What is an Intranet

An intranet is a computer network for sharing information, easier communication, collaboration tools, operational systems, and other computing services within an organization, usually to the exclusion of access by outsiders. The term is used in contrast to public networks, such as the Internet, but uses most of the same technology based on the Internet protocol suite.

A company-wide intranet can constitute an important focal point of internal communication and collaboration, and provide a single starting point to access internal and external resources. In its simplest form, an intranet is established with the technologies for local area networks (LANs) and wide-area networks (WANs). Many modern intranets have search engines, user profiles, blogs, mobile apps with notifications, and events planning within their infrastructure.

An intranet is sometimes contrasted with an extranet. While an intranet is generally restricted to employees of the organization, extranets may also be accessed by customers, suppliers, or other approved parties. Extranets extend a private network onto the Internet with special provisions for authentication, authorization, and accounting (AAA protocol).

Uses


Increasingly, intranets are being used to deliver tools, e.g. collaboration (to facilitate working in groups and teleconferencing) or sophisticated corporate directories, sales and customer relationship management tools, project management, etc.,

Intranets are also being used as corporate culture-change platforms. For example, large numbers of employees discussing key issues in an intranet forum application could lead to new ideas in management, productivity, quality, and other corporate issues.

In large intranets, website traffic is often similar to public website traffic and can be better understood by using web metrics software to track overall activity. User surveys also improve intranet website effectiveness.

Larger businesses allow users within their intranet to access the public internet through firewall servers. They have the ability to screen messages coming and going, keeping security intact. When part of an intranet is made accessible to customers and others outside the business, it becomes part of an extranet. Businesses can send private messages through the public network, using special encryption/decryption and other security safeguards to connect one part of their intranet to another.

Intranet user-experience, editorial, and technology teams work together to produce in-house sites. Most commonly, intranets are managed by the communications, HR, or CIO departments of large organizations, or some combination of these.

Because of the scope and variety of content and the number of system interfaces, the intranets of many organizations are much more complex than their respective public websites. Intranets and their use are growing rapidly. According to the Intranet Design Annual 2007 from Nielsen Norman Group, the number of pages on participants’ intranets averaged 200,000 over the years 2001 to 2003 and has grown to an average of 6 million pages from 2005 to 2007.

Benefits


Workforce productivity: Intranets can help users to locate and view information faster and use applications relevant to their roles and responsibilities. With the help of a web browser interface, users can access data held in any database the organization wants to make available, anytime and — subject to security provisions — from anywhere within the company workstations, increasing the employee’s ability to perform their jobs faster, more accurately, and with confidence that they have the right information. It also helps to improve the services provided to the users.

Time: Intranets allow organizations to distribute information to employees on an as-needed basis; Employees may link to relevant information at their convenience, rather than being distracted indiscriminately by email.

Communication: Intranets can serve as powerful tools for communication within an organization, vertically strategic initiatives that have a global reach throughout the organization. The type of information that can easily be conveyed is the purpose of the initiative and what the initiative is aiming to achieve, who is driving the initiative, the results achieved to date, and whom to speak to for more information. By providing this information on the intranet, staff has the opportunity to keep up-to-date with the strategic focus of the organization. Some examples of communication would be chat, email, and/or blogs. A great real-world example of where an intranet helped a company communicate is when Nestle had a number of food processing plants in Scandinavia. Their central support system had to deal with a number of queries every day. When Nestle decided to invest in an intranet, they quickly realized the savings. McGovern says the savings from the reduction in query calls was substantially greater than the investment in the intranet.

Web publishing allows cumbersome corporate knowledge to be maintained and easily accessed throughout the company using hypermedia and Web technologies. Examples include employee manuals, benefits documents, company policies, business standards, news feeds, and even training, which can be accessed using common Internet standards (Acrobat files, Flash files, CGI applications). Because each business unit can update the online copy of a document, the most recent version is usually available to employees using the intranet.

Business operations and management: Intranets are also being used as a platform for developing and deploying applications to support business operations and decisions across the internetworked enterprise.

Workflow: a collective term that reduces delay, such as automating meeting scheduling and vacation planning

Cost-effectiveness: Users can view information and data via a web browser rather than maintaining physical documents such as procedure manuals, internal phone lists, and requisition forms. This can potentially save the business money on printing, duplicating documents, and the environment as well as document maintenance overhead. For example, the HRM company PeopleSoft “derived significant cost savings by shifting HR processes to the intranet”. McGovern goes on to say the manual cost of enrolling in benefits was found to be US$109.48 per enrollment. “Shifting this process to the intranet reduced the cost per enrollment to $21.79; a saving of 80 percent”. Another company that saved money on expense reports was Cisco. “In 1996, Cisco processed 54,000 reports and the number of dollars processed was USD19 million”.

Enhance collaboration: Information is easily accessible by all authorized users, which enables teamwork. Being able to communicate in real-time through integrated third-party tools, such as an instant messenger, promotes the sharing of ideas and removes blockages to communication to help boost a business’s productivity.

Cross-platform capability: Standards-compliant web browsers are available for Windows, Mac, and UNIX.

Built for one audience: Many companies dictate computer specifications which, in turn, may allow Intranet developers to write applications that only have to work on one browser (no cross-browser compatibility issues). Being able to specifically address one’s “viewer” is a great advantage. Since intranets are user-specific (requiring database/network authentication prior to access), users know exactly who they are interfacing with and can personalize their intranet based on role (job title, department) or individual (“Congratulations Jane, on your 3rd year with our company!”).

Promote common corporate culture: Every user has the ability to view the same information within the intranet.

Supports a distributed computing architecture’: The intranet can also be linked to a company’s management information system, for example, a time keeping system.

Employee Engagement: Since “involvement in decision making” is one of the main drivers of employee engagement, offering tools (like forums or surveys) that foster peer-to-peer collaboration and employee participation can make employees feel more valued and involved.

Planning and Creation


Most organizations devote considerable resources to the planning and implementation of their intranet as it is of strategic importance to the organization’s success. Some of the planning would include topics such as determining the purpose and goals of the intranet, identifying persons or departments responsible for implementation and management, and devising functional plans, page layouts and designs.

The appropriate staff would also ensure that implementation schedules and phase-out of existing systems were organized while defining and implementing the security of the intranet and ensuring it lies within legal boundaries and other constraints. In order to produce a high-value end product, systems planners should determine the level of interactivity (e.g. wikis, online forms) desired.

Planners may also consider whether the input of new data and updating of existing data is to be centrally controlled or devolve. These decisions sit alongside the hardware and software considerations (like content management systems (CSM)), participation issues (like good taste, harassment, confidentiality), and features to be supported.

Intranets are often static sites; they are a shared drive, serving up centrally stored documents alongside internal articles or communications (often one-way communication). By leveraging firms that specialize in ‘social’ intranets, organizations are beginning to think of how their intranets can become a ‘communication hub’ for their entire team. The actual implementation would include steps such as securing senior management support and funding, conducting a business requirement analysis, and identifying users’ information needs.

From the technical perspective, there would need to be a coordinated installation of the web server and user access network, the required user/client applications, and the creation of a document framework (or template) for the content to be hosted.

The end-user should be involved in testing and promoting the use of the company intranet, possibly through a parallel adoption methodology or pilot program. In the long term, the company should carry out ongoing measurement and evaluation, including benchmarking against other company services.


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