Friday, April 28, 2006

Intranets and portals as agents of change in an organisation


The present paper is an analysis of three case studies of intranet and intranet based portal initiatives in different types of organisations. The general aim of the study was to investigate how intranet and portals contribute to the change in performance and culture of private and public sector organisations and in academic environment. In order to do this the author conducted research on 3 different case studies involving four different organisations with a focus on, among other things, identifying the change of performance and culture posed by intranet and portal. The results are presented in the form of discussion with critical evaluation of the limitations and scopes of improvements. This paper concludes with a result which shows the changes brought in by the intranet and intranet based portals in the four corresponding organisations.

1. Introduction:

An organisation’s knowledge is based in its people and cannot readily be collected or distributed. Judgement, experience, skills, and the previous learning of workers are tacit knowledge, (see diagram 1 in appendix) which has “become the target of management approaches that sought techniques and processes to make the implicit explicit: to ‘extract’ knowledge from people and codify it for dissemination and use by others.” (Manville, 1999) Manville sees a third generation of knowledge management approaches that focuses on this task of extracting knowledge from people who do not realise they have it. The modern day organisations have started to make an attempt to reuse the knowledge of their employees. The problem is most of the knowledge their employees hold are tacit knowledge which are time consuming, expensive and slow to share. Because it cannot be truly systematised, sharing tacit knowledge can only be done by person to person interaction. This is where inexpensive and effective web based information tools like internet, intranets and portals come handy.

The intranet and intranet based portals play a huge role in transforming tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge and vice versa. With help of the web tools, the users can express their thoughts and initiate ideas, which then get transferred to their peers.

Intranet and portals are the tools which would enable its users to provide effective information to help them making decision on range of professional, academic and often personal activities.

The world has seen a boom in development of web based technology over last few years. The development of internet has made the communication exceptionally easy and cost effective. An internet website provides basic facilities of web, which allow the end users to search for digital document, media and follow relevant links to other resources. The internet is aimed for public consumption without restriction. Anyone can visit an internet site and can gain intended information. Some of the sites charge fees for providing information. But internet still remains largely a free source of information.

An intranet, on the other hand, is developed for the staff of an organisation, which concentrates on providing relevant information to an internal group. Access to intranet is limited to an intended community and follows an authentication process.

A web portal is a gateway to web that allows the access of information on intranet and internet web sites which are customised via a single entry point. Users can customise their own portal screen and get a chunk of information from different places in one screen according to their preference.

The aim of this study is to determine the impact of intranets and portals within an organisation which brings about changes in the culture and performance through sharing information.

The objectives of the study include, identifying and reviewing the recent developments of intranets and portals within the organisation. The study also intends to focus on cultural changes which are being brought in by intranets and portals within the organisation.

On the whole, the study will try to identify how the intranets and portals have brought changes in the performance, structure and behaviour in organisations, and how the changes ultimately contributed to the success of the organisations.

2. Literature review:

Intranets and portals are the most common ways of cascading information in a modern day organisation. They both play vital roles in communication between the employees in an organisation. The aim of this research is to find out the level of impact of intranets and portals within any type of organisation. To find relevant information on the topic ‘Intranets and portals as agents of change in an organisation’ extensive sources of information have been considered. The main sources of information identified were the journals related to knowledge management, management related topics and management information systems related topics.

To find out the relevant articles a search profile was constructed. The benefit of creating the search profile was-it enabled the author to better construct the search procedure in light of the research question. Following the search profile the limits of the literature search were identified. It was evident that due to the topic of the research. It was going to be really difficult to find any published literature in the commercially printed media i.e. books. So the option of looking for the relevant journals was undertaken. Online sources for the journals had been exhausted. The journal of knowledge management became particularly handy with its efficient search facility. A several keywords containing the relevant words were used. Other journals researched were the electronic library and various other management and technology related journals relevant to the question topic.

A case study analysis of Ericsson conducted by Hellstrom, Kemlin and Malmquist (2000) identified the changes that have taken place within Ericsson after the implementation of web based technologies. The implementation of the systems like Zopps and Knack have enabled its staff to share knowledge within and outside the organisation via number of learning resources, materials, templates etc. The Zopps initiative involved the members of staff and their families who could contribute to the site spontaneously. The Knack initiative, which is an educational portal, enabled the staff of the organisation to strengthen the level of competency via providing them quick access to the learning resources as well as by making it easy and desirable for potential content providers to make their resources and expertise known.

