The first global electronic network was the Internet, which is actually not one network, but a collection of smaller networks. This collection of networks is available to everyone who is connected to the Internet. The term intranet, however, refers to the type of private connections that are authorized only to persons who work within a particular organization. An extranet refers to connections that combine an organization's private network with partners, suppliers, or other outside agencies. What the intranet and extranet have in common with the Internet is that they all use Internet protocols. This means that user-friendly browser software—such as Internet Explorer—is the front end which links to all of the resources and requires little specialized training to use. Intranet and extranet are classifications of networks and few end users would know these terms. The distinctions, however, may be important to organizations.
While the typical computer user at home would have access only to the Internet, at work that same person could be using all three types of networks. The structure is invisible to users who know just that they are connected to the Internet and go about doing their daily tasks on the computer. At a workplace, access to the different channels or systems is granted by a background script when users log on and supply a password.
DEFINITIONS AND RELATIONSHIPS
To aid in understanding the different network classifications, here is an example: Maria, who is an administrative assistant in a local Ford automobile dealership, uses the Internet to access expedia.com to make travel arrangements for the dealership's owner to attend an upcoming sales meeting in Detroit. On the computer screen, Maria can also see the dealer's vehicle inventory and number of tires on hand. This would be classified as using the intranet. When Maria checks with a Firestone tire distributor for availability and pricing, however, a source clearly outside of the dealership, she would be using an extranet type of connection. Thus, Maria makes daily and seamless use of all three electronic networks without necessarily being conscious of the structural differences. It should be noted that many connections are not both ways. That is, the Firestone distributor cannot see how many cars are on hand at the Ford dealership, and the dealer cannot see the distributor's price on tires. Further, within an organization, not everybody would have access to the same information. Typically, access is granted on an as-needed basis, with appropriate authorization.
Although the Internet was initiated in the 1960s, its use in business has increased enormously since the 1990s. The CMP Media TechEncyclopedia defined Internet as:
- (Lower case "i"nternet) A large network made up of a number of smaller networks.
- (Upper case "I"nternet) The largest network in the world. It is made up of more than 100 million computers in more than 100 countries covering commercial, academic and government endeavors. Originally developed for the U.S. military, the Internet became widely used for academic and commercial research. Users had access to unpublished data and journals on a variety of subjects. Today, the Internet (also known as the Net) has become commercialized into a worldwide information highway, providing data and commentary on every subject and product on earth.
The same work defines intranet as "An inhouse Web site that serves the employees of the enterprise. Although intranet pages may link to the Internet, an intranet is not a site accessed by the general public." The encyclopedia adds additional clarification as "The term as originally coined in the preceding definition has become so popular that it is often used to refer to any inhouse LAN [local area network] and client/server system rather than an HTTP-based Web server infrastructure."
Note the important difference: The intranet contains information that is available only to those who are "inhouse" (but not necessarily physically "in-house," the organization could have offices on multiple continents) or some type of corporate partner. Some additional typical uses of an intranet include access to production schedules, inventory, meetings, and training. The earlier example of Maria working at a Ford dealership is meant to be typical of a smaller organization. An establishment with global locations, however, could have a very complex intranet.
An organization's intranet may be used in many different ways. Besides data, ordering, and other uses that may well have been used prior to using Internet standards, today's intranet is frequently used for training and videoconferencing.
The American Society for Training and Development noted that classroom training was rapidly changing to electronic learning (e-learning) as corporations strove to meet widely scattered training needs ("Online and Corporate Universities," 2003). E-learning spans the range from training to operate call centers all the way up to learning corporate leadership skills; intranets are often used for this purpose.
An article in PC Magazine in January 2004 reported that while business travel had decreased, videoconferencing (also called Web conferencing or Web-casts) was increasing by leaps and bounds. The author of the article, L. Erlanger, went on to state:
Yet we live in a global economy, and people in far-flung locations still need to meet. Increasingly, they are doing so via Web conferencing services, which lets both small and large groups of people share presentations and documents in real time over the Web. The services also deliver handy tools for collaboration, including chat rooms, whiteboards, document annotation, application sharing, Web polls, and Web tours.
