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Intranets and Extranets

An intranet is the use of web technology for the sole, dedicated use of single site and multisite organizations. Intranets are a way to collaborate, distribute information, software, and other services within an organization using web-like software tools.

Extranets extend the reach of intranets from internal-only communications to sharing documents, fixing software bugs, and providing information for business-to-business transactions. Online banking is an example of an extranet.

Intranets

When they were first developed, intranets, which are based on web technology, served as repositories of centralized information. Intranets are still a single source of an organization’s information. However, they are now as a whole better organized so that employees can find what they are looking for faster. Clear organization of information is an important area where intranets can excel. In large organizations this is not always the case, as some departments do not always update intranets with the latest information. Having management to which the intranet is important creates a culture where departments update their intranet when needed. Examples of intranet software include Facebook’s Workplace collaboration and networking software, Microsoft’s Teams, Axero, Jostle, MyHub, and Intranet Connections.

Collaboration where people in distant offices can work jointly on projects and reports is an important way to improve productivity. Some additional intranet functions include:

  • Staff reading documents and agreeing on or modifying parts

  • Commenting on sections of documents by employees who work at different physical locations to foster working together on joint projects

  • Discussion forums

  • Content approval flows by appropriate staff

  • Calendaring for setting up meetings

Intranet functions that support employee functions include:

  • Online training that users can complete on the intranet

  • Posting internal job openings

  • Providing company-recommended software and updates that employees can download to their computers

  • Checking whether user applications need updating and that all security patches are in place when employees log on to the intranet

  • Managing human resources functions such as accessing pay stubs and appraisals, making changes to tax forms, changing user addresses, and selecting benefits

  • Enabling the ability to submit time cards and expense reports on the intranet

  • Making available corporate documents, such as organizational practices, required documents, templates for résumés and sales proposals, technical magazines, and corporate directories

  • Establishing wikis with information about particular technologies or work-related information

In addition, intranets at global organizations often mimic web functions by providing social networking functions. The directory might have fields in which people can list special interests such as trekking or music. Employees can form groups around these interests.

Firewall and other security software control staff members’ access to corporate information on intranets. Restrictions can be applied to prevent employees from accessing inappropriate databases and applications. Not everyone has access to all files. Rather, employees can be placed in groups based on the applications to which they are allowed access.

Potential Issues with Intranets

The most common complaints about intranets are the difficulties in keeping them updated. Time and attention devoted to organizing information often depends on whether top management buy into the intranet as a priority. If the information on the intranet is out of date, the intranet loses much of its value. Organizations without either management support or tools to support automated or simple maintenance and implementation might have intranets do little to enhance employee productivity.

In some organizations, every department posts their own updates. If updates are cumbersome and time-consuming to make, they might not be posted in a timely fashion. To make it easier to update intranets, organizations can deploy software packages such as Adobe Dreamweaver, Microsoft SharePoint Designer, and Expression Web, all of which have user-friendly interfaces that make it easier to update intranets and extranets. Often, a centralized IT organization manages the intranet and sets technical standards for it. Having a single-password, single-sign-on procedure for a uniform intranet saves time on calls from users who forgot their passwords.

Extranets—Saving Money on Customer Service

Extranets use a web interface for secure access by customers, business partners, and temporary employees. Organizations typically limit access to applications more so than intranets because they are used with outside individuals and organizations. Individual vendors or partners have access only to specific applications. Access to extranets is generally password-protected or password-plus-token. A token is a small device about the size of a large house key that generates random numbers at predefined intervals. Users key in the number displayed on their token plus their password to access applications.

Online banking is an example of an extranet service that saves staffing costs. Customers transfer money between accounts, pay bills, and gain instant, graphical interfaces to the status of their accounts. This is highly advantageous to banks because it saves money on financial transactions as well as staffing costs. Moreover, banks’ extranets are a way to solicit business. They offer customers services such as loans, home mortgages, and other financial instruments. Banks and other organizations also offer customers online bank statements and electronic bills through their extranets. These electronic services save mailing expenses and printing costs.

The following is a quote from an employee on the benefits of their extranet, which is used for business to business transactions:

  • In my company, each of the customers is given a special identification number and access to a specific application. The customer can use his identification number and log bugs and issues that he sees in our product. The customer can specify the importance of the bug and keep track of the progress made on its resolution.

Because of security concerns, many extranets are located at web hosting sites. The hosting company’s customer has his own computer at the hosting company. High-speed Carrier Gigabit Ethernet capacity lines connect the hosting company to the Internet backbone. Companies often remotely upload or download information to their host-located computer via Carrier Gigabit Ethernet. Online learning is an example of an extranet service. It provides web-like access to educational material for school staffs and students. This is an advantage to schools that offer it because it enables them to offer their courses to students that are not within commuting distance of the college or university. In addition to supplying extranet software, online-learning companies offer to host the application at their own site.

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