Intranets, Extranets, and Enterprise Collaboration
SECTION I: The Intranets and Extranets in Business 9-1 The Intranet Revolution:[Figure 9.2] Many businesses realize that intranets enable them to use Internet and World Wide Web technologies to support communication, collaboration, and business processes throughout the internetworked enterprise.
Analysing U.S. West Communications
We can learn a lot how companies are using intranets as a key technology platform to support their business processes, as well as enterprise communications and collaboration
from the Real World Case of U.S. West Communications.
Take a few minutes to read it, and we will discuss it (See U.S. West Communications in section XI)
Intranet characteristics include:
1. An intranet is a network inside an organization that uses Internet technologies (such as web browsers and servers, TCP/IP network protocols, HTML hypermedia document publishing and databases, and so on) to provide an Internet-like environment within the enterprise for information sharing, communications, collaboration, and the support of business processes.
2. An intranet is protected by security measures such as passwords, encryption, and fire walls, and thus can be accessed by authorized users throughout the Internet.
3. A company’s intranet can also be accessed through the intranets of customers, suppliers, and other business partners via extranet links.
9-2 Applications of Intranets: Organizations are implementing a broad range of intranet uses. Several common functional intranet business applications include:
3. Human Resources
7. Customer Information
Intranet applications support communications and collaboration, web publishing, business operations and management, and intranet management. These applications can be integrated with existing IS resources and applications, and extended to customers, suppliers, and business partners.
Communications and Collaboration
Intranets can significantly improve communications and collaboration within an enterprise. Examples include:
1. Using an intranet browser and PC or NC workstation to send and receive E-mail, voicemail, paging, and faxes to communicate with others within your organization, and externally through the Internet and extranets.
2. Use intranet groupware features to improve team and project collaboration with services such as discussion groups, chat rooms, and audio and videoconferencing.
The advantages of developing and publishing hyperlinked multimedia documents to hypermedia databases accessible on World Wide Web servers has moved to corporate intranets. The comparative ease, attractiveness, and lower cost of publishing and accessing multimedia business information internally via intranet web sites has been one of the primary reasons for the explosive growth in the use of intranets in business. Examples include:
1. Company newsletters, technical drawings, and product catalogues can be published in a variety of ways including hypermedia and web pages, E-mail, net broadcasting, and as part of in-house business applications.
2. Intranet software browsers, servers, and search engines can help you easily navigate and locate the business information you need.
Business Operations and Management:
Intranets are being used as the platform for developing and deploying critical business applications to support business operations and managerial decision making across the internetworked enterprise. Employees within the company, or external business partners can access and run such applications using web browsers from anywhere on the network whenever needed. Examples include:
1. Many companies are developing customer applications like order processing, inventory control, sales management, and executive information systems that can be implemented on intranets, extranets, and the Internet.
2. Many applications are designed to interface with, and access, existing company databases and legacy systems. The software for such businesses uses (sometimes called applets or crossware) is then installed on intranet web servers.
3. Employees within a company, or external business partners, can access and run applications using web browsers from anywhere on the network whenever needed.
9-3 Intranet Technology Resources Since intranets are Internet-like networks within organizations, they depend on all of the information technologies that make the Internet possible. These include:
1. TCP/IP client/server networks
2. Hardware and software such as web browsers and server suites
Studies have shown that early adopters of intranets has provided them with impressive returns and high paybacks at low costs. Many corporate intranet users and consultants to the
global business community has been that companies should get going fast on pilot intranet projects, or quickly expand any current intranet initiatives.
Examples of Business Value:
The text outlines several examples of how top-rated companies have been able to derive cost savings or revenue benefits from their intranet applications. These include:
1. Provide better access to financial reports and improve productivity, speed, and control. Employees select from preformatted reports and create their own subscription lists.
2. Access to engineering documents and information. Reduces paper costs and increases speed of information transfer.
3. Global staffing tool for project teams. Able to find skilled staff and reduces time and effort to complete projects.
4. Group intranet supports manufacturing, engineering, and marketing. Allows for each document exchange and reduces paper costs.
5. Internal web site for sales and customer service. Reduces call volume and increases sales with greater salesforce involvement.
