Conference Notes

Notes on "Convergence of Intranets, Extranets and Portals", Aug 24

The final session of the conference was a presentation on the Convergence of Intranets, Extranets and Portals by Gavin Barron (Business Analyst) and David Archibald (IT Manager) from Industrial Research Limited (IRL). IRL is a 400-person organization, and is one of the 9 crown research institutes in New Zealand. This means IRL gets some funding from the government, but there is also a commercialization aspect.

David started the show. He gave the overview of IRL … IRL is a technology company based on world-class science, spread across 10 technology platforms. The current environment is made up of four independent domains … an intranet, collaborative workspaces, an extranet and a Web presence.

  • The intranet has been a major focus during 2001-2006, has about 1500 pages and supports 22 standalone applications.
  • The workspaces were aimed at a short-term replacement for team sites. Document sharing and collaboration was the idea. DreamWeaver manages the templates, and content is updated via Macromedia Contribute.
  • The Internet presence was originally maintained with FrontPage, with DreamWeaver used from 2003. A custom-build content management system was put in during 2005. There were major issues and problems with development, and programmers were reluctant to take ownership of the external system.
  • There wasn’t an extranet, there was no single business driver, no budget, no time to develop inhouse, and more.

IRL faced a number of other issues. Individual applications often relied on a single programmer. It was hard to get time to allocated to intranet applications. There is a separation of content and delivery, based on an intranet without a formal content management system. Content editors needed training in individual systems, all without training staff. There was no budget.

There is no clearly defined business-driven IT strategy, because there is no clearly defined business strategy. The business model hasn’t worked, and IRL is trying to figure out what to do next. There is low levels of standardization across the enterprise … old machines, different browsers, different versions of Office, and different processes. IT was pushing for more standardization as appropriate.

IRL came down to a number of options … purchasing a modular CMS, implementating an open source alternative, standardize on DreamWeaver / Contribute, or do nothing. Each alternative offered a number of pros and cons. Ultimately, the open source alternative was selected, with DotNetNuke being the package of choice.

The Demo
Gavin took the stage to give a demo of the new environment.

Some of the capabilities include integration with Active Directory for authentication (via synchronization with the in-built user directory, in which roles are stored), a WYSIWYG editor, in place content editing (via an “Edit This” icon), and shared documents (with module-level security rather than item-level granular security). Depending on the roles you have in the User directory … eg, content contributer, reader, system administration … depends on what you get to see and do.

The new environment will be easily extensible. You can add a blog to a page. You can add a contact manager to a page. You can add a forum. There are hundreds of modules that are available for free or fee to incorporate into the site. New skins for the intranet can be designed and implemented very quickly.

If things are as bad as David and Gavin made it out to be, it is a huge indictment on IRL management and the government that established the CRI structure. I can’t imagine the stress and difficult these guys have to face on a daily basis, and yet equally the resilience they show in addressing the needs that are put before them on daily basis. It’s incredible.

Finally, on a personal note, the last time I saw Gavin was in 2001 when he was a student in the class I was lecturing at the University of Canterbury. It was a huge delight to see a past student doing so well and being so confident in a public speaking situation. Well done Gavin! You made my day.

Categories: Conference Notes