Internet technologies are changing the ways businesses distribute information. Making key corporate information available to everybody's desktop pays dividends, wasting less paper, providing more up-to-date information and making better use of the existing desktop PC and network infrastructure. Workgroup productivity benefits and business efficiency improves. Less time is wasted and information is more accurate.
An Intranet is an Internet implemented within your organisation. It makes use of exactly the same technologies that are used by the public Internet, allowing you to make use of widely available, well-tested low-cost software to implement your business information systems.
Intranets can be used to implement many different kinds of information systems, such as:
- General information (company handbook, holiday booking, newsletters, supplies, requisitions ...)
- Helpdesk or customer service
- Key business applications
- Sales and tele-marketing support
- Dozens of others
Intranets are often implemented based on existing PC and network infrastructures, leading to modest start-up costs and relatively low risks of introduction. The availability of the key software on all of the important hardware families makes it possible (often for the first time) to integrate otherwise isolated islands of computing in the organisation.
Intranets are based on a publishing model - departments, workgroups or divisions choose to publish the information they find to be useful to those who need it. The decentralised model scales well and needs only limited corporate intervention. A valuable corporate library gradually comes into existence, representing wisdom and knowledge accumulated over time.
The Major Components
Intranets are typically based around the widely-used TCP/IP networking protocols, electronic mail (email), WorldWideWeb browsers and servers and Internet News. These are identical to the versions in use outside the organisation on the Internet itself. The fact that they are the same and are easy to use means that training costs are reduced. If an organisation is already using a proprietary mail solution such as those from Novell, Microsoft or Lotus, some integration work will need to be done, but the difficulty is usually moderate.
Existing PCs and servers can often be pressed into use as part of an Intranet, particularly if they are Unix or NT based. Software for both is widely available and is not generally expensive nor are licensing conditions likely to pose a problem. Some technical skill is needed to set up the systems, but they do not usually require extensive management once they are running.
Internet software is widely available to allow for storage of documents, searching and retrieval, and related tasks. Most software vendors are now scrambling to put Internet interfaces (known as front-ends) on their existing applications. The database vendors are strongly represented amongst these. Making data available to Internet browsers is seen as a crucial success factor now for all of them.
Integration with the Internet
Access to the Internet is becoming a crucial tool for researchers, purchasers and marketing departments. Corporate Intranets can easily be connected to the public Internet via a security interface commonly known as a firewall . The job of the firewall is to stop sensitive data from leaking out or being accessed from outside, whilst allowing the business users to see out.
Firewalls are often given undue prominence as a solution to the problem of data security. True, they can be made arbitrarily secure at the cost of rendering access increasingly less convenient. In reality, the design of the firewall should only be undertaken after a proper review of security needs and a realistic assessment of the likely level of interest from undesirables. Most security breaches are to do with human, not technical issues. It pointless barring the windows if the door is routinely left unlocked. More problems are human in nature than technical.
We have been involved in the application of Internet technologies to business communications since the early eighties and have a wide range of skills and expertise in this area. If you would like to discuss the options available, please call us for a free consultation and a chance to air the issues that interest you.
GBdirect provides a range of services for those interested in planning or implementing Intranets, from training and seminars through to the installation of systems and software.