A Buyers Guide to Intranet Development
In today’s fast paced corporate culture, knowledge is considered to be a form of power, and your organisation’s ability to share information is directly linked to its efficiency in the marketplace. The effective relaying of information is not only essential to the public, but also to all the internal members of your organisation, in so doing to effectively communicate the ideas, morals and goals of the organisation, as well as streamlining workforce productivity, time management and wide reaching management decisions and business operations.
It is therefore essential to your organisation to have a well designed and smoothly implemented Intranet. Simply put, an intranet is a network of computers sharing information through the use of internet protocols. Intranets are used internally in organisations to facilitate communication and access to corporate information. Being built on the same technology, intranets can offer similar services within an organisation to those provided by the Internet, but: (1) they are not necessarily connected to the Internet and (2) their services can tap into internal organisation resources. There are many advantages of having a well functioning intranet, of which the most important will be covered here, but as with the design of any organisation-wide entity, there are many aspects to take into consideration before it can be successfully implemented. It also goes as a matter of course that once you have your intranet up and running, there are many obstacles that need to be considered in order to keep it at 100% efficiency.
The advantages of an intranet are wide spanning, from relaying the ethical and moral values behind the organisation to statistical and logistical coordination.
The use of intranets has become popular mainly due to the fact that companies usually have all the computers and hardware established which are necessary for installation. These factors bode well when aiming to reduce the cost of initial implementation. Use and maintenance of the intranet is inexpensive once the initial processes have been completed, as the standardised network protocol (TCP/IP), document protocol (HTML) and file transfer protocol (ftp) are already well established networking solutions which are compatible across all platforms.
Intranets can improve workforce productivity by enabling employees to quickly find and view information and applications relevant to their roles and responsibilities. Because intranets are closely based on the technology and protocols of the Internet, users can access the network via familiar, easy to use web browser interfaces, enabling them to access data held in any part of the organisation, subject to security provisions. This enables employees to perform their jobs faster, more accurately and with confidence that they have the most up-to-date information.
With intranets, organisations can make more information available to employees on a “pull” basis (i.e. employees can link to relevant information at a time which suits them) rather than being deluged indiscriminately by emails. This also holds advantages for areas such as timesheet editors, e-libraries, order processing and client database, as these can be managed for the whole organisation from one central point.
Intranets are very proficient at reducing costs across various fields within the organisation. The online distribution of information reduces the cost of printing, distribution and paper, particularly on items such as policy manuals, company newsletters, product catalogues, technical drawings, training materials and telephone directories. Furthermore an intranet will reduce employee training costs, marketing costs and office administration and accounting costs.
Aside from the above mentioned advantages regarding the use of intranets, the most predominant benefit of having an open communication source within your organisation is probably the research and improvement into communication practices as such. Historically, many evolutions of the World Wide Web have been adopted and used in intranets. Just like the Internet evolved from a text-based system to a web of multimedia and online services, intranets now also include multimedia resources. Corporate forms moved from online static copies to dynamic front-end web applications which are directly linked to the corporate information system. Even the latest web tools are used in application scenarios on corporate webs: wikis can be used to edit and maintain corporate documents and directories simply and efficiently, blogs can be used for news and technological updates, web services are being used to allow enterprise wide application integration and workflow management and semantic web frameworks are used for information and data integration and exchanges. Intranets are webs dedicated to the community of a corporation. Being on the private network of a company, intranets can include a whole family of applications that could not be made available on the public web for confidentiality reasons.
In order to successfully implement an intranet within your organisation it is first necessary to know exactly what it is you want to achieve. An intranet can be tailored to suit the requirements of your organisation at different levels by specifying access restrictions through the use of user and group permissions. It is however necessary to determine beforehand what scale of growth you will expect of your network and what future developments you might expect with regards to software applications. The fact that intranets can be set up in so many shapes and forms makes it evident that in order to achieve its purpose effectively, careful planning needs to be done with regards to the implications on build time, network speed and budget. Take into consideration the possibilities of future development, so as to allow for retro-fitting and future proofing in order to keep the cost and inconvenience of updates to a minimum.
Once you have your intranet up and running, there are certain factors which need to be considered to ensure that it keeps delivering what it was designed to achieve. Some points to note with regards to the effective management of intranets include:
When searching for potential intranet developers, do research into what kinds of implementation and maintenance they can offer to your organisation. Adequate developers should be fully aware of the requirements and pitfalls found in organisations today, and be able to prepare new installations for these possibilities. There should also be a clear after sales support structure in place, so that you will not be left in the lurch should any unexpected problems arise.
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