A project manager's on-ramp to the information superhighway
Christian A. Jensen, PMP
Over a quarter century ago an internetwork, now called the Internet (Net) was created as a U.S. defense project designed to enable university and government laboratory researchers to communicate over a multipath network that could survive the offensives of war. Almost three decades later, the World Wide Web (Web) emerged as a method for accessing the Internet's vast knowledge base.
This combination of the Net and Web provides a digitized and globally available wealth of information called the Information Superhighway or Cyberspace: an intricate system of communications hardware, satellites, and telephone equipment connecting homes and corporations in a boundless system of communications and commerce. Anyone with a computer and telephone can enter this new electronic world.
The Net is a resource whose exponential growth (341,634 percent in 1993 after the introduction of the Web, according to Jeff Dodd, writing in the June 1996 issue of PC Novice Guide to the Internet) provides a project manager with an estimated 56 million connections in over 150 countries, with virtual access to all it encompasses. Some examples that illustrate what's available through the Internet include building code requirements, most cities' chambers of commerce, conference proceedings, databases on topics from accounting to zoology, electronic cash transactions (e-cash), electronic magazines (e-zines), electronic mail (e-mail), engineering data, facsimile (fax), fee-based document delivery, file transfers, government information, manufacturing data, industry research, marketing and promotion materials, multimedia applications (Java), newsgroups, news-wires, patent data, recent legislation, reference material or libraries, scientific data, software, standards, commissioned studies, tax assistance, technical journals and publications, technical support, telephony, trademark data, travel reservations, video conferencing, voice mail (v-mail), weather reports, yellow pages.
The Internet allows a project manager the ability to search, query, and incorporate information that integrates with their information demand and business process. It is a database without confines and a global vehicle affording worldwide communication with colleagues and fellow professionals. It is also a way to provide information about your own company's products and services directly to millions of prospective customers in a world where the doors to commerce never close.
Crossing the New Frontier. Though the Internet may seem nebulous and formidable, you don't have to be an expert to connect to it. It simply requires some knowledge of two worlds and the medium between them.
A computer and a modem provide the portal to Internet communications. A modem allows information to be sent from and received within your hardware. As an end-user (see “e” in Figure 1) your hardware (using the modem) dials in to establish a link (see “l” in Figure 1) via a telephone line. Any investment in equipment should focus on the scalable speed and error correction within the modem rather than on the technology of the computer; even computer processing power previously thought obsolete can be rejuvenated as a dedicated Internet workstation.
Establishing a link entails making choices about the service sand features you need—and paying a toll for those services.
Figure 1. Internet Infrastructure
A permanent connection through a dedicated host, or Web Server (computer), provides 24-hour direct access (“WS” in Figure 1). Many large companies, government agencies, and universities maintain this type of advanced connection, which requires specific hardware and supports their own Web site.
A subscription-based connection is purchased through an Internet Service Provider (“ISP” in Figure 1), sometimes referred to as a Internet Access Provider (IAP). This is a fee-based communications company that provides subscribers direct Internet connectivity locally and nationally. Some examples: Concentric Network, EarthLink Network, GNN, Netcom.
The subscription-based connection with a majority of the market share and popularity is the Commercial Online Service (“COS” in Figure 1). This is also a fee-based communications company that has built Internet connectivity locally and nationally. A COS has control over all end-user access (see Figure 1, “Restrictions”) and may impose numerous forms of censorship. Because this type of service is geared more toward family, home, and personal subject matter than business, some end-users find control in the flow of news and its content by an outside source desirable. Some examples are America Online (AOL), CompuServe, and the Microsoft Network (MSN).
Deciding how to connect to the Internet is very similar to choosing a long-distance telephone company. Considerations are scalable flexibility, features, and cost. Most offer a trial subscription that allows evaluation of criteria such as ease-of-use, access speed, features, and support. Two valuable resources that furnish guidance in validating a service provider is the InterNIC (Internet Network Information Center), which frequently updates a list of these providers, and includes telephone numbers, services areas, fees, etc. They are located on the Net at http://www.internic.net. An alternative is to look up companies on the Net by area code, which you can do by using http://thelist.com.
