28/9th July 1998, Star City
Marghanita da Cruz
The implementation of a Corporate Intranet can bring organisations significant benefits including speed, cost reduction and personalisation. It will improve internal communication and create opportunities for coordination and collaboration. Internet technology offers unprecedented interoperability, proprietary systems are offering Internet interfaces, to assist their integration into corporate intranets. What new opportunities will corporate intranet's provide in the future?
Marghanita da Cruz is Principal Consultant of Ramin Communications. Prior to establishing Ramin Communications, Marghanita worked in the Commonwealth Government sector, fulfilling a wide range of roles including programmer, network, systems and sales manager. In these and more recent roles she has always been an advocate of the innovative use of technology for communications. In 1982, she introduced PC's and end user computing to the Industries Assistance Commission, in 1988 she managed the widespread adoption of Electronic Mail and in 1993, the deployment of Digital Audio Editing and Time Zone Delay broadcast systems. In consultancy roles she has exploited the corporate Intranet to form working groups to encourage collaboration across dispersed organisations.
An Internet search on "What is an Intranet", revealed the following:
A corporate intranet is the adoption of Internet technologies especially, TCP/IP, electronic mail and the world wide web for communication within the Intranet.
The Internet Society defines the Internet as a global network of networks enabling computers of all kinds to directly and transparently communicate and share services throughout much of the world. Because the Internet is an enormously valuable, enabling capability for so many people and organisations, it also constitutes a shared global resource of information, knowledge, and means of collaboration, and cooperation among countless diverse communities. (4)
While the perception of the Internet, may be that it is an overnight success but in reality it has had a gestation period of nearly forty years. The first record of the Internet, is a series of memos dated 1962, in which J.C.R. Licklider of MIT discussed his "Galactic Network" and described the social interactions it would enable.(5)
Key Milestones in the development of the Internet include:
Internet technologies are particularly useful for distributing information. This can significantly improve internal communication.
Electronic Mail and the WWW two key Internet Technologies, offer instantaneous communication, virtually ignoring physical location. When applied within an organisation, to the distribution of information such as new policies and procedures or product information, this can provide flexibility and timely introduction of change even to remote outposts or mobile personnel.
The speed and ubiquity of communication, enables dispersed organisations to draw on the experience and skills of remote staff. Remote operational staff, can provide valuable input and feedback on new marketing strategies or pilot programs. Clients and customers can even be included via public websites.
The adoption of Internet Technologies such as TCP/IP, POP (Post Office protocol) for Electronic Mail, FTP (File Transfer Protocol) and the WWW protocols of HTTP, URLs and HTML, ensures interoperability and flexibility in selecting software. Software conforming to these protocols is available from a wide range of vendors. Following in Microsoft\92s footsteps, ubiquity is now seen as the most important business strategy.(7)
In their effort to be the ubiquitous browser or EMail package,vendors have made their software free for use in homes, schools and even local coffee shops. This familiarity almost eliminates the need for formal training in the use of the technology, and it can be effectively used to deliver other training.
The ability to maintain documentation is also greatly improved. There is now no need to distribute updates or replacement pages. In addition to this convenience, printing and distribution costs are significantly reduced.
Electronic Mail and the World Wide Web, delivers information on demand, when an individual is ready to deal with it. This has benefits in the delivery of training as well as company and regulation updates. Information is also readily located for future reference.
Electronic Mail encourages participation in discussion irrespective of an individuals location and available timeslots. This makes it invaluable for progressing tasks, without the need to organise cumbersome meetings.
The ease with which information is disseminated also encourages abuse of the system and leads to frustration with excessive amounts of unstructured information. A range of strategies are being adopted to deal with this situation, including the rather Orwellian approach of using software to filter messages from particular domains or individuals, and the return of a personal assistant, to filter communication. However, the way electronic mail is used does mature over time, though temporary aberrations do sometimes need to be ignored.
A corporate Intranet which encompasses International locations, regional posts, home workers and mobile personnel, helps internal coordination and co-operation. Communication can be maintained across time zones and irrespective of last minute changes to itinaries.
In the development of the Internet, Electronic Mail was recognised as the key technology, it is still the most widely used application of the Internet. It is electronic mail alone that has the potential to significantly change the way organisations work, it increases the speed of processing and certainly expects a quick response. In structured hierarchical organisations, an Intranet may eliminate the need for traditional management structures to be the bottle neck for information distribution, and can enable wider direct access to information and involvement in decision making.
