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 to internet,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.
We’ll be covering the following topics in this tutorial:
Elements that constitute an Intranet
Intranets are possible thanks to the conception of distributed computing, which emerged in the world of business in the eighties. The arrival of what are called Wide Area Networks, or WAN, has made Intranets a possible phenomenon in today’s reality. When we talk about distributed computing, we refer to computer networks (the best known are possibly LAN networks), which have partly replaced the traditional corporate mainframes. When building any computer network, and especially an Intranet, we need some essential elements:
First, it is necessary to have adequate hardware or hardware for the Intranet, which includes:
• PCs or Workstations that act as Web Servers, under the Client-Server model.
• Workers’ PCs, which act as Clients and their corresponding peripherals.
• A wiring system that interconnects the Server or Servers with the Client equipment (coaxial cable, twisted pair, or optical fiber) Hardware elements that configure the traditional network concept:
• Connection cards or NIC (Network Interface Card), transceivers, repeaters, hubs or hubs, etc.
• Machines that act as firewalls and their corresponding software.
Secondly, we need a series of software elements that make it possible to configure the network as an Intranet. Highlights:
• A network operating system, which supports the exchange of information and, as such, resides on both clients and servers. Today, there are several operating systems available in the market: Unix, Linux, Windows NT, Novell Netware, and others.
• Network applications, which in this case, refer to the use of browsers, residents on server and client computers, as well as specific email, FTP, etc. programs. A network management system, which allows the control of benefits, problems, security, or configuration.
• Standard Web communication protocols.
The development of Intranets and the Internet is currently promoting the development of new hardware technologies and multiple software programs that streamline corporate communication (an example: the Novell Catalog Server, which allows the creation of Web site indexes such as current search engines Internet-Yahoo, Lycos, and others)
Operation of an Intranet
On a company’s Intranet, access to information is very similar to Internet access. It means that if we know the process for the Internet, it almost automatic to start using an Intranet (with the savings in training that this means for the company).
The process can describe as follows:
All client machines (local PCs connected to a Web Server machine) use specialized software, a browser (for example, Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer), in addition to specialized software for email, FTP and other services. The user clicks on a hyperlink, which sends a request for information to the server. The hyperlink contains the name of the server where the information located, and the name of the file to load in the browser. The server reads the request, dumps the file, and sends it to the client. The client receives the file and deposits it in the browser window (provided that said the file is compatible with the web, for example, in HTML and other formats). It may also happen that the file is deposited on disks or in particular applications.
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:
- 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?
- 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.
- User involvement ,to 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.
Useful components of an intranet structure might include:
- Key personnel committed to maintaining the Intranet and keeping content current.
- Social networking’ is useful as a feedback forum for users to indicate what they want and what they do not like.
Advantages of Intranets.
Intranets, like networks that use Internet technology, provide a series of primary advantages to business management, which can summarize as:
Intranets can be built on multiple hardware and software platforms, becoming an open technology that does not depend on a single manufacturer: Web technology uses open standards (HTML, TCP / IP, HTTP, etc.) available on most systems operational and existing platforms.
The use of these standards allows communication across the network to reduce to a “common language” that eliminates the need to convert data, use different applications, …
The implementation, maintenance, and use of corporate Intranets are an acceptable cost because:
The implementation time is small, Its cost reduced in relation to the immediate benefits that obtained, They require little maintenance personnel, The costs of integrating Intranets with other network solutions are minimal, by basically using the same architectural concepts, The use of standards (TCP / IP, HTML, etc.) translates into a reduction in the software required for browser programs, and there is a saving in operational costs in business communications (e.g., a delegation from Madrid can contact another from Valencia with the cost of a local call).
Adaptation to Specific Needs
The multiplicity of uses of Intranets, as well as its high flexibility in its implementation and use, allow them to adapt quickly to the needs of different levels of the company. Thus, we can find that both the company as a whole, as the different departments, business units, work teams, etc. They can find a solution to any of your specific needs.
For example, an Intranet can function as an information channel for the company as a whole about standards, while for a department it may involve the publication of its information for the knowledge of the rest of the company.
Decapsulation and Distribution of Information
Any employee can access any company information, located on the Web, from their work desk, through the use of a browser. Also, if there is access to the Internet from the Intranet (never the other way around), the employee able to see from his PC all the information available worldwide on the Internet.
Increase in the Quality of Corporate Communication
In the same way that internal communication streamlined, it is accessed by customers, suppliers, distribution channels, etc., to all the information that each company wants to provide to make the purchase and management of products and services more accessible.
The quality of the information that is generated increases significantly, since, among other things, it comes from a single source, it is delivered when it is needed and maintained by the person who generates it, so it is continuously updated. The information is transmitted immediately, at low cost, and with great ease of use for the subjects due to the use of hyperlinks.
Rapid Training of Personnel in its Use
The use of standards allows staff training in the use of the corporate Intranet to be quick and easy. In simple words, we can say that the applications follow, together, identical models, without the need for users to learn multiple applications.
All this means that the training costs, and secondarily, the implementation costs, are lower than that of traditional computer systems.
Internet security systems (for example, SSL), based on encryption of information packets, allow the secure transmission of data through the company, and from the company’s internal network to external points on the Internet network.
On the other hand, in the Intranets the access of “intruders” from outside (Internet, for example) to the corporate network through firewalls or firewalls is prevented.
All advances that appear on the Internet immediately applicable to Intranets since both networks built on the same technology.