An intranet is basically a private web based network. It uses all of the technology of the internet but is safe and protected behind a firewall that keeps unauthorized personnel out. Companies have been using them for years as a method of streamlining their internal communications.

Because a web browser can run on any type of computer, the need to maintain multiple paper copies of documents that are constantly changing can be eliminated. Documents like training manuals, internal phone books, procedure manuals, benefits information, employee handbooks, requisition forms, etc. can be maintained as electronic documents and updated at almost no cost. The savings in paper and other material costs can be significant

But the most powerful aspect of an intranet is its ability to display information in the same format to every computer being used. That allows all of the different software and databases a company uses to be available to all employees without any special equipment or software being installed on their systems.

This universal availability of information is sparking an era of collaboration unlike anything ever seen before. The departmental barriers that exist in many companies are slowing breaking down because now colleagues can share information readily using the company intranet.

Options for implementing an intranet

There are a variety of options for setting up an intranet. They include building your own intranet technology, purchasing and installing third-party software, or purchasing access through an extranet ASP. Here is a quick summary of the advantages and disadvantages of each approach:

1. Building it yourself
Advantages: Complete control of user interface design; ability to customize level of functionality; integration into internal systems, and direct access to user activity.

Disadvantages: High up-front development cost; requires staff expertise in the development of extranets, commitment of internal staff for 6 months to a year for planning, execution, review and implementation; and an ongoing commitment of internal staff for internal and client support, hosting, maintenance and upgrades.

2. Purchasing/installing third-party software
Advantages: Proven track-record of packaged solution; ability to choose functions and to
customize user interface, more rapid implementation compared to building it yourself.

Disadvantages: High up-front purchase cost; commitment of internal staff for customization and implementation; on-going commitment of internal staff for internal and client support, hosting, maintenance and upgrades; and extensive internal and client training

3. Using a Service Provider (ASP)
Advantages: Proven track-record of the application; low cost of entry and predictable cost over time; virtually immediate implementation; no commitment of internal staff for internal support, hosting, or maintenance; and upgrades at no cost by extranet experts, and savings on internal server use.

Disadvantages: Less freedom in user interface design, and fixed functionality.

In the final analysis…
The approach you choose depends on how you work, the technical and financial resources at your disposal, and how rapidly you need to move forward.