An Intranet is a private computer network that uses Internet protocols and network connectivity to securely share part of an organization's information or operations with its employees. Sometimes the term refers only to the most visible service, the internal website. The same concepts and technologies of the Internet such as clients and servers running on the Internet protocol suite are used to build an intranet. HTTP and other Internet protocols are commonly used as well, such as FTP. There is often an attempt to use Internet technologies to provide new interfaces with corporate "legacy" data and information systems.
Briefly, an intranet can be understood as "a private version of the Internet" or as a version of the Internet confined to an organization.
Intranets differ from "Extranets" in that the former are generally restricted to employees of the organization while extranets can generally be accessed by customers, suppliers, or other approved parties.
There does not necessarily have to be any access from the organization's internal network to the Internet itself. When such access is provided it is usually through a gateway with a firewall, along with user authentication, encryption of messages, and often makes use of virtual private networks (VPNs). Through such devices and systems off-site employees can access company information, computing resources and internal communications.
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 CRM tools, project management etc., to advance productivity.
Intranets are also being used as culture change platforms. For example, large numbers of employees discussing key issues in an online forum could lead to new ideas.
Intranet traffic, like public-facing web site traffic, is better understood by using web metrics software to track overall activity, as well as through surveys of users.
Intranet "User Experience", "Editorial", and "Technology" teams work together to produce in-house sites. Most commonly, intranets are owned by the communications, HR or CIO areas of large organizations, or some combination of the three.
Because of the scope and variety of content and the number of system interfaces, the intranets of many organizations are much more complex than their respective public websites. And intranets are growing rapidly.
An Extranet is a private network that uses Internet protocols, network connectivity, and possibly the public telecommunication system to securely share part of an organization's information or operations with suppliers, vendors, partners, customers or other businesses. An extranet can be viewed as part of a company's Intranet that is extended to users outside the company (e.g.: normally over the Internet). It has also been described as a "state of mind" in which the Internet is perceived as a way to do business with a preapproved set of other companies business-to-business (B2B), in isolation from all other Internet users. In contrast, business-to-consumer (B2C) involves known server(s) of one or more companies, communicating with previously unknown consumer users.
Briefly, an extranet can be understood as a private intranet mapped onto the Internet or some other transmission system not accessible to the general public, but is managed by more than one company's administrator(s). For example, military networks of different security levels may map onto a common military radio transmission system that never connects to the Internet. Any private network mapped onto a public one is a virtual private network (VPN). In contrast, an intranet is a VPN under the control of a single company's administrator(s).
Advantages of Intranets and Extranets
- 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: With intranets, organizations can make more information available to employees on a "pull" basis (ie: employees can link to relevant information at a time which suits them) rather than being deluged indiscriminately by emails.
- 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 have the opportunity to keep up-to-date with the strategic focus of the organization.
- 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 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.
- Promote common corporate culture: Every user is viewing the same information within the Intranet.
- Enhance Collaboration: With information easily accessible by all authorised users, teamwork is enabled.
- Cross-platform Capability: Standards-compliant web browsers are available for Windows, Mac, and UNIX.
- Exchange large volumes of data using Electronic Data Interchange (EDI).
- Share product catalogs exclusively with wholesalers or those "in the trade".
- Collaborate with other companies on joint development efforts.
- Jointly develop and use training programs with other companies.
- Provide or access services provided by one company to a group of other companies, such as an online banking application managed by one company on behalf of affiliated banks.
- Share news of common interest exclusively.
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