Intranets are privately owned networks that operate like the public Internet in many respects. In most intranets, corporate users access company information via tools designed to run in web browsers. Intranets allow employees to share and access confidential corporate information. The benefit of these systems is that they operate in a fashion that most users are already accustomed to. Since browsing the corporate intranet is similar to browsing the World Wide Web, new employees need very little training on the procedures necessary to access vital operational data. Although the network that houses the intranet is privately owned, it is still at risk of exploitation from inside and outside the company. Therefore, security should not be less stringent on a corporate intranet (Barr, 2003).
Extranets share many of the features of intranets. They are designed to share detailed information with a restricted or controlled user base. Unlike intranets, extranets are designed with external people and organizations in mind. Extranets can be used to link several organizations together to form a more efficient supply chain. For example, Cisco Systems has developed an extranet that links suppliers, distributers, and manufacturing centers around the world. This end-to-end integration provides all members of the Cisco supply chain with up to the minute access to the information they need to perform their job at the highest possible efficiency (Senn, 2004).
The Internet is a completely public collection of independent networks. All computers connected to the Internet have the ability to communicate with one another in some fashion. Computers that are used by individual users are known as clients, and computers that store information for clients to access are known as servers. The interaction between clients and servers on the Internet is the same model that is used in intranets and extranets. Organizations can utilized the Internet in two different ways. First, they may use the Internet as clients, accessing information that can be used in a variety of business needs. Also, they may use the Internet as servers, offering valuable information about their company, or selling their products online (Senn, 2004).
Which to Use?
All three network examples have uses for all organizations. Each network targets a different audience, and each should be appropriately leveraged. An intranet should be used to distribute information among internal clients. Extranets are most appropriate when the audience is external, but still a valuable part of the organization. Suppliers and resellers fall into this category. Finally, the Internet should be used to communicate with customers and outside organizations. The information provided at this level should be considered public. For example, the company's website should be used to promote the company, even if products are not sold online.
When developing these networks, resources must be allocated appropriately. Since the company is in business to sell its product or service, the company's public face must receive first attention. Selling is job one for any organization. Once the public website has been developed, the company can begin to look inward and develop tools that facilitate its operations. Distributing internal product information, human resource documents, and other information can make a company operate more efficiently. Additionally, web tools can relieve some of the paperwork traditionally associate with business operations. Finally, the company should consider developing tools that make interfacing with external partners less complicated. These tools are generally the most difficult to develop since they require the participation of external stakeholders. Therefore, it makes sense to save these tools for last.
Barr, J. G. (2003). Securing Intranets. Faulkner Information Services. Retrieved June 19, 2009.
Senn, J. A. (2004). Information technology: Principles, practices, opportunities (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.