Another case study by Flowers, Newton and Paine (1998) discussed the changes which took place after the implementation of intranet within Brighton Business School. Its resources contained university regulations, course and examination timetables, module schedules, module materials including lecture slides, reading lists, links to other useful Web sites, past examination papers etc.

The aim of developing this system was to build the foundations for a new technology-based infrastructure for learning and teaching. This would enable both the students and the teachers to access wider range of learning and teaching opportunities. Initially the project started as a small pilot project in a single year group on a 4 year sandwich project during one academic year which identified the obstacles to the systems and analysed the potential change in information sharing that could take place after the installation of such a system.

The most significant issue arose, when the course materials such as lectures and presentations slide were decided to be put on the intranet. As hard copy of all teaching materials were provided to the students during the lectures, the lecturers were not really concerned about the fact that they would have to be organised to be able to put all the course materials online in time. But the question was about the students’ access to the lecture materials without going to the lecture. In the end they realised that the lecture notes play a really small role in the overall learning process and 9 out of 10 lecturers published their lectures on the intranet. It was a huge cultural change in the university’s teaching environment.

Awre (2003) looked into The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) plans to implement portals across the UK H/E institutes. In the article the author looked into resources available via portal, advantages of the usage and gave direction to implement such a portal in an academic environment. The author proposed the integration of the external resources within the JISC portal so that anyone related to post-16 learning, teaching or research environment is able to access the needed information with ease and effectiveness.

Mphidi (2004) carried out a research on three South African libraries to find out the use of their intranet and the change intranet brought about in the three organisations. The authors found out that the intranet have brought some changes across three libraries which include, easy sharing of information, interactivity, accessibility and consistency. But the authors pointed out that the intranets were focusing on what the organisation wanted the users to know, according to author the intranet facility should have focused more on what users want to know. The authors found out that, the users in three different libraries were using the intranet services for different reasons. The authors concluded with the consensus that, the intranet should focus more on user need to be able to bring about change in an organisation.

In the article ‘Inside the intranets at BA and Glaxo: How technology is facilitating change’ published in 2003, the author discussed how the intranet changed the working pattern of two organisations. According to the author of the article, British Airways is an example of leading strategic IT initiatives. BA established a group which successfully brought together a business strategy group and an IT strategy group together. The newly formed group then worked together to develop an intranet service to facilitate knowledge management and e-learning within the organisation. The supporting activities of the intranet were to enable IT workers to rotate between the projects; the pilots were able to request different routings within a matter a few seconds and were able to process their request through handheld computers.

Another multinational company GlaxoSmithkline developed an intranet so that their employees were able to share their tacit knowledge. This extra-ordinary intranet service created a virtual environment- a ‘village’ within the intranet environment and the users were able to knock on the door of any ‘house’ within the ‘village’ to share knowledge with the ‘occupier’ of the house. Basically the system enabled the users to let others know about what they know, and allowed them to share their experience with others.

Keith Denton (2006) in his research paper described how the Ford motor company successfully used the intranet facility in every aspect of its work. Inside the Ford motor company every single truck and car model has its own intranet site to track design, production, quality control and delivery processes. In this way everyone can keep track of their work. If an extra assembling is needed they can find out how it is going to slow down the delivery, or they can monitor the delivery process of the products via intranet. Another revolutionary idea of within the intranet was an evaluation form- where the employees were evaluating the performance of their superiors.

McGaughey (1997) in his article discussed how intranet can facilitate to improve competitiveness. As an example the author discussed how a modification of product can be enhanced by the help of intranet. The author opines, an intranet-based groupware product could facilitate the sharing of information regarding customer needs and collective interpretation of those needs, and it could support collaborative work on product and process design. A sales person familiar with the customer, a product engineer, a process engineer, a purchasing manager, a production/service manager, and workers responsible for making the product could all provide input into the product design and simultaneously for process design. Participants could share data in an appropriate format to convey the relevant details concerning customer needs and the product or process design. Such a capability could make it possible for anyone, anywhere in the organisation with intranet access, to participate in the process of designing products and processes to better meet customer needs. (McGaughey, 1997)

Daniel (2006) discusses two case studies in her article to introduce enterprise portals and show their ability to provide comprehensive services in the local government. The research paper draws two case studies from two different county councils in the UK.

