An intranet is a computer network that uses Internet Protocol technology to share information, operational systems, or computing services within an organization. This term is used in contrast to extranet, a network between organizations, and instead refers to a network within an organization. Sometimes, the term refers only to the organization's internal website, but may be a more extensive part of the organization's information technology infrastructure, and may be composed of multiple local area networks. The objective is to organize each individual's desktop with minimal cost, time and effort to be more productive, cost efficient, timely, and competitive.
An intranet may host multiple private websites and constitute an important component and focal point of internal communication and collaboration. 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 protocol). Internet technologies are often deployed to provide modern interfaces to legacy information systems hosting corporate data.
An intranet can be understood as a private analog of the Internet, or as a private extension of the Internet confined to an organization. The first intranet websites and home pages were published in 1991, and began to appear in non-educational organizations in 1994.
Intranets are sometimes contrasted to extranets. While intranets are 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).
In many organizations, intranets are protected from unauthorized external access by means of a network gateway and firewall. For smaller companies, intranets may be created simply by using private IP address ranges. In these cases, the intranet can only be directly accessed from a computer in the local network; however, companies may provide access to off-site employees by using a virtual private network, or by other access methods, requiring user authentication and encryption.
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., 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.
- 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 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: 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, 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. 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, 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.
- 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. 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 USD109.48 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 amount of dollars processed was USD19 million".
- Enhance collaboration: Information is easily accessible by all authorised users, which enables teamwork.
- 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 your "viewer" is a great advantage. Since Intranets are user-specific (requiring database/network authentication prior to access), you know exactly who you are interfacing with and can personalize your 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.
- Immediate updates: When dealing with the public in any capacity, laws, specifications, and parameters can change. Intranets make it possible to provide your audience with "live" changes so they are kept up-to-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 creation
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 (e.g. wikis, on-line forms) desired.
- Is the input of new data and updating of existing data to be centrally controlled or devolved
Intranets are often static sites. Essentially they are a shared drive, serving up centrally stored documents alongside internal articles or communications (often one-way communication). However organisations are now starting to think of how their intranets can become a 'communication hub' for their team by using companies specialising in 'socialising' intranets. The actual implementation would include steps such as:
- Securing senior management support and funding.
- Business requirements analysis.
- Identify users' information needs.
- Installation of web server and user access 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.
Another useful component in an intranet structure might be key personnel committed to maintaining the Intranet and keeping content current. For feedback on the intranet, social networking can be done through a forum for users to indicate what they want and what they do not like.
Microsoft SharePoint is the dominant software used for creating intranets. Estimates indicate that around 50% of all intranets are developed using SharePoint, however there are many alternatives. Other intranet software includes:
- eGranary Digital Library
- Enterprise portal
- Intranet portal
- Intranet strategies
- Intranet Wiki
- Kwangmyong (intranet)
- Local area network
- Private network IP-addresses to be used inside private networks
- Virtual workplace
- Wide area network
- Web portal
- Luk, A. (9 May 1991). "Fujikama goes Unix". IEEE Pacific Rim Conference on Communications, Computers and Signal Processing, 1991 (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) 2: 783–786. doi:10.1109/PACRIM.1991.160857. ISBN 0879426381. Retrieved 2013-03-04. "The internet and intranet Unix network provide a functioning email facility around the world."
- Richardson, C.; Schoultz, M. (14 October 1991). "Formation flight system design concept". Digital Avionics Systems Conference, 1991. Proceedings., IEEE/AIAA 10th: 18–25. doi:10.1109/DASC.1991.177138. Retrieved 2013-03-04. "The data transfer task is broken up into two network solutions: an intranet used for transferring data among formation members at high update rates to support close formation flight and an internet used for transferring data among the separate formations at lower update rates."
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