Ford Motors: an Internet Story

Web Technologies

Intranets employ the hypertext and multimedia technology used on the Internet. Prior to 1989, when Tim burners-Lee invented the Web [4], most applications used standard development languages such as C and C++ to create desktop applications that were proprietary and dependent on the platform. For example, applications running on a command-based operating system such as UNIX would not run under Windows, and those working for PCs might not work on Apple computers and vice versa [5]. The invention of HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language) introduced a new model for applications that conform to the standards provided by a single program, the “Web Browser”. Unlike standard applications, the browser brought a unified interface that had a very fast learning curve. Users seem to require no additional training to work with web browsers. Furthermore, system administrators did not have to spend time installing upgrades on users’ machines, since the Intranet client/server architecture facilitated all the updates through the connection with the web server [6].

Since Ford established its Intranet, it was aiming at building web applications through the initial analysis of “Mosaic”, the early form of web browsers. The technical department at Ford used web languages to create the first web site in 1995. In 1996, the team started building applications making use of the unified “Netscape” browser that was deployed on all machines at the company, and working on a standard template to cut on the development life cycle. There was a substantial cut in training cost due to the user-friendly interface of web applications. Furthermore, the speed of development made vital applications available to different individuals across the company. For example, the B2B site allowed suppliers remote and secured access to various sections of Ford’s Intranet. In addition, the development team created an application as a virtual teardown on Ford’s website where Ford’s engineers could examine parts of competitors’ cars and evaluate any new technologies. The alternative would have been an actual trip to a physical location where Ford tears down cars to examine the parts.

Knowledge Management

While there are many definitions for knowledge, each company might adapt its own based on how it analysis data and information to acquire knowledge. The University of Kentucky, for example, defines knowledge as “a vital organization resource. It is the raw material, work-in process, and finished good of decision-making. Distinct types of knowledge used by decision makers include information, procedures, and heuristics, among others… ” [7].

Organizations go through different activities to manage the amount of information they collect to form the knowledge base of the company. Activities include creating databases of best practices and market intelligence analysis, gathering filtering and classifying data, incorporating knowledge into business applications used by employees, and developing focal points for facilitating knowledge flow and building skills [8].

Ford was excited about the traffic it was receiving on the Web site and everyone was publishing all the material they have on desk on the Intranet. Nevertheless, there was a growing concern about the usability and usefulness of the material people were adding. As a result, Ford created a “Knowledge Domain Team” to build complete information in nine areas that were identified as vital to the business. The process Ford took was based on surveys and specialists input in how people perceive information, and what is considered vital and what is distracting in the structure of Ford’s website. The aim behind the initiative was to reduce the time individuals spent in searching for information through proper indexing of the website content, and making sure that what was important could be accessed in due time, and what is trivial did not overwhelm the researcher with thousands of results.

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