by Dinesh Thakur Category: Services and Applications

An intranet is a private computer network that uses Internet Protocol technologies to securely share any part of an organization's information or operational systems within that organization. The term is used in contrast tointernet,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. It may host multiple private websites and constitute an important component and focal point of internal communication and collaboration.

To put that another way, imagine all the computers owned by the company being connected to each other in exactly the same way as computers all over the world are connected to  each other by the Internet. That would then be a company Intranet. There are other differences, obviously, of which the first is that this company Intranet, or network, does not necessarily have to be connected to the Internet proper. It could perfectly easily exist in total isolation from the rest of the world. There would also have to be extra software added to each computer so that the information stored on it would, in effect, be set up as the equivalent to a website complete with links to other web pages, but this could be easily done. The technology which creates web pages for the Internet can also create web pages for a company Intranet because the system is exactly the same. It even uses the same HTML coding and is designed to be accessed by the same Browsers.

As far as Intranets are concerned the only real questions to be answered are not those of implementation, but the much more practical concerns such as why would anyone want to do it in the first place? Here the original idea was that it could be used in situations where large numbers of people needed access to large amounts of constantly updated information. For example companies selling a wide variety of components (like automobile spares) would be spared the expense of constantly re-printing their parts list every time a price or specification changed. Instead the entire catalogue could be stored on a web page where any updates would be as easy as pressing the right button. There was also talk of large organizations storing their internal phone directories on an Intranet for exactly the same reason although neither of these uses was enough to turn Intranets into something more than just a theoretical possibility. Standard computer networks already offered most of this, but as Browsers and web pages slowly became more sophisticated an unexpected side-effect of this was to make Intranets more useful so that other, major, advantages now exist.

Characteristics of Intranet

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 analog 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 among early adopters, such as universities and technology corporations, in 1992.

Intranets are also contrasted with 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 access, authorization, and authentication (AAA protocol).

Intranets may provide a gateway to the Internet by means of 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.

Uses of Intranet

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.

Intranet user-experience, editorial, and technology team’s 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.

Benefits of Intranet

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: 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 electronic mail.

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 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.

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 internet worked 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.

Promote common corporate culture: Every user is viewing the same information within the Intranet.

Enhance Collaboration: With information easily accessible by all authorized 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 advantage. 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 Gob title, department) or individual.

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 creation of 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:

  1. The purpose and goals of the intranet.
  2. Persons or departments responsible for implementation and management.
  3. Functional plans, information architecture, page layouts, design.
  4. Implementation schedules and phase-out of existing systems.
  5. Defining and implementing security of the intranet.
  6. How to ensure it is within legal boundaries and other constraints.
  7. Level of interactivity (e.g. wikis, on-line forms) desired.
  8. Is the input of new data and updating of existing data to be centrally controlled or devolved?
  9. 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

  1. Securing senior management support and funding.
  2. Business requirements analysis.
  3. User involvement ,to identify users' information needs.
  4. Installation of web server and user access network.
  5. Installing required user applications on computers.
  6. Creation of document framework for the content to be hosted.
  7. User involvement in testing and promoting use of intranet.
  8. Ongoing measurement and evaluation, including through benchmarking against other intranets.

Useful components of an intranet structure might include:

  1. Key personnel committed to maintaining the Intranet and keeping content current.
  2. Social networking' is useful as a feedback forum for users to indicate what they want and what they do not like.
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About Dinesh Thakur

Dinesh ThakurDinesh Thakur holds an B.SC (Computer Science), MCSE, MCDBA, CCNA, CCNP, A+, SCJP certifications. Dinesh authors the hugely popular blog. Where he writes how-to guides around Computer fundamental , computer software, Computer programming, and web apps. For any type of query or something that you think is missing, please feel free to Contact us.