In the West Sussex council the portal had initially been set up for staff only. Using the portal the council staffs were going to be able to personalise their portals according to their professional needs. It was also planned that local residents and other stakeholders are going to have their own portals in future. Therefore, the portal will become the common point of access for sharing information for everyone involving the council. The Drug Action Exchange Project (DaeX) had been included in the portal which links council’s social and caring services with others in education and external practitioners from the health service and criminal justice service.

As found by the author, the Hertfordshire council had adopted similar initiative to improve working between services and works within the council. Their e-commerce initiative, termed ‘Herts Connect’, examines all areas of its operations.

Wen (1998) shows a case study of a large regional Bell operating company and illustrates how intranets facilitate documentation availability within the company at substantial cost savings. In the case study the author first reviewed the current document storing system which is the traditional paper based documentation system. The paper based documentation systems involve big cost as production and distribution of the information via printed media is costly.

Then the paper discussed the cost effectiveness of intranet document management systems (IDMS). According to the research conducted by the author, the funding needed to cover expenditure for IDMS server hardware and software, browser, publication software, training and costs of updates were $2,423,500. If there were no IDMS the three years total cost of preparing, printing and mailing paper publications would be $5,180,130.
The total publication saving is $2,756,630 for the compensation benefit document and training materials. (Wen, 1998)

In the above articles and case studies, the authors have discussed the changes that have taken place following the implementation of intranet and intranet based portals. The articles discussed the cultural and technological changes these ICT changes brought along which changed the way the organisations work.

Clearly the presence of intranet and portal are contributing to the free-flow of knowledge within the organisations thus changing the culture within an organisation. The whole concept of knowledge management is ever evolving with the invention and implementation of ICT technologies and intranet and intranet based portals have played a key role for last few years in changing the way of knowledge management within organisations.

3. Methods:

The research was decided to be a qualitative research, rather than a quantitative research. The reason for that was qualitative research enables people to understand the research outcome in a better way. Besides, according to Kaplan and Maxwell (1994), the goal of understanding a fact from the point of view of the participants and its particular social and institutional context is largely lost when textual data are quantified.

In order to carry out the qualitative research, case studies were chosen as the method of research for this project. Case studies are incidents or phenomenon in real life context which would allow the outcome of the research close to the real life environment.

The advantage of doing the research just based on case study was, the case studies are taken from real world environment, rather than hypotheses that are used in other type of research, so case studies bear more resemblance of the real life environment.

The title which was proposed in the project proposal was shortened to avoid any ambiguity. The original research question in the proposal was to find out the impact of ‘ICT applications as agents of changed’. Since the term ‘ICT applications’ covered a wide range of technologies, it was impossible to conduct the whole research within the allocated timeframe (see appendix for Gantt chart) for the research.

To make the research more pragmatic and worthy of current business environment, the impact of intranet and portal was chosen as topic for the research. The author decided to conduct research on the impact of intranets and portals as an agent of change in the modern day organisations.

The altered title also helped to boost the productivity of the search results for relevant articles and case studies which was the first method for achieving the objectives for this study. With the help of case studies and articles it was easy to identify the differences intranets and portals brought about within business environments.

Following the method, an extensive search for relevant literature have been undertaken both on electronic and printed resources.

However, the electronic sources were proven much more useful due to the accessibility and the easy searching facility. Emerald, especially, was proven to be the most effective; therefore most of the literatures used in this project were collected from Emerald. Journal of knowledge management was a particular journal which was really helpful in finding case studies. Referrals from various academics at MMU also helped to retrieve some of the literature used in this project.

Quite a few literatures were reviewed (see reference), to identify the recent developments within the arena of intranets and portals within corporate and academic environment. Also several articles related to intranet and portals have been researched to find out any helpful ideas. A thorough study has been conducted to point out the changes that have taken place due to the implementation or improvement of the intranet and portal.

It was decided that, three relevant case studies from public, private and academic environment would be collected to find out the impacts of intranets and portals in three different types of organisation. Then from knowledge management perspective, the case studies were analysed to identify the changes posed by intranets and portals within these three different types of organisations.

