in intranet development to their own detriment, but are starting to improve internal IT communications, said a report released by local government IT body Socitm.

"Without doubt intranets have been a poor relation in terms of development to external websites. Government policy and public expectations have combined to give a much higher profile and priority to public websites," said the report, Better Connected Intranets. "Now, however, attention is switching to under-developed intranets, as policy turns more to the transformation of public services."

Participants in the study, which spoke to members of 34 councils, said their ideal intranet would make work easier, be the primary source of internal information, help employees be more productive and simply that it would be used.

"The measure of success of an intranet is that it is used regularly every day and trusted by all employees as the essential source of information for their work," said Martin Greenwood, Socitm programme manager. "It is therefore crucial to develop applications that employees want, or need, to use in the course of their working day."

The most popular applications for such intranets include phone directories, bulletin boards, human resource applications and job vacancies. But there are some more creative innovations also in use, said the report. Councils have started using intranets to allow employees to order lunch, print visitor passes, access a photo library and view traffic bulletins.

The report also suggested using intranets as to improve communication and access for remote workers. "If we take just one example of transformation - the growth of flexible working - then we can see the growing importance of the intranet," the report said. "Our benchmarking studies indicate that by the end of 2006 in many parts of the country some five per cent of the local authority workforce will be working from home for at least one day per week."

But if intranets become the primary source of information for local authorities, there are concerns as many council employees don't have ready access to computers and work out of the office in transportation or delivering frontline services.

The study recommended installing computer access points or intranet cafes in canteens to encourage such out-of-office workers to access intranets. "Broadly speaking, universal access should be encouraged as the benefits of the intranet are clear," the report said.