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Why are intranets primed for massive growth?

Plus 10 things to consider before you implement one

By Ron Condon, IDG News Service, London Bureau

January  1997
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London -- The intranet looks set for a period of massive growth over the next five years, because it delivers simply and cheaply many of the functions that previous system architectures have failed to provide.

According to a new report titled "Intranets for Business Applications, User and Supplier Opportunities," from London-based research company Ovum Ltd., by the year 2002, 78 percent of client systems connected to a corporate network in the U.S. will have intranet browsers installed on them. In Europe, the figure will be 64 percent, and in Asia-Pacific, it will be 41 percent, the report said.

Intranets (which the report defines as private networks of Web servers) allow the creation of corporate information networks that are easy to use, seamless, and global in coverage.

Furthermore, intranets are easier to manage and offer a simple, universal, cross-platform client, using smaller applications, the report said. It added that spending on intranet services will grow to more than $1 billion a year by 2002 as companies find that intranets are capable of being used for a much broader range of applications.

The intranet is appealing for several reasons, the report's authors said. It can be installed by piggybacking on existing and more expensive client-server systems, and the client software is either cheap or free. It also cuts the cost of software installation, maintenance, and training. And it is ideal for use by new-style virtual organizations or companies with mobile workforces.

But, the report warns, the cost advantages could be short-lived as companies try to do more with their intranets. "As the applications become more complicated and move beyond information publishing, their cost will increase," it said. "It may be inexpensive today, but it will not be tomorrow."

Most intranets today are dedicated to the publishing of information -- corporate telephone directories, company procedures, news items -- but Ovum believes this picture will change rapidly.

The authors see information publishing as just the first of four distinct but overlapping waves of development. The second wave will be the use of intranets for informal collaboration, the kind of job currently handled by the likes of Lotus Development Corp.'s Notes, Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange, and Novell Inc.'s Groupwise.

Those products will continue to offer superior functions, but their market will erode at the low end, the report said.

This means that browsers will offer basic groupware functions, while the separate groupware products will be increasingly confined to high-end applications that augment the functions of the embedded groupware.

The third wave will come with Web-enabled business applications, although the authors warn: "Much of the complexity that intranets were claimed to avoid will come back when organizations integrate Web technology with business applications."

The fourth wave will be the integration of workflow, or formal collaboration, into the intranet. But the authors said they fear that today's leading workflow packages do not scale well enough to be used on an intranet.

By 2002, the authors predict that information publishing will account for just 38 percent of intranet server usage. Informal collaborative working will rise to 32 percent; business applications to 26 percent; and formal collaborative applications to 3 percent.

The report contains case studies from several large organizations including Buffalo General Hospital in Buffalo, NY, pharmaceutical manufacturer Glaxo Wellcome PLC, and the New South Wales State Rail Authority in Australia.


How to implement an intranet
From these, the authors draw 10 main conclusions on how to implement an intranet:

  1. Intranets are typically piggybacked on another IS investment -- you do not need to blow your IS budget to implement one.

  2. Start with information publishing applications. Follow with Web-enabled collaboration and transaction-oriented applications.

  3. Establish policies about who is responsible for what concerning infrastructure, content, the development environment, and what the intranet will contain -- this will avoid trouble later.

  4. Roll out your first applications quickly -- intranets do not require a 12-month requirements analysis to start.

  5. Do not get hung up on the technology evaluation if you want to do Web-based publishing -- the available products offer virtually the same information publishing capabilities and can be swapped out quickly -- providing you avoid proprietary features.

  6. Most intranet benefits are not directly measured in financial terms -- keep an eye on anecdotal benefits to help justify your intranet.

  7. Some users will be skeptical about intranets -- implementers have identified the need to pay more attention to user resistance and cultural issues as key elements to ensuring user acceptance. When asked what they could have done better in implementing intranets, organizations said that they would have invested more in user education about what intranets were and what they could do.

  8. IS drives intranet implementations, but user ownership of the content makes them work. IS should focus on policy and infrastructure management issues.

  9. Implementers are keeping an eye on Java and ActiveX, but are currently using CGI and other standard Web technologies.

  10. Intranets will not reduce IS's management burden, but they will increase what you can do with the same resources.

--Ron Condon, IDG News Service, London Bureau

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