Navigating the Superhighway. To make use of an Internet connection, users need a graphical interface, or “browser.” This software application aids in ease of use and offers full-color text, graphics, pictures, and if available, animation and sound. Additional features usually include e-mail functionality set up in a “post office” paradigm, utilities that allow opening, downloading, and saving data files, bookmarks for re-entry to favorite locations, the ability to view and subscribe to various newsgroups, which encompass articles, conference schedules, and current issue discussions.
End-users employing the browser can select highlighted words or pictures to switch from subject to subject, linked around the world. The browser is the graphical front-end to the Web. Most of this software is available free, or at a minimal cost, and is downloadable from the Internet. Commercial Online Services and Internet Service Providers include browsers for their subscribers, but many users prefer to use an alternative with more features or a more appealing look and feel.
The browser is a vehicle that transports you down the information superhighway. Just as in life, if you do not know where you are going, you can easily become lost—frustrated and tangled in the Web. This is where one of the most important technologies of the Internet is useful: the search engine. This navigational resource contains information compiled through continuous exploration and updates to the Internet and Web. Each search program is uniquely written; some for speed, others for detail. Since each search engine can yield a different result, several should be tried when looking for a particular subject.
A search is initiated by an end-user entering a name, product, service, or subject of interest in a menu box much like a questionnaire form. The search process yields a listing of relevant locations, either Web sites or documents held in other parts of the Internet, displayed in a prioritized report that may be printed. Because each response listed is a link to another Internet location, further exploration can be achieved by simply selecting the desired subject line. The browser includes a forward and backward path through your online session so, like using a compass, you always know where you are. Some useful sources can be found at http://www.cnet.com, http://www.search.com, and http://www.yahoo.com.
A Framework for the Information Age. There are over 25 million Web pages, 15 thousand newsgroups, and 3.5 million occurrences of the words “project management” currently on the Web. “If you consider that each of these computers contains an average of a couple gigabytes of accessible files (a conservative estimate), then you have 10 petabytes (or 10 quadrillion bytes) of information at your fingertips…” says Douglas Steen in the 1995 book, Teaching with the Internet. Imagine the potential! In fact, a whole new career position—the Online Information Professional or Information Scientist—has been created as a result. This specialist has “the information know-how to understand how and where the data comes from, how it is put together in a database, and how the database is searched, … [whereas] few end-users have the experience,” according to Nancy Garman, writing in the March-April issue of Online magazine.
Internet Sites Related to Project Management
Once you know how to access and navigate the Internet there are several locations you should visit:
■ The Project Management Institute (PMI) Web site includes member participation, professional development, educational offerings, products and services, news and announcements, and a discussion forum. Located at http://www.pmi.org
■ International Project Management Association (IPMA) is a nonprofit international organization chartered to improve the administration and management of resources, planning, and important project and program developments. Their Web site includes general information, working groups, PM Yellow Pages, open discussion, project management articles, global forum, and national associations. Located at http://www.sn.no/ipma
■ WWW Project Management Forum is a nonprofit resource for information on international project management affairs dedicated to supporting development, international cooperation, promotion and support of a professional and worldwide project management discipline. The Web site includes professional organizations, careers, standards, specific interest groups, training, consulting, information technology services, software applications, training, book store, journals, magazines, monthly digest, project manager practices, research, conference room, forum development. Located at http://www.synapse.net/∼loday
■ Project Manager's Palette. This unique Web site includes project management training administered from the Web, current information on books, articles, and practical advice as well as audio so you can listen to demonstrations and discussions. Located at http://www.4pm.com
■ PM Cafe. This Web site includes “news and views on matters of interest to the project management community,” and references associations, book reviews, periodicals, and news. Located at http://www.asterisk.co.uk/project/Pmgen.html
“The Information Superhighway is very much ‘under construction,’ with new networks, computers, software programs, and information resources being added constantly,” Bill Eager wrote in his 1994 book, Using the Internet. Because the dust hasn't settled yet, the use of a local university or consultant may be a great advantage when bringing the Internet to the enterprise.
However project managers decide to make the leap into cyberspace, the trip could well be worth it. And because the options are many and the rewards so rich, perhaps the real issue is no longer whether project managers should get connected to the Internet, but how and how soon.
Christian A. Jensen, PMP, is the author of The Encyclopedic Dictionary of Project Management. An international lecturer and consultant to industry and government, he can be reached by e-mail at JensenPMP@gnn.com.
PM Network • October 1996