Magazine article Management Today

Switching on to Intranets

Magazine article Management Today

Switching on to Intranets

Article excerpt

The past year has seen a surge of interest in intranets and their ability to open up access to information which companies have long held but which has been hidden behind incompatible technologies.

Designing a modern vehicle is a collaborative process involving a host of experts in such areas as bodywork, electronics, engines and transmission systems. Traditionally, incompatible operating systems have made such collaboration a slow process for Jaguar's 1,000 engineers, who have often found themselves unable to send each other files electronically even when they are based in the same office.

All will change by the end of next year, however, when intranet technology will allow all the systems involved to communicate seamlessly with each other. Jaguar's engineers will be able to send each other drawings, exchange technical documentation and run on-screen tests together. And they will be able to communicate on-line with their colleagues in Ford, Jaguar's new owner.

For intranets - individualised Internets, if you like - offer companies open communication and information access, just like the Internet, but with the added advantage of protection from the outside world by passwords, encryption and electronic barriers or firewalls. 'The intranet will allow our engineers to work in what seems to them to be the obvious and natural way,' says Roger Staines, manager of technical services for Jaguar's product engineering division. 'The logic is to ensure that all information is available to the people who need it and that they can access it easily.'

Of course, intranets have been around for several years in computer companies such as Silicon Graphics and Hewlett Packard (HP), and these advanced players now use them to run large parts of their businesses. During the past year, however, the idea has captured the imagination of a much wider audience and intranets have become one of the hottest buzzwords since the Internet itself.

And words are translating into actions. Netscape, the main provider of software for browsing the Internet, already generates 75% to 80% of its sales from intranets, and reported revenues of $100 million ([pounds]62.5 million) in the three months to September, a 329% increase over the same period last year. US-based market research company International Data Corporation reckons the global intranet market for Web servers alone (the machine which store the intranet programmes) will be worth nearly [pounds]650 million in 2000. Take-up in the UK is slower than in the US where 16% of companies already have intranets, 26% plan to install them, and 24% are 'evaluating' the idea, according to Netscape, yet IDC forecasts growth of up to 70% during the next five years in the UK.

The reason for the surge in interest is that intranets solve some of the biggest problems companies have with their computers. As with Jaguar, top of the list is the ability to link a wide range of disparate machines which were previously unable to communicate. 'You can now pull whole organisations together in a standard way without having to worry about individual links between separate departments or parts of the business with different machines,' says Derek Sayers, director of multimedia in ICL, the London-based computer company. No longer need companies abandon vast investments and start again from scratch. Intranets allow them to interconnect their existing systems, re-use their old programs, and move ahead incrementally. Moreover, intranets are becoming increasingly powerful with the advance of computer power and networking technology.

Glaxo Wellcome began building an intranet three years ago to help scientists share information and conduct research on new drugs. The fact that it allows all software to be presented in a similar way has been a boon to the company's scientists who increasingly use computers for analysing test results and modelling molecular structures. 'With an intranet, far less time needs to be spent learning how to use computers, so more time is available for science,' says John Wodehouse, the company's advanced information and technology specialist. …

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