Some businesses have found that an intranet has begun to evolve on their Internet World Wide Web site - areas which are intended for their staff to peruse, rather than the passing surfer, and often located in closed areas protected by passwords. Once staff become familiar with Internet browsers, email and search tools, this technology can easily be applied in-house, say the pundits. 'The Web is a great place to improvise, so you can start wherever you have the need,' says Steve Bowbrick, MD of Net consultancy Webmedia.
This happened at pharmaceuticals giant Glaxo Wellcome. The Internet is bread and butter to research scientists, who soon developed Web pages internally. They grew to include staff information and then embraced marketing and product information.
Intranet systems can be hustled together in a matter of weeks, which fits perfectly with the attitude of modern businesses, to whom quick no longer means dirty. 'The business issues are here today, and you need to find solutions tomorrow,' says Robert Browning, IS director at health care firm Bupa International. 'There isn't necessarily any merit in something that has taken more time to build. There's something less formal about the Internet, and we should have confidence that what comes out of it is valuable.'
Browning used Net technology to build a groupware-like system for 50 travelling sales representatives to be accessed from around the world.
It took him four weeks to complete. If he had used Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange, he believes the sales people might still be waiting.
Like the Internet, which is based on good old TCP/IP, intranets are also open systems - still a big selling point, even though the open systems movement has gone quiet in recent years. They are essentially open Lans which can also talk to Wans and offer easy access to data - or 'information', as you are allowed to call it if you structure and signpost it carefully.
A major plus is the use of browser technology, such as Netscape, with the ability to follow hot-links within the sites, a popular and flexible graphical user interface and easy cross-over from intranet to Internet.
So popular are Web browsers expected to become, that traditional database vendors are using them as front-ends to their databases. Oracle's new Interoffice groupware product, due for release in May or June, converts data from the database into HGML format when a browser comes along to read it.
Intranets, say their supporters, will revolutionise the way that businesses are organised. On-demand access to information will make travel and teleworking easier. Sharing information between companies, for example via the Net proper, will promote supply chain re-engineering, which is apparently the bee du jour in the bonnets of management consultants in mainland Europe.
A factory operating a just-in-time policy would be ideal.
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