What is an intranet? It is a browser based, cross platform application that allows users to perform tasks independent of location or type of connection (so long as there is a connection) inside a Local Area Network. An extranet is an intranet that is accessible outside a Local Area Network
Most intranets run on a web-site, accessed by standard web-browsers, working across a private network (which may be a Local Area Network (a LAN), a Wide-Area Network (a WAN), or across normal Internet lines - with company-specific security (a Virtual Private Network - VPN).
With the fibre optic (finally) here (ish), web based applications can make business processes more efficient and timely. Common document repositories, shared tasks, instant messaging and more can reduce the latency related to physical paper trails. But what is the best way to go about creating one?
As per normal, step one is identifying an area of improvement, then planning for a solution and finally making a plan. After an analysis of your business model, we will come up with goals because intranets and extranets have to meet specific business needs and actually give a return on investment.
This is the hardest part. After this, its a walk in the park.
To achieve this, you need to put business processes that your staff must handle from day to day. Setting up this application through a good user interface and pleasant look and feel will go a long way to securing your audience. Examples of such applications are:
Set the home page for the browser to be the Intranet homepage so users don't need to type in a URL. If you are going to make information available to people through a website, you will need to make it as easy as possible for them to get to that information.
The design of the Intranet itself is one of the most important factors. The pages should be clean devoid of unnecessary graphics, navigation should be easily identifiable and easy to use.
Training is essential for the proper use of an Intranet. Your users will be of varying skill levels so training will help a large percentage of them understand the layout of the site and how to use the various features.
From experience the main areas that benefit from training are search techniques, any custom applications such as timesheets or expenses, and the community tools like forums or instant messenger applications.
You know quite a lot about your users this time because they are part of your company. Use that information to tailor the content to each user. If they are in the marketing department, show the top 5 marketing forms. Show photos from the marketing department, show their group calendar.
Use any other information you can - such as their line manager, phone numbers, address information , the last login times, the areas of the site they visit most regularly, the current projects to which they are assigned, their previous search history etc.
Install forums to discuss and vote on various company issues, install blogs to encourage staff to voice their daily opinions. Instant messenger applications can be very effective methods of communication. Photos of various social events are always welcomed, and can be linked with discussion threads to really bring people back to the site. You may even get some viral marketing going on internally!
Update the site with personal information periodically, and make reference to this in the newsletters. The Intranet is after all, the source of all information about your friends within the company.
Linking customers and suppliers to authorized sections of your intranet can create happier customers, build more efficient supplier networks, and reduce staff costs. It also reduces time spent in communication between supplier and customer.
The intranet can also be used for customer service. For example, information on product shipments and availability drastically improve customer satisfaction.