Zona Research, a Redwood Shores, Calif., market research firm, has described an “Extended Intranet” as an Intranet that promotes close ties and communications between manufacturers, their customers and suppliers, via the World Wide Web.
The word “Intranet” itself is a misnomer, in my view; hence extended intranets (and extranets for that matter) are also problematic. The word ‘internet’ itself is derived from ‘internetworking’ which describes how, from 1969 on, the Darpanet (later Arpanet) linked research and university computing centers in a network-like fashion.
What Zona is inadvertently doing through nomenclature is recognizing something that I have been writing and speaking about for several years: information is a strategic asset of the organization. By making it available when and where needed, transcending time and space, it takes on new dimensions of value.
The ability of an organization to share information oftentimes requires a dramatic change in culture, especially in those environments where hoarding of information is akin to amassing power. The paradigm of the World Wide Web presents a challenge to hoarders; it flattens the informational structure of the organization.
Our observations have been that organizations have developed their Web sites for external consumption and have kept internal personnel ‘in the dark’ about these sites. Hence company employees were not only not able to evangelize the sites but often knew less about them than their customers. Intranets (under the prevailing definition) have been developed along different lines than now-traditional Web sites. They are frequently produced for internal-only (proprietary) use, in many instances for human resource and purchasing departments. They also can contain areas which could be of value to the strategic partner or customer of the organization.
What we have observed is that there needs to be a melding of these various Nets. It is, technologically speaking, relatively easy to grant access on a need-to-know basis, ensuring that customers don’t have access to insider information.
Yet frequently customers and employees alike should have access to the same data, in the same ‘views’. The recent phenomenon of extending Intranets to strategic partners is merely a descriptor of what has been informally taking place since the creation of the World Wide Web itself. What companies truly need to understand is how to create content that is meaningful for their audience, and how to display this content to its best advantage.
Management consultants have always spoken of building ties between strategic partners. And such ‘networks’ have done so before the advent of the Internet itself, using state-of-the-art technology of their time (whether it was paper catalogues, or telex communications). Now the Internet is ready to facilitate such communication. It is ready not because companies are saying it is ready or because software companies are making their applications “internet-enabled”; it is possible because access to the Internet is becoming ubiquitous and customers and partners alike are demanding it.
Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex. This article originally appeared in the Basex Online Journal of Industry and Commerce (BOJIC).