Business Applications of
Internal Communications
on the Internet

by Steve Pert
October, 1995


With on-line access to the Internet exploding, more and more companies and organizations are jumping onto the Internet and providing access to information. The primary, and most noticeable, method of choice for providing this Internet access is through the World Wide Web. The Web offers easy accessibility to information in several formats. These formats can include text, graphics, audio, and video.

The method of accessing an organization's on-line Web information is through use of a protocol called HyperText Transport Protocol, or HTTP. A variety of software applications utilizing HTTP may be used to display "home pages" of information. Although there are basic text-only "browsers" such as Lynx, the majority in use are graphic-capable browsers such as Netscape or Mosaic. Graphics Web browsers are connected to the Internet through a TCP/IP (and if using a telephone line, SLIP/PPP) Internet connection. 1

There are a variety of business reasons for companies to offer Web-based information access. Some motivations for providing a Web presence are product marketing and sales, on-line catalog distribution, product support, and public relations. As the technology grows, so will the availability of formats, browser sophistication, and creativity of Web pages. For example, a just-released version of the browser Netscape (ver 2.0) allows multiple interactive windows to be opened simultaneously on the screen (Java applets).

Although the vast majority of the explosion of Web offerings are commercial in nature, this paper will address non-commercial applications of Internet Web technology, that of internal company communications. I will first describe a variety of uses of the Internet for internal communications. I will then evaluate these uses to determine whether they meet several criteria for business sustainability. Although an information system-related idea may appear attractive upon initial suggestion, it may be doom ed to failure unless it meets certain criteria.

The Problem

Historically, businesses have relied upon various forms of printed media to distribute internal communications. Printed internal communications can take several forms, including the following:
There is a great deal of expense associated with printed internal communications. Frequently, memos are photocopied in quantity and distributed individually to many employees. For distributing memos, a list may be maintained that includes the minimum nu mber of persons who need to see the document. The list may also include many individuals who do not need the document being distributed. Therefore, the distribution of memos not only requires the use of paper (which is frequently read once and thrown aw ay), but there may be wasted paper and time from sending the memos people not requiring or needing the information. The concept of waste from single use also affects the cost of distributing employee newsletters and administrative notices.

While printed procedure manuals and service bulletins also creates expense, there is a greater potential for waste than with memos and notices. Regarding service manuals, there is the initial printing cost of the individual pages, the purchase of often u nique or custom binders to hold the pages, the mailing cost of distribution to employees, the cost of printing and distributing updates, and the time required of the recipient to replace pages with updates. There is also the increased cost due to updated versions potentially not being added to service manuals, resulting in incorrect work.

In addition to cost disadvantages, there are other problems inherent with printed internal communications. These include length of time for the document to be distributed to the end-user, future retrievability of document, difficulty for new employees to access (or even be aware of) documents issued in the past, limitations on the method of communication (written text and drawings), necessity to reprint and attach other supporting documents which may have already been distributed, and lack of security ov er subsequent distribution.

The purpose of this paper is to suggest that the use of Web technology over internal networks and the Internet, as a supplement to or replacement of internal communication, can reduce or eliminate the problems described above.

The Product

The most basic Web-based internal communications piece is the standard interoffice memo. The growth of software applications designed to translate word processing documents into Web HTML2 language has made the task of creating Web-ready docume nts as easy as saving in a certain format (e.g. File|Save As in many word processors). Using this technology, the issuer types a memo, saves the memo in HTML format onto the Web server, and issues an e-mail to the necessary individuals indicating the document's location.

Optionally, she would add a reference to the new memo in a master document designed to provide lookup services, thus providing for future accessibility of the memo. Ideally, departments such as Human Resources would maintain their own master documents as well. The use of master documents would enable new hires to use a Web browser to read all documents relevant to the orientation process. Other departments would maintain master documents for their own specific needs. The use of hypertext3 allows each user or department to maintain a link to the memo (stored once in one computer), rather then filing the paper memo or saving an electronic version on many computers. This system can also be applied to newsletters and broadcast administrative notices.

Documents may be maintained either on an internal, secure network or on a fully Internet-accessible server. The end-recipients of Web documents may be in an office served by a local area network (LAN), a remote office connected through a wide area netwo rk (WAN), or any location served by telephones.

