Every organization can benefit greatly from establishing an Intranet to increase efficiency, streamline operations and open the lines of communication. A company-wide website serves as a central repository of information - accessible by anyone in the company - with minimum training.

To maximize growth potential and efficiency, Toronto, Canada-based Cambridge Shopping Centres Limited sought to leverage technology to structure its expanding business. Cambridge entered the retail field in 1960 in Windsor, Ontario, and opened its first center in 1962. Over the next 30 years, Cambridge established more than 41 major shopping centers across Canada.

Undergoing tremendous growth over the years, Cambridge wanted to integrate and consolidate the different facets of its growing empire. A reliable system needed to be in place to transmit information from Cambridge's internal sources to external sources to its vendors and suppliers.

Plan of attack In 1998, Cambridge established a partnership with the Braegen Group, an IBM Premier Business Partner, and EntreVision Inc., a Lotus Premium Partner, to develop a comprehensive Intranet that incorporated Cambridge's corporate needs.

Cambridge's Intranet was developed between March and June 1998. Cambridge invested $85,000 toward the development and implementation of the Intranet, which included all hardware, software, training and all outsourced development from EntreVision Inc.

The Braegen Group implemented an RS/6000 43P dual-processor with Lotus Domino version 4.6 as the main engine for the Intranet, and EntreVision Web Manager was selected as publishing and content management tool. Braegen provided and configured the RS/6000 server for Cambridge. The Intranet design, structure and custom web applications were developed by EntreVision consultants.

EntreVision tailored Cambridge's Intranet design and structure to reflect the company's culture, value and strengths. In particular, much time and energy was devoted to the "look and feel" of the website to make the site more approachable and friendly.

The site has become widely popular with employees, who are drawn by the accessibility of the site, as it allows for easy navigation and quick access to pertinent information and services.

To maintain the look and feel, as well as the quality and integrity of information posted on the Intranet, Cambridge's information technology department regularly monitors content, features contributions from key departments, and offers fresh, up-to-date information. Having current information online is key to the success of the system. Cambridge also internally promotes its website to make it the place to get information and to ask questions.

Measured success After only six months in operation, Cambridge's Intranet has drastically improved company operations. Cambridge's response-time to field operations, suppliers and internal staff has been reduced. The company has realized savings by lowering courier costs, printing forms and shortening project timelines. Cambridge has also improved its revenue by expediting the process of moving new tenants into their space.

Traditionally, it would take Cambridge's departments anywhere from several days to several weeks to process information and requests. Before the Intranet, a leasing specialist would need to contact the tenant coordinator to get the latest CAD drawings for a specific shopping center location. The tenant coordinator would print the required drawings and send them by courier to the leasing specialist.

This simple process may have taken several days. Today, the leasing specialist can access several CAD drawings directly from the website, download them to his PC, view them, print them, and even incorporate them into a document for a customer proposal.

The Intranet has also simplified the process of circulating information to employees and customers. For example, shopping center managers are always looking for new and exciting revenue opportunities and corporate partnership programs.

The problem is that, while one center manager may be negotiating a deal with a major company, another corporate office team under Cambridge's management may be negotiating a similar deal with that company's competitor. This situation can lead to unpleasant surprises and is now averted by field managers looking on the Intranet to see what deals are in progress company-wide.

Still other Intranet functions have included the posting of organizational charts, general information and forms by the human resources department. The timely dissemination of corporate information has improved communication at all levels of the company.

My best advice? Build up your website over time. To reap all the benefits of having a well-developed Intranet, you need to devote adequate time, energy and enthusiasm to keeping your website dynamic, current and exciting.

Ron Larock is technical support director of information services at Cambridge Shopping Centres Limited.