The Intranet: A Key to Information

November 1, 1998

Bevan Ashford has a typical network system that runs a multiplicity of packages.The system contains our document creation packages, manages a number ofdatabases, including a library catalogue and advice system; it provides for ourCD-ROM network and our accounts system, time recording and billing software.

Two years ago, Bevan Ashford began looking at ways to draw this diverseinformation together and to improve the storage, manipulation and access toinformation on the system. We looked into a number of options before deciding todevelop an Intranet server. This decision was based on cost and the relativeease with which our in-house IT team could support both development andexpansion. Ultimately the open systems nature of the Intranet meant it gave usgreater flexibility.

The aim of these developments was to provide one access point to theinformation the firm has stored. This access had to be provided for over 500staff, sited in seven separate geographical locations, and we had to plan forexpansion of the system in line with the firm’s growth. As the speed of thesystem is affected by the speed of the PCs accessing it, the specification ofthe equipment available had to be considered; the system needed to be useable bythe lowest and slowest specified PC within our network.

We chose to install standard web browser software on our internal PCs. Thischoice has proved popular with our staff, many of whom were already familiarwith Internet searching. They liked the simplicity of one front-end to accessall information.

For our external connection to the Internet, we have a permanent leased line.We have found the need constantly to keep the size of this connection underreview, as more users are given access to the Internet and client communicationis done increasingly via e-mail.

There are though a host of security issues to consider in an open system.With care, sensitive information can be restricted to those who need it whilepassword protection and external access can be limited by a correctly configuredfirewall system. We have taken steps to create a protective firewall to preventmalicious attacks by outside users. We use the same software to prevent misuseby internal users who may be tempted into the unsavoury underworld of the Net.This works by barring access to certain categories of Internet site. A proxycache, which enables us to store frequently accessed web pages locally (reducingthe access time to users) is also supplied.

Early in the planning stages, we decided that certain areas of the networkshould be made available to our clients. Remote access is already provided toselected staff who have access to the network from their home PCs. We are now ina position to provide client access to the e-mail system, diarys and internallyproduced documents, via a web browser from anywhere in the world.

We see the legal information and knowledge side of our Intranet becomingincreasingly important. It already contains advice and opinions, with imagesattached when necessary, which can be searched by keywords. Fee earners haveaccess to our library of CD-ROMs and other information services such asnewspaper law reports and the library’s current awareness bulletins. For feeearners, there is the immense attraction that the Intranet’s various internaland external databases can be searched through one common interface. The easeand speed with which the information can be located is vital to the success ofthe Intranet and, at Bevan Ashford, this is the responsibility of the librarian,who is qualified and practised in knowledge management.

When setting out to create the Intranet, we had to be aware of the potentialproblem areas which could affect the system. We had to look closely at thevarious licensing agreements and copyright issues that affect the holding ofdigital information. We were also conscious that, if users are to haveconfidence in the system, then it is essential that active steps be taken tomanage the currency and reliability of the information held. At Bevan Ashford,each department is responsible for keeping its information up to date:

  • The Library manages the advice and opinions, legal resources on CDs, Internet links, newspaper reports, library catalogue and legal bulletins.
  • Marketing look after the WWW site, maintain an internal bulletin board and the marketing calendar. In addition, they update the list of press releases and the list of proposals and tenders.
  • The Accounts’ section of the Intranet includes advice and guidance on using our online time recording and generally dealing with accounts procedures. This section also allows partners secure access to view up-to-date management reports direct from the Unix accounts server.
  • The Personnel Department maintains a searchable telephone list, the office manual section, company forms, a who’s who, as well as our Investor’s In People policy paperwork.
  • The IT Department’s section includes information on internal training courses, question and answer databases, the network schematics and plans, disaster recovery policy, Year 2000 strategy and a fault logging system. The Internet also includes information about the servers, domains, NDS and more.
  • In each Legal Department, we have two to three people responsible for internal precedents, knowhow and advice.
  • If carefully managed, the Intranet will provide our staff and clients with access to information which was previously unavailable or difficult to obtain. Its popularity lies in the ease and speed with which this access is provided. There is little doubt that successful organisations will need to be able to do business over the World Wide Web, a reliable Intranet is a key to this success.