Following the search profile created for the literature review 3 articles were chosen to identify the impact of intranets and portals within 3 different kinds of organisation- public, private and academic sector. The studies from Hellstrom et al. (2002), Flowers et al. (1998) and Daniel et al. (2006) were finalised to be used for this research.

4. Discussion:

In the three selected studies Hellstrom et al. (2002) discuss how intranet and portals have brought about changes in the organisational culture and environment at Ericsson. Flowers et al. (1998) discuss their experience of creating a faculty intranet at Brighton Business School and Daniel et al. (2006) share their experience from the research from two county council portal technology in UK.

4.1: Integrated service delivery: Exploratory case studies of enterprise portal adoption in UK local government.

In this article the authors Elizabeth Daniel and John Ward (2006) have researched on two county councils to find out the impact of portals in integrating services in local government arena.

Due to the widespread uproar about the incompetence of the local government in UK, the central government had been looking for a thorough development in the public sector. A major part of providing a good service to public service stakeholders is the concept of integrated services which would reduce the gaps among the fractions within the public sector.

The study on West Sussex council was conducted in December 2002 and the research was interview based which was taped and was later transcribed.

According to the authors, the e-government initiative is found widespread across the developed world as a part of enhancing the local government service. The central government realised the importance of introduction of the e-governance in the UK to raise the standard of the work of underperforming local government organisations. Both of the councils have started to set up enterprise portals for the stakeholders of the respective councils.

The authors picked two different county councils to conduct their research. In the West Sussex county council, the initiative was taken primarily for the staff to be able to use the portal service. The portal included the links to Drug Action Exchange Project (DaeX). The initiative was to identify the school children who were vulnerable to drugs and other anti-social behaviour. It also had links to police and criminal justice service. The portal also provided the possibility of extracting information from systems from external agencies and other participating groups. This system allowed the staff to continue to work with a system/portal they are familiar with while getting external information.

With the help of the portal, joint projects were also undertaken with education services, probation services, NHS and other local agencies that are aimed at reducing crime and improving community safety. With the portal, the stakeholders were able to share information which was not possible via a regular website.

The research on the Hertfordshire Council was conducted in three phases. The first part of research was conducted in November 2001 which explored the initial development of the e-government services by interviewing five managers; the second part was conducted in August 2002 where the authors reviewed council’s updated information systems strategy. The final part of the research was conducted in February 2003 when the director of community information from the council described the latest e-government activities with emphasis on portals.

For both the West Sussex council and Hertfordshire council, there was emphasis on e-partnership between local district councils. The portals together with other systems like customer relationship management system and content management system was aimed to get the partnership working.

4.2 Critical Evaluation:

The article successfully brings about case studies on a relatively new enterprise portal technology. The article describes how the performance of the relevant councils improved after the implementation of enterprise portals. Authors also hope that, if allowed, the portal will be equally helpful for the residential users and the customers of the council.

It allows the stakeholders to hope that the council services will be able to provide more efficient services with the low cost and shorter period of time.
However the article does not reflect on some important issues like the culture of the organisation and the community which is very important for the enterprise portal to be successful.

After implementing the portal it may have been easy to encourage its employees to use the portal, but when the portal goes communitywide or cross organisational, it might face a real problem in encouraging the stakeholders outside the council to use the portals.

Moreover, some of the stakeholders within the community might not have the technological access or technical knowledge to enjoy the full benefit of the portal. To avoid this problem a community awareness initiative can be undertaken via local libraries and other community centres to educate the stakeholders to use the portal. A community wide awareness scheme can also be undertaken so that the stakeholders of the portal know the benefit of using the system and get motivated to use it.

Another limitation of this research is, the research is only conducted on two organisations. The research in both organisations weren’t conducted following the same time frame either. Although the aim of the research is not to provide absolute truth about the benefit of enterprise portals, a country wide or international research would have been more useful to get a true picture of portals in action. It would also allow the authors to identify the common benefits and experience of the enterprise portal.

Overall this research provides an insight into different local government organisations in UK who have adopted the enterprise portal technology and have started to reap benefit by reducing time and cost for the works involved and by increasing efficiency. It is highly probable that other public sector organisations within UK and organisations worldwide can take up these two councils as models and build on that to provide efficient portal technology to their stakeholders.