Electronic Mail combined with the web enables wide collaboration, without any significant increase in cost or delays. I have used corporate Intranets to develop requirements for tenders. On being assigned to these projects, I invariably find a lack of appreciation of requirements and ineffective communication channels.
I have operated working parties with membership from Interstate and across divisions. Using telephone conferencing to discuss issues and electronic mail to disseminate information, I succeeded in building confidence between colleagues and a common comprehension of the complex of issues. While the immediate benefits were not obvious, the groups spawned new networks for ongoing collaboration across diverse stakeholders.
Networking and Mentoring programs are recognised as an important part of professional development. Electronic Mail can be key to developing and maintaining these networks. For example in 1989, I attended a management training course, of the fifteen attendees, eleven of us remain in touch through electronic mail, four via the Internet from as far away as South Africa. The link is invaluable, even if it is only used to set up face to face meetings.
The benefits of a corporate Intranet are most obvious for distributed organisations. Corporate Information can now be delivered and maintained cost effectively. However, independence of time, can be just as useful to head office, where conflicting priorities put demands on time. Meetings are no longer used to disseminate information, but are still important in building relationships.
These adoption of Internet protocols, ensures interoperability and local technical support for distributed systems. However, the risks to private and commercially sensitive information can be increased by wider access.
While the promise of the Internet may be to be the panacea to IT development backlogs, this is far from reality. Many MIS systems vital to the operation of organisations such as Human Resource, Financial and manufacturing Systems are still proprietary. However, many of these systems now provide a "Web Interface". While this assists with accessing the systems, wider access creates new requirements for information such as the progress of orders and transparency of the coding used in stock databases.
Wider access also increases the difficulty of authenticating users and aligning responsibility and authority assigned to operate systems. New management and responsibility structures are required to effectively exploit the intranet by delegating authority.
Specialist groups such as Information Technology and Corporate Communication professionals have a new role, to maintain security in terms of reliability, compatibility and confidentiality. Internet based systems still require backups or redundancy, version control in the use of new features available on only a small number of desktops, and to assist in developing procedures for maintaining information.
Standards need to be maintained, so that pockets upgrading to new versions of Word processing software, or the use of the latest sound or graphics in documents don\92t defeat the purpose of a corporate intranet. The ubiquity and distributed nature of the Intranet is still going to challenge regional outposts relying on older equipment or executive who have finally got their laptops to work.
To date, a Corporate Intranet has protected client privacy and commercially sensitive information, by physical separation from the Internet and maintaining dedicated transmission channels. As we saw in the Korean Diagram, Firewalls protect corporate information by isolating it.
However, the ubiquity of the Internet has the potential to further reduce communication costs. If information passing over the public Internet could be protected then, the need and cost of dedicated infrastructure would be reduced. This could be convenient for travelling executives and connections to remote offices.
Encryption can be used to secure information passing over public networks. There are two areas of risk one is if the information is tampered with and the second is to protect it from Eavesdroppers. Encryption has been implemented in several ways to address different needs. These include:
Digital Signatures work on dual key system. One key is used for encryption and another key for decryption. The second key can be made public, in this way any recipient of communication from a particular source can authenticate the source and the content. Third party Certification Authorities, distribute the public decryption keys while the encryption key is kept secure. Public Key Digital signatures can be used authenticate the content of web pages and EMail messages sent over the Internet. However this does not offer any protection from eavesdroppers.
While private decryption keys would in effect provide this protection there are various obstacles to their widespread adoption including:
The Intranet offers opportunities to create a more flexible enterprise, which is no longer limited by physical proximity or timetables. Individuals within the enterprise, will be directly responsible for their own communication, and will be able to participate in a much wider range of tasks. However, with improved interoperability, there will be a greater need to protect both the privacy of client information and the value of commercial sensitive information.
(1)Jong-Hong Jeong, Korean Information Systems. www.kisco.co.kr/~hollobit/TP/exam1/sld011.htm
(2) European Teleworking Organisation: www.eto.org.uk/faq/faqintra.htm
(3)NASA's white paper
(4 ) Internet Society, What is the Internet, http://www.isoc.org/internet/ 31-Mar-1998.
(5 ) B.M.Leiner, V.G.Cerf, D.D.Clark, R.E.Kahn, L.Kleinrock, D.C.Lynch, J.Postel, L.G. Roberts, S. Wolff, "A Brief History of the Internet", Internet Society History, 20 Feb 1998: http://www.isoc.org/internet/history
(6) M.R. Brown, Using Netscape, Que,1996
(7)Reid RH, Architects of the Web, John Wiley and Sons, 1997