An intranet shares most of the characteristics of the Internet, but in at least one way, it's fundamentally different. And just as the Internet has had a profound effect on how we communicate, intranets have transformed the business world as well. Both Fortune 500 corporations and small businesses have implemented this communication network, improving productivity while reducing costs.
Just what is an intranet? Think of it as a mini-Internet designed to be used within the confines of a business, university or organization. What distinguishes an intranet from the freely accessible Internet, is that intranets are private.
A New Way of Working
Microsoft Sharepoint commands the largest portion of the intranet market, powering around 50% of all intranets.
While a wide variety of technologies and applications can be used as a foundation for building an intranet, Microsoft Sharepoint commands the largest portion of the market, and powers around 50% of all intranets according to some estimates. A few popular alternatives to Sharepoint include products such as Interact Intranet, Intranet Connections, Plone, and IBM Notes (formerly Lotus Notes).
Sharepoint, and it’s many competitors, are designed to improve workflow. They do this by promoting better collaboration, creating a space for document sharing and versioning, and providing a suite of project creation and management tools. Companies that implement this sort of intranet can better manage the flow of information between employees and departments, ensuring that data loss is minimized, and that the product or service finally delivered meets the customer’s original intent.
In addition to managing projects and collaboration, intranets can be used for much more mundane tasks. For instance, many companies distribute printed documents such as newsletters, handbooks, and reports. However, the printing costs, not to mention the environmental impact of all that paper, can be eliminated by using an intranet to distribute these documents. Another advantage is the ease of updating information. Career moves render internal phone directories obsolete before they can be printed. Once the directories are online, phone numbers can be changed with just a few keystrokes.
What distinguishes an intranet from the freely accessible Internet, is that intranets are private.
Another benefit of using an intranet is that intranet developers will have fewer cross-platform compatibility concerns to address. When a company decides to develop an intranet, they will be able to define exactly how the intranet is accessed. This means that they only have to build the intranet to suit the platforms they choose to enable. In addition, since intranets require authentication in order to be accessed, each user’s experience can be customized based on their role, and individual preferences.
Another potential benefit to using an intranet to deploy applications used by many different employees, is that the company’s IT department will not longer have to worry about installing and updating software on multiple employee computers. Once the software is hosted on the intranet, any employee who has been provided access to the application can use it as needed, while the IT staff can centrally manage access and performance.
A Change in Attitude
A study by International Data Corporation revealed that typical intranet implementations achieve ROIs well over 1,000 percent.
Democratizing collaboration can have a profound impact on traditional companies with a top-down management style. While some may perceive this as a threat, better sharing of information, improved document access and versioning, and a centralized location for project management, can only have a positive impact on a company’s bottom line.
As competition in the global marketplace drives the need for ever greater efficiency, intranets have become the neural network for business. A study by International Data Corporation on return on investment (ROI) for corporate intranets reveals why. “Typical implementations are achieving ROIs well over 1,000 percent.” That's a powerful incentive for any business to invest in this new technology.