Thanks to the spread of Internet technology, we can now access information almost instantly from anywhere in the world. Children do homework assignments online, college students research term papers, artists share new designs, businesspeople gain detailed customer information, and many companies even sell their products electronically.
Several leading companies have begun to explore how this technology can best be used for managing and improving an organization’s business performance. Although this work is still in its earliest stages, the potential is staggering.
One of the more common applications of quality intranets makes training materials available to everyone in a company. It’s not difficult to create a well-designed interface that enables people to scan training offerings, match both their immediate personal and long-term career needs, and select the most appropriate time and location to attend a course or workshop. Course titles and short descriptions are easily linked to in-depth descriptions, course outlines and even the entire course material. By placing a comprehensive training curriculum on their intranet, companies can provide consistent, up-to-date materials at each of their locations worldwide.
Because some training lends itself to online instruction, a few organizations are delivering more than paper and multimedia materials for local use -- and I don’t mean the old computer-based-instruction software. These new training modules incorporate a company’s strategic objectives and goals with deployment strategies and current video messages from the CEO or division heads. The training, geared to meet business objectives, features highly interactive modules that lead people through instructional sessions in problem solving, product design, proposal writing, basic and advanced analytic methods, survey design, accounting, business plan writing, data analysis and other key skills.
Other organizations link training to actual job performance. A person may learn basic problem-solving steps one day, then use the steps to plan, define and establish an improvement project the following day. Later, this person can master Pareto diagrams, flowcharts, scatter plots and Ishikawa [cause-and-effect] diagrams as needed. In subsequent projects, the person would ignore the tutorial aspects and instead use the software tools to manage a project, collect and analyze data, and prepare the necessary reports, presentations and action plans.
More creative companies link these quality intranets to key company databases. They create files of completed and in-process projects so that teams can follow the analyses of others working on similar tasks and benchmark against their results. Why should every hospital in the country, for instance, reinvent how to reduce emergency room waiting times? Why should every plant reinvent how to reduce tool-change cycle times? We can dramatically improve bottom-line results by accelerating replication of best practices.
Linking training to best practices and achieved results is a proven way of decreasing project times and increasing success rates. For years, some of the world’s leading companies have used standardized storyboards to share successful quality improvement and quality planning projects. Now we have the technology to share these results instantly.
Internet technology first gained ground in the business world through company intranets, limited to an organization’s employees. However, organizations now are beginning to think about what should be shared outside their companies’ boundaries. A natural first extension is the extranet, a semiprivate network where key customers or suppliers can access a portion of a company’s intranet.
Extranet potential for supply chain management is tremendous. It’s now possible to create quality systems for goods or services across several supplier/customer interfaces, instantly sharing measurements and test results with everyone in the chain. Supply and demand issues, quality problems, customer feedback and other information is available for instant action and appropriate response.
A few leading companies have taken this one step farther and designed a complete intranet/extranet/internet system. With these systems, some information is available only to employees, other information to key suppliers and customers, and still other information to everyone. Information on new product features, pricing and availability is valuable to employees, suppliers, and current and potential customers. But there is also a wide range of information appropriate for a company’s public Internet site. We’re just beginning to tap the power of this new technology tool and are limited only by our imaginations.
About the author
A. Blanton Godfrey is chairman and CEO of Juran Institute Inc. at 11 River Road, Wilton, CT 06897.
© 1998 Juran Institute. For permission to reprint, contact Godfrey at fax (203) 834-9891 or e-mail agodfrey@quality digest.com.