4.3: Creating a faculty intranet: a case study in change.

This article concentrates on cultural issues of implementing intranet. The case study organisation is the Brighton business school and the authors of the article are all from the Brighton business school.

An organisational culture is a combination of basic assumptions, the organisation’s experience, its values and the accepted informal procedures which have worked well for the organisation. Organisational behaviour is very closely related to the organisational culture which ascertains the impact of the culture in an organisation.

The authors tried to identify the cultural aspect of the implementation of the department intranet. As discussed in the literature review, the Brighton business school initiated the project of a faculty intranet so that the students and academics would have a one point access for all the relevant learning and teaching resources.

The initiative started methodically with a pilot project with the intention of reducing the expectations on the intranet and also to find out what kind of response they would get from the academic staff.

The initial stage of the project involved three people who worked together to conceptualise, design and implement the project. The key stakeholders were identified and their interests were approached while conducting the project planning. Series of formal and informal discussions took place with the stakeholders to get an idea of what the users want. Following the outcome of the discussions and from experience outside the business school, a few changes were made to the original planning which included the transformation of module based webpage to an extended reading list.

In addition to the initial negative response from the lecturer about publishing the lecture material on the intranet which was discussed in the literature review, the initial response from the academics after the implementation of the intranet was somewhat negative. The academics, especially the non-IT related staff were not pleased with intranet and didn’t find a reason to use it. As the involvement of the academics in sharing information on the intranet was initially voluntary, this threatened to fail the cause of creating the faculty intranet. But the attitude was changed by the passing of time and all the academics started to take part in sharing resources on the intranet.

As for the students, intranet proved to be really popular. Some of the students were involved from the very early stage of creating the intranet. So they were overwhelmed to see the intranet working. The rest of the students who weren’t involved in the process of implementing the intranet were also pleased to find a one point access for sharing information.

4.4 Critical Evaluation:

The main point of this study, as noted before is the cultural study of the organisation. By reading the article it can easily be understood how the culture of an organisation is important to get a new system working. It also shows how to persuade people to use a new technology. As a matter of fact, as the authors point out, the intranet project can be termed as “creating an environment in which a long-established culture of learning and teaching could be to change.” (Flowers, 1998)

One criticism of the intranet was it didn’t include the academics in the creation and implementation process of the intranet. This was evident when some of the lecturers opposed to put their lecture materials on the intranet. It is easy understood that all the lecturers don’t work in same way, so it was unreasonable to ask them to provide the lecture notes online.

By asking the lecturers to provide lecture materials online, the people involved with the intranet tried to standardise the course content, but it should’ve been done following the discussion with the academics. This would also reduce the need for explanation of how to work with the intranet and the time spent to persuade the academics to use the intranet.

Another criticism of the Brighton business school intranet is some of the feature didn’t appeal to students or academics. For example, the discussion group feature on the intranet remained largely unused as neither the students nor the academics had a clear idea of how to make use of that. A user survey should have been conducted prior to the creation of the intranet to find out if the discussion group feature was really needed. Alternatively, after the installation of intranet service, the students and academics should have been briefed how the feature could be made more useful.

Most of the research for this study is based on the pilot project. It would be interesting to see how much of the initial success were transferred to the main project when the full fledged intranet was put in place.

Overall, after analysing the case study, it is clear that, there are possibilities that when change occurs in an organisation, not everyone is going to be happy about that. So a change management plan should be introduced. Involvement is the best way of managing change. If the stakeholders are involved in the changing procedure from the very beginning, then it is unlikely that they will oppose when the changes take place. Another way of managing change is by persuasion. (Senior, 2002) This persuasion can be done by training, focus groups and incentives. The outcry from the academic staff during the starting of intranet could have been avoided if the correct change management was in place.

4.5: Knowledge and competence management at Ericsson: decentralization and organisational fit.

This case study looks at modern day global corporate giant Ericsson, and discusses how their intranet and portal have created an impact in their organisation structure and behaviour.

Ericsson has several intranets and intranet based portals, namely, Image, Zopps, Knack and Stargate. This web based information sharing tools in Ericsson enable the employees, and some cases other stakeholders to share information about the desired topics.