This type of use would not be practical or cost effective without using the commonly available Internet standards on a firm's intranet.
The CMP Media TechEncyclopedia defined extranet as:
A Web site for customers rather than the general public. It can provide access to research, current inventories and internal databases, virtually any information that is private and not published for everyone. An extranet uses the public Internet as its transmission system, but requires passwords to gain entrance. Access to the site may be free or require payment for some or all of the services offered.
While companies may allow public access via the Internet to their Web site, this does not include links to sensitive information, but an intranet connection may allow access to much, but not all private data. According to Sanna Kallioranta and Richard Vlosky (2004), "An extranet serves as a bridge between the public Internet and the private intranet."
As an example, Company A manufactures computer monitors using liquid crystal displays (LCDs) made by Company B. Company A no doubt keeps an exact inventory of how many it has in stock; and it is possible that Company B is asked to monitor these numbers so that it can automatically ship LCDs to Company A when needed. As noted previously, Company B would not be granted access to other online data belonging to Company A. In another industry, construction, it is common for large construction projects to share information between contractors, architects, and engineers on schedules, progress, and drawings over is be classified as an extranet. Kallioranta and Vlosky also pointed out that using Internet protocols with an extranet is considerably less expensive than any other method.
Individual employees access to the Internet, intranets, and extranets varies with their need and is commonly assigned when they log on to the network. A top-level supervisor may have access to all levels of all systems. A network specialist is the person who assigns the correct codes to each employee. Since virtually all of a company's information is available via computer, who has access to what is an important issue in any organization. Further, every computer system on a network is a possible target of either hackers or spies from competing corporations. A hacker could destroy sensitive data, and a rival company could steal corporate secrets. Thus, every intranet and extranet has multiple layers of firewalls to ensure that access is obtained only by authorized people. Nevertheless, security is an ongoing concern.
The Net has become an indispensable tool for businesses small and large. In 2004 Professor D. T. Quah from the University of London noted that "digital goods" take on increased meaning in the global marketplaces. Companies must embrace the Net and take every advantage to grow their businesses and remain viable in the twenty-first century. "Embracing the Net" includes using all aspects: Internet, intranet, and extranet.
IMPLICATIONS AND IMPACT
Net access to information has already drastically altered the way organizations communicate and conduct business. An employee does not need to know if the connection is via the open Internet, the private intranet, or the shared extranet. Access by unauthorized individuals is, however, a continuing issue. Nevertheless, Robert Moon, chief information officer of Micros Systems, said, "In less than three years, we've gone from the Web being a novelty to a critical application. It's now our main focus" (Booker, 1999, p. 32). Indeed, the worldwide Net concept will continue to alter the way organizations function both internally and externally in the twenty-first century, and in ways that could not be imagined in the twentieth century.
see also Internet
Booker, E. (1999, March 15). ERP's next frontier. Internet Week, pp. 31–32.
CMP Media. (2005). TechEncyclopedia. Retrieved January 19, 2006, from http://www.techweb.com/encyclopedia
Erlanger, L. (2004, January). Web conferencing: Take a meeting online. PC Magazine. Retrieved October 10, 2005, from http://www.pcmag.com
Gibson, S. (1998, November 16). Extranets' moment has come. PC Week 133, pp. 31–32.
Kallioranta, Sanna M., and Vlosky, Richard P. (2004). A model of extranet implementation success effects on business performance. Retrieved January 19, 2006, from http://www.rnr.lsu.edu/lfpdc/publication/papers/wp66.pdf
Online and corporate universities: Take learning to the head of the class. (2003, September). Retrieved January 19, 2006, from the T+D Web site: http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0MNT/is_9_57/ai_107490423
Quah, D. T. (2004) Digital goods and the new economy. Retrieved October 10, 2005, from the University of London–Centre for Economic Policy Research Web site: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=410604
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