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An intranet is a private network that uses Internet protocols to securely share any part of an organization's information or operational systems with its employees. Sometimes the term refers only to the organization's internal website, but often it is a more extensive part of the organization's information technology infrastructure and private websites are an important component and focal point of internal communication and collaboration.
An intranet is built from the same concepts and technologies used for the Internet, such as client-server computing and the Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP). Any of the well known Internet protocols may be found in an intranet, such as HTTP (web services), SMTP (e-mail), and FTP (file transfer). Internet technologies are often deployed to provide modern interfaces to legacy information systems hosting corporate data.
An intranet can be understood as a private version of the Internet, or as a private extension of the Internet confined to an organization. The first intranet websites and home pages began to appear in organizations in 1990 - 1991. Although not officially noted, the term intranet first became common-place inside early adopters, such as universities and technology corporations, in 1992.
Intranets differ from extranets in that the former are generally restricted to employees of the organization while extranets may also be accessed by customers, suppliers, or other approved parties. Extranets extend a private network onto the Internet with special provisions for access, authorization and authentication.
An organization's intranet does not necessarily have to provide access to the Internet. When such access is provided it is usually through a network gateway with a firewall, shielding the intranet from unauthorized external access. The gateway often also implements user authentication, encryption of messages, and often virtual private network (VPN) connectivity for off-site employees to access company information, computing resources and internal communications.
Increasingly, intranets are being used to deliver tools and applications, e.g., collaboration (to facilitate working in groups and teleconferencing) or sophisticated corporate directories, sales and customer relationship management tools, project management etc., to advance productivity.
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 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, that part 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, 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 over 2005–2007.
Benefits of intranets
- Workforce productivity: Intranets can also 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 employees' 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: With intranets, organizations can make more information available to employees on a "pull" basis (i.e., employees can link to relevant information at a time which suits them) rather than being deluged indiscriminately by emails.
- Communication: Intranets can serve as powerful tools for communication within an organization, vertically and horizontally. From a communications standpoint, intranets are useful to communicate 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, results achieved to date, and who to speak to for more information. By providing this information on the intranet, staff have 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 (McGovern, Gerry). 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, newsfeeds, and even training, 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 always 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.
- Cost-effective: Users can view information and data via web-browser rather than maintaining physical documents such as procedure manuals, internal phone list and requisition forms. This can potentially save the business money on printing, duplicating documents, and the environment as well as document maintenance overhead. "PeopleSoft, a large software company, has derived significant cost savings by shifting HR processes to the intranet" . Gerry McGovern goes on to say the manual cost of enrolling in benefits was found to be USD109.48 per enrollment. "Shifting this process to the intranet reduced the cost per enrollment to $21.79; a saving of 80 percent" . PeopleSoft also saved some money when they received requests for mailing address change. "For an individual to request a change to their mailing address, the manual cost was USD17.77. The intranet reduced this cost to USD4.87, a saving of 73 percent" . PeopleSoft was just one of the many companies that saved money by using an intranet. Another company that saved a lot of money on expense reports was Cisco. "In 1996, Cisco processed 54,000 reports and the amount of dollars processed was USD19 million" .
- Promote common corporate culture: Every user is viewing the same information within the Intranet.
- Enhance Collaboration: With information easily accessible by all authorised users, teamwork is enabled.
- 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).
- Knowledge of your Audience: Being able to specifically address your "viewer" is a great advantange. Since Intranets are user specific (requiring database/network authentication prior to access), you know exactly who you are interfacing with. So, you can personalize your Intranet based on role (job title, department) or individual ("Congratulations Jane, on your 3rd year with our company!").
- Immediate Updates: When dealing with the public in any capacity, laws/specifications/parameters can change. With an Intranet and providing your audience with "live" changes, they are never out of date, which can limit a company's liability.
- Supports a distributed computing architecture: The intranet can also be linked to a company’s management information system, for example a time keeping system.
Planning and creating an intranet
Most organizations devote considerable resources into 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:
- The purpose and goals of the intranet
- Persons or departments responsible for implementation and management
- Functional plans, information architecture, page layouts, design.
- Implementation schedules and phase-out of existing systems
- Defining and implementing security of the intranet
- How to ensure it is within legal boundaries and other constraints
- Level of interactivity (eg wikis, on-line forms) desired.
