At press time, 30 percent of Lehigh's intranet was complete, and the design, in general, was moving smoothly. According to Thornton, the company already had the proper infrastructure in place for an intranet. Lehigh has benefited tremendously from the commonality and functionality of Microsoft software. "The same infrastructure that supports all that, you can ride on top of with Web pages," Thornton says. "Our remote access software works that way. It's all bundled together."
Lehigh relies on a Windows NT server, and employees work with Microsoft Office. And since workers were already familiar with Office, they had no trouble adjusting to Microsoft Exchange, which shares a similar interface.
"We took advantage of the Microsoft products and the way they integrate with each other," Thornton says.
Exchange enables e-mail to use forms like those found in Lotus Notes. Employees can collect information through a form embedded in the e-mail system and forward it to the person who needs to work with the data.
And you don't even have to be on-site to take advantage of Lehigh's networked services. Through 4-Sight-supplied ISDN technology, customers can transfer electronic job files. And when on the road, Lehigh's salespeople can use laptops to send vital information via Exchange. The salespeople can also access the intranet—once the intranet is live. They will dial in through Lehigh's remote access server, then get on the WAN.
While this type of connectivity is hardly commonplace, it's hardly the stuff of science fiction, either. To some extent, most printers already disseminate and receive information electronically—and intranets are a logical next step in the electronic evolution. Just as a Web site spreads your corporate message externally, a browser-based intranet shares information internally.
But designing such an intranet is a big step for some companies, which have opted for other ways to connect to local and remote plants and to employees.