Procedure manuals and service bulletins represent another application of Internet Web technology to internal communications. As discussed earlier, printing and distribution of manuals may represent a huge expense to companies. Web and Internet technolog y offer the ability to dramatically reduce this cost. Although an individual or department would still have to write text and draw diagrams for manuals, the traditional process of printing, distributing, and updating can be eliminated, except for maintai ning the Internet access system.

Once manuals are placed on-line, any authorized user will have access to the most current data. Available information can include text descriptions, diagrams, pictures, and even sound or video. Original-issue manuals as well as updates can be made avail able to the field as soon as corporate headquarters loads them onto a server. Information can be organized exactly as former bound printed manuals were, and can even go further in its hierarchical presentation of information. Providing a search mechanis m would allow users to find previously difficult to locate data. Color pictures, and even video and sound, may help explain how a part or process should appear.

McDonnell Douglas Corporation has just begun a trial of placing 40,000-page maintenance manuals for the MD-11 aircraft on line, with plans to add manuals for other jets. Repair and service bulletins can be immediately issued and linked to sections pertai ning to affected systems. The company estimates that producing documents over the Internet and on CD-ROM will cost less than half of the current paper versions.

My personal work experience also illustrates an application for on-line service manuals. Spectravision, a provider of pay-per-view movies for hotel rooms, utilizes a worldwide service organization of technicians and outside contractors to install and ser vice hotel-based hardware and software. A service manual published over 6 years ago provides the basics of service information, with revisions and new bulletins issued periodically. Much of the information in the original manual has become outdated with changes in hardware and software. When updates and new bulletins are issued, they are printed and sent to field offices through a printed distribution list. Often, new service technicians and contractors do not receive the documentation.

Under my proposed application of placing manuals and bulletins on-line, the engineering department can be assured that field personnel will have the latest service information. As every hotel-based system already has a CPU-based computer and a modem, tec hnicians on-site could access the latest service information through a Web browser. Pictures of equipment as well as hotel-specific installation diagrams may be represented through GIF images. The Internet could even allow technicians to post questions and answers to unusual problems through a private newsgroup, 4 thus allowing a dynamic exchange of ideas not possible through traditional means of service manual distribution.

The Internet also allows geographically-dispersed workgroups to maintain communications and share information in a new way. Many companies already communicate through e-mail, and many e-mail systems allow attachment of files (e.g. documents, spreadsheet , etc.). However, the use of Internet software can provide additional features such as workflow and other groupware applications. Lotus has just introduced new versions of existing products designed to operate over the Internet. 5 These include a Notes Web publisher, a version of cc:Mail for the Internet, and Engineering Notes for Web servers. Commercial Web products can be combined with my concept of internal communication over the Internet to reduce expenses while improving a firm's prod uctivity and accuracy.

The Place

After deciding on a concept for internal communications on the Internet, the firm must develop a delivery system for the product. In addition, the firm must evaluate the product based on whether or not it is technically feasible. In many large firms, t he infrastructure is already available in the form of LANs and WANs. Although separate Web servers can be installed, the availability of file space on existing servers can suffice for software and document storage. The ability of connectivity software a nd Web browsers to connect to servers over standard telephone lines provides the ability for non-networked locations to access the system. As Web and Internet technologies are based on the open systems6 concept, compatibility with all vendors is assured. Therefore if business needs change, a different vendor's product would be adaptable to the current investment.

Document storage and retrieval services can be purchased by users or offered by suppliers to document-intensive companies who may not wish to invest in the startup and maintenance of their own document retrieval system. Ideal users of this service would be insurance companies, medical practices, media publications, legal firms, and others. Xerox Corporation is developing a system to provide a document retrieval service over ISDN7 lines. 8

Delivery of the actual documents to personnel could be through e-mail notification or an on-line Web notification. The former was discussed earlier in this paper. The latter may be accomplished through a notice or attention-getting graphic on a home page. Company policy could require daily or other periodic login of all personnel, who would then be alerted to new information by home page notices.

The firm must ensure that the product is politically acceptable. Service organizations which rely on accuracy of the work provided, those with changing service procedures, and those with highly detailed service procedures are likely to welcome any process that delivers improved service or timely information to the field staff.