- Is the input of new data and updating of existing data to be centrally controlled or devolved.
These are in addition to the hardware and software decisions (like content management systems), participation issues (like good taste, harassment, confidentiality), and features to be supported.
The actual implementation would include steps such as:
- Securing senior management support and funding.
- Business requirements analysis.
- Setting up web server access using a TCP/IP network.
- Installing required user applications on computers.
- Creation of document framework for the content to be hosted.
- User involvement in testing and promoting use of intranet.
- Ongoing measurement and evaluation, including through benchmarking against other intranets.
Content is King: A successful Intranet project engages its viewers and provides them with immense corporate value by:
- Feeding the Intranet: Key personnel must be assigned and committed to feeding Intranet consumers. The alternative for your project to become the "yellow-pages" (a tool that is used as a last resort).
- Keep it current: Information that is current, relevant, informative, and useful to the end-user is the only way to keep them coming back for more.
- Interact or "Listen": Allow your users to create content. Social networking must be an integral part of any Intranet project, if a company is serious about providing information to and receiving information from their employees.
- Feedback: Allow a specific forum for users to tell you what they want and what they do not like.
Act on Feedback: Your users of the Intranet are typically the employees of the company with their finger on the pulse of your industry. Those that are in the trenches on a daily basis will be able to tell "corporate" what trends are happening in the marketplace before any news source. This two-way communication is critical for any successful Intranet. Company executives must read the input and create responses based on the company's direction. Otherwise, what is the point of any employee taking the time to respond. If an employee submits their opinion or their observation, they need to feel that they have been heard. This is accomplished by:
- Require management to review intranet posts on a daily basis and respond to the poster. Let them know that their post has already been addressed, is being reviewed, or is being referred to a department head. This ensures the poster that their post has been read and is being acted upon accordingly. If they do not receive feedback, they will discontinue posting.
- Broadcast feedback: The ideas that make it into the "this is a great idea" bucket, should become "news-worthy". This makes the poster feel useful and encourages others to follow.
- Log feedback by users: This information can be useful when considering an applicant for promotion/transfer, etc. It will also let you know who is focused on the company's benefit and not just "filling a position".
- Require executives to provide daily/weekly content: Everyone wants to hear from the person(s) they are working for. The Executive Team needs to lead the way in communicating the company's vision to their associates on a frequent (daily, if possible. If not, no less than weekly) basis.
- Enterprise portal
- Intranet portal
- Intranet strategies
- Local area network
- Wide area network
- Web portal
- Callaghan, J (2002). Inside Intranets & Extranets: Knowledge Management AND the Struggle for Power. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-98743-8.
- Pernice Coyne, Kara; Schwartz, Mathew; Nielsen, Jakob (2007), "Intranet Design Annual 2007", Nielsen Norman Group
- McGovern, Gerry
- Ward, Toby (2006-06-11). "Leading an intranet redesign". IntranetBlog. http://intranetblog.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2006/6/11/2025170.html. Retrieved 2009-04-03.
- LaMee, James A. (2002-04-30). "Intranets and Special Libraries: Making the most of inhouse communications". University of South Carolina. http://www.libsci.sc.edu/bob/class/clis724/SpecialLibrariesHandbook/Int&SpecLib.html. Retrieved 2009-04-03.
- Ward, Toby. "Planning: An Intranet Model for success Intranet". http://www.prescientdigital.com/articles/intranet-articles/intranet-planning-an-intranet-model-for-success. Retrieved 2009-04-03.
- "Intranet: Table of Contents". Bookrags.com. http://www.bookrags.com/sciences/computerscience/intranet-csci-04.html. Retrieved 2009-04-03.
- "Intranet benchmarking explained". Intranet Benchmarking Forum. http://www.ibforum.com/?cmd=CMS_Article_List_View&uuid=Services&article=8f4928b5b6f5584beda884868f3ca458. Retrieved 2009-04-03.
- McGovern, Gerry (November 18, 2002). "Intranet return on investment case studies". http://www.gerrymcgovern.com/nt/2002/nt_2002_11_18_intranet_roi.htm. Retrieved 2009-04-03.
- "Making the most of your corporate intranet". April 2nd, 2009. http://www.claromentis.com/blog/top-10-ideas-making-the-most-of-your-corporate-intranet_841/. Retrieved 2009-04-02.