The knowledge management via intranet and portal allows an organisation to be somewhat hybrid. The organisation can be a boundary-less organisation where the various elements from outside the organisations play vital roles in decision making as well as changing its decisions. The flow of knowledge within the organisation is quite important as it plays the part of repositories both internally and externally. For that reason the structure of Ericsson is quite flexible.

The working environment at Ericsson is highly competitive as its products are changing constantly and it has keep itself up to date with the market in order to retain its market leader status. The structure is highly project based and network orientated.

As described in the case study, the unskilled work of the families of the employees had been put through intranet based portal Zopps and BIC to make the ideas useful for the organisation. This sort of information sources has made the organisation highly dynamic and widespread. It also enabled the lower level staff to put their ideas forward for the consideration to the top level of the management. As there is a strong network of coordination through the web-based initiatives, the duplication of tasks had been possible to be avoided and the efforts and the skills were invested in innovation and care. Since the work is project based all the single skilled staff were becoming multi-skilled as they had to take part in all aspects of a project. It also brings up a co-ordination amongst the colleagues as well as co-ordination from the top management.

The power base had also been transformed from the bosses to the customers. The prime target of the organisation is the customer satisfaction, which had been identifiable via efficient use of knowledge management tools like intranets and portals.
Through knowledge management the members of staff had been engaged in their work more locally, resulting the organisation to be a decentralized one.
In the case study organisation, this change had led to a change in the organisational culture. Due to the widespread use of internet and other communicative technologies, the Ericsson recruits had become more technology literate, and they tend to have a bias on using the technology on an advanced level. But Ericsson had dealt with the need with using its staff rationally and spread the use of technology horizontally rather than vertically.
It also created an environment where ideas can be put forward informally for consideration via BIC, and if agreed, can be implemented. As it is described in the case study when attending the common meetings, one is constantly surprised to hear about new initiatives being launched within the organisation that had not come down through any official channels.
Knowledge management tools such as intranets and portals in an organisation also prompt some cultural norms in an organisation. It creates a culture of challenging the information retrieved and myths that are in place.
In Ericsson, as discussed in the case study, through intranets and portals, it was going through a ‘competence/knowledge shift’. The main objective of the shift is to create a global competence and knowledge community to support Ericsson employees in understanding the new business logic, and to transfer competence and knowledge to external operators’ currently traditional technology culture. So, as we can see after the introduction of intranet and portals the organisation took a broader approach to acquiring and utilizing knowledge from all over the world.
Drawing from the above discussion, the knowledge management procedure within Ericsson can be best described using the Porter’s Knowledge Value chain.

4.6 Critical Evaluation:

One of the main criticisms about too many web based initiatives is-it reduces the face to face interaction, which risks losing the responsiveness and competence sharing. (Hellstrom et al. 2000)

Another point that was noted in the article was that, Ericsson went worldwide with its intranet based tools too early. Then again, they started off as a pilot project basis, so there was a little chance of things going horribly wrong. If anything did go wrong there was always a scope of abandoning the project with the minimum disruption to Ericsson’s core business activities.

Another critical issue that remains even after implementing so many web initiatives is, will the users really initiate ideas or make the most out of the web initiatives? Answer to this lies in the organisation culture. Being a technology oriented organisation. Ericsson employees enjoy relatively high degree of technical competence, which translated into initiating ideas on the web.

This article does not contain information about how the different intranets and intranet based portals were implemented. Were the users asked to provide their feedback into any sort of improvement of the web tools?
Surely feedback from the end users of the tools would’ve made the web tools more user-centric.

An internal knowledge management audit on the case study organisation would have been helpful in order to reveal the extent of success that had been brought in by the intranets and portals.

5. Concluding Remarks:

In the case study organizations, after implementing the web tools like intranets and portals into the day to day activities, it is evident that the knowledge management plays a pivotal role in the performance behaviour and structure of the organisation. Without the knowledge management it would be difficult to define a structure, culture or organizational behaviour within a modern organization, which would result in lack of understanding of the working procedure and peers in an organization. Through the sharing of information enabled by knowledge management tools like intranets and portals, the organisations can improve workforce productivity via effective time management and communication.

Although there are some prescribed development has been put forward for discussion in the case study evaluations, it is needless to say that in a modern day organization, it is essential to understand the process of knowledge management using tools like intranets and intranet based portals to identify the influence they make on performance enhancement and to be a success story in this very competitive world.

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