If the company is in a high-tech industry, and has experience using new technology, there should be little resistance to the process. However, low-tech firms may encounter resistance from employees unless proper social-technical planning and training is conducted. All firms should carefully plan the introduction of Internet-based communications to avoid staff resistance or other implementation problems. As Web-based internal communications can help employees do their job better, companies with good wor king environments should find employees generally accepting of new ideas. However, as technology can be associated with a younger, sometimes "different" culture, older employees or those generally resistant to change may be threatened by the proposed uses.

The firm should also consider the culture of the departments or groups currently producing and distributing internal communications and documents. If a center of power or influence exists within this group and this group is against change or new technolo gy, then problems could arise in implementing and using the proposed methods.


Businesses utilizing Web commerce will expect to be compensated for their efforts through various means, including increased sales, sponsorship, and advertising. However, the use of Internet features for internal communication will not generate revenues from the outside. Therefore, the firm will want to determine whether the project is economically profitable, by analyzing costs, benefits, and risks.

Field locations without existing computers would have to invest in hardware and software as well as obtain training. However, with basic PC-based computers selling for under $1,500 and the relatively simple browser operating procedures, the costs and tim e will be minimal for most companies. Some large companies may have to invest in specialized Web servers and routers. Although this would increase the initial investment, the greater potential benefits achieved by larger companies should compensate for the greater costs. Of course, a detailed study should be conducted by all companies considering this application.

A firm could justify funding the project by first analyzing current document printing and distribution costs. In addition, the costs of providing a wrong service procedure to customers should be evaluated. This can partially be quantified by the amount of rework necessary due to improper or incomplete procedures being performed by service personnel or other employees. The cost of quality provided to external customers must also be examined. These costs, some of which are intangible, should be compared to the costs of implementing and maintaining the proposed method to determine if the project should be funded.

Some risks from not implementing internal communications over the Internet is that a firm will potentially provide a reduced level of service and service quality, will continue to experience high document distribution costs, and in the case of field servi ce technicians, have potential morale problems as the staff realizes that they do not have access to information on a timely basis.


All technology projects should address issues to determine operational sustainability. If the implementation is done on a phased or a pilot basis, rather than a plunge basis, the firm can initially use smaller storage and access systems which may already exist in the company. Therefore, if the project fails in the early stages the financial implication would be minimal.

Usage can be evaluated on a trial basis with a few areas or departments participating in the initial phase. As the project is found to be sustainable and flexible it can proceed to the next phase or department. This approach may result in positive publi city reaching a department in advance of implementation. In addition, as power users develop in an area, they may be utilized as ambassadors or trainers as the project proceeds through the firm. If use of the Internet for internal communications provide s the expected benefits for the firm, new departments will be eager to use the technology.

As this technology uses unconventional methods to accomplish traditional tasks, it is necessary to coordinate all users of communication in the implementation process. Although use of the technology is easy to train, all employees should understand that documents will not be produced in traditional formats. It is important to know exactly when to look for communications on the new system. In addition, if manuals and service bulletins are included in the new process, employees must know when to destroy the old printed versions, which would soon be out of date. As discussed previously, given the open system concept of Internet technology, there will be sufficient flexibility to adapt changing business needs to the system.

Overall, I feel that the use of Web technology to provide internal communications over the Internet can reduce or eliminate various business problems. This paper has presented problems which can arise from traditional methods of internal communication, h as proposed an alternative form of delivery through the Internet, and has justified the project through various criteria. As technology progresses, many more applications and uses of the Internet for delivery of internal communications will emerge.

  1. TCP/IP is the open standard protocol that specifies how computers communicate on the Internet. SLIP and PPP protocols allow a computer to use TCP/IP over serial communication lines such as telephones.
  2. HTML is the computer language which specifies the text content and format of a document being displayed through Web technology. HTML includes instructions interpreted by browser software for control of the document display and features.
  3. Hypertext is a system for storing only a reference to the file location of another document (or piece of information, graphic, etc.). When the user selects or activates the hypertext, he is linked to the other document.
  4. Newsgroups are electronic bulletin boards available through the Internet. Users can post comments and questions, as well as responses or answers to previous posts.
  5. PC Week, October 2, 1995
  6. An open system is non-proprietary, in which all specifications are publicly available.
  7. Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) is a digital telephone line between two sites providing high speed (64 Kbps and higher) data transmission. Although expensive, ISDN provides dedicated (and sometimes dial-up) data connections.
  8. A Michigan Business School MAP project addressed this project last spring.

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