by: Bill Ringle
I don’t know about you, but I hate getting caught up in the ‘Net.‘
At a project planning meeting with a client recently, I noticed the IT manager’s jaw clench every time the Marketing Communications director paused to ask, “Er, would that be something that goes on our intranet, Internet, or extranet site?”
If you’re wondering about the distinctions, yourself, you’ve got plenty of company in corporate America. People who are just a few steps ahead of you sometimes pepper their comments with jargon without checking to make sure that they’re being accurate or understood. This is a cardinal sin of technical communications.
Worse yet, people with a solid technical understanding lack the ability or inclination to provide a clear explanation of new technologies. They sometimes figure that holding onto their knowledge increases their value in a company. Too bad that more technically astute professionals don’t realize that by educating their peers one-on-one, they increase their value and likelihood to gain buy-in for projects and initiatives.
The next time you are involved with a web site development project, refer to this guide to understand the three network aspects of business web sites and how they can effectively be used.
If you’d like to check your understanding of the terms used in this article, visit www.starcomm.com/webtraining and enter “buzzwords” as the password.
The key principle to keep in mind when sorting between an intranet, Internet, and extranet site is who should be able to access what information. It has nothing to do with server capabilities, but more so with network capacity and security measures.
Intranet: Keep it to yourself
An intranet is a private network for internal company use only. Your LAN got hooked up to the corporate backbone, which then got a connection to an ISP (Internet Service Provider), which acts as a gateway to all the other computers and people on the Internet. As you know, it’s a great advantage to be able to send e-mail and access the fabulous web sites on the Internet; what you may not have considered is the importance of making sure that unauthorized users cannot read your confidential product development plans, modify your spreadsheet budgets, or duplicate your proprietary documents.
Traffic flows in both directions until a special purpose hardware device called a router is installed. When a router runs firewall software, it allows certain types of traffic to flow from inside the network to the outside world, and greatly limits the types of traffic that can flow in the other direction.
During every project assignment I’ve worked on, the question, “What’s the downside of a firewall?” arises, either in a small group or privately. The answer has two parts: speed and services. A router can be a bottleneck if not planned or configured properly. Services, such as screen sharing with Timbuktu or NetMeeting can be disabled, and Lotus Notes replication is often prevented to thwart outside use. Another common problem with routers is not being able to use Java applets.
During executive briefings, I’ll often show an animated graphic of a castle surrounded by a moat to depict an intranet: only when the drawbridge is down can traffic flow in or out — and a security guard is always checking packages.
So, with all these restrictions, what goes on inside an intranet? These are the types of applications that are perfectly suited to the added security and privacy of an intranet:
- Company directoryProject status reports
Budgets and forecasts
High-level reporting, such as customer satisfaction issues, and so on
Internal files that are meant for staff only
Internet: For our public
The Internet is the public web site, the 7×24 virtual front office. It’s primary audience is not internal staff, but customers and prospective customers. Think of your Internet presence as a big welcome mat.
Here are the types of information and services that are appropriate and important to company Internets:
- Product and service informationHow to contact us (sales, service, investor relations, media relations, …)
Product and sales support
Value-add sections (mailing lists, interactive areas, etc)
Extranet: For your eyes only
Here’s the tricky one, the type of web site that trips people up in meetings until they get a handle on it. Extranets are special web sites for partners, suppliers, and vendors. These people and organizations have a closer relationship with your business because of their contributions to your products and services, however, their access should certainly be more limited than company employees.
Think of an extranet like a lockbox that a real estate agent puts on a house. Inside is a key to the house. Only authorized realtors can open the lockbox with a special code. If the owners of the house want to restrict access to certain rooms, they can lock those rooms to prevent access.
Sometimes special clients or subscribers to premium services can be thought of as extranet users. PAWWS Financial Network offers customers two versions of its accounting portfolio system. The $8.95 per month version provides 20 minutes delayed stock quotes. The $50 per month version offers real time pricing. For those customers who make frequent trades, the added fee is well worth the access to immediate quotes.
Below are a several other extranet applications you might want to consider:
- Inventory checking for the sales forceOrdering information with special pricing
Partners network with private discussion groups or mailing lists
Templates for requisitions, work orders, or expenses
Searchable archives of a newsletter, journal, fund reports
If you’ve found this guide helpful, clip it and feel free to forward copies to clients, prospects and peers. It will cut down questions (both those asked and those wondered in silence), and help generate new ideas. Most importantly, it will help you avoid getting caught up in the Net!