6. DataDoc Online. Reflects daily changes on video rentals, books, music, and software across 115 retail locations. Saves IS time and improves data accessibility and accuracy.
7. KeyCorp’s knowledge bank distributes job postings, information on best practices and training, marketing, and newsletters.
8. Knowledge management and corporate communications system facilitates collaboration on projects. Productivity increased via information exchange and streamlining workflow.
9. Marketing, planning, and operations. Shares business information for improved decision making, efficiency, and competitiveness.
10.Each area on the manufacturing has its own home page updated every 60 seconds. Improves process and quality.
Publication Cost Savings Many companies are replacing the publication of paper documents, company newsletters, and employee manuals with electronic multimedia versions published on intranet web servers. Elimination of printing, mailing, and distribution costs is a major source of cost savings. Companies are also publishing:
Developing information access and web publishing for an intranet is a lot easier than many traditional methods. Learning how to use a web browser for the company intranet is fast
and easy. Training and development costs for many intranet applications are low, especially for communication, collaboration, and information sharing. Electronic versions of training materials on intranet web sites can reduce the amount of costly classroom training in business.
Measuring Costs and Benefits: Justifying the initial cost of investing in an intranet does not seem to be a problem for many organizations. In many instances, payback time is achieved within a relatively short period of time. The effectiveness of the intranet can often justify the cost of the project.
9-5 The Role of Extranets Extranets are network links that use Internet technologies to interconnect the intranet of a business with the intranets of its customers, suppliers, or other business partners. Companies can:
1. Establish direct private network links between themselves, or create private secure Internet links between them called virtual private networks.
2. Use the unsecured Internet as the extranet link between its intranet and consumers and others, but rely on encryption of sensitive data and its own fire wall systems to provide adequate security.
The business value of extranets is derived from several factors:
The web browser technology of extranets makes customer and supplier access of intranet resources a lot easier and faster than previous business methods
Extranets enable a company to offer new kinds of interactive Web-enabled services to their business partners. Thus, extranets are another way that a business can build and strengthen strategic relationships with its customers and suppliers.
Extranets enable and improve collaboration by a business with its customers and other business partners.
Extranets facilitate an online, interactive product development, marketing, and customer- focussed process that can bring better designed products to market faster.
9-6 The Future of Intranets and Extranets Intranets and extranets will become even more pervasive in the business future. One recurring theme for the future of intranets and extranets is the need to move beyond information publishing applications. Companies are planning more inquiry processing and transaction processing applications that tie the Internet, intranets, and extranets to mainframe and other legacy systems and databases. Though such applications are more costly and difficult to develop, many companies are forging ahead. These Internet-using companies are in the process of Web-enabling operational and managerial support applications, including online transaction processing, database integration, and executive information and decision support.
SECTION II: Enterprise Collaboration Systems 9-7 Enterprise Collaboration: [Figure 9.21] Enterprise collaboration systems provide tools to help us collaborate - to communicate ideas, share resources, and coordinate our cooperative work efforts as members of the many formal and information process and project teams and workgroups that make up many of today’s organizations.
The goal of enterprise collaboration systems is to enable us to work together more easily and effectively by helping us to:
Communicate - sharing information with each other
Coordinate - coordinating our individual work efforts and use of resources with each other
Collaborate - working together cooperatively on joint projects and assignments
Teams, Workgroups, and Collaboration There are many types of teams and workgroups, each with its own work styles, agendas, and computing needs.
Workgroup - can be defined as two or more people working together on the same task or assignment.
Team - can be defined as a collaborative workgroup, whose members are committed to collaboration, that is, working with each other in a cooperative way that transcends the coordination of individual work activities found in a typical workgroup.
Characteristics of teams and workgroups:
1. Teams and workgroups can be as formal and structured as a traditional business office or department. Or they can be less formal and structured like the members of process teams in a manufacturing environment.
2. Teams and workgroups can be as informal, unstructured, and temporary as an ad hoc task force or a project team whose members work for different organizations in different parts of the world.
3. Members of a team or workgroup don’t have to work in the same physical location. They can be members of a virtual team, that is, one whose members are united by the tasks on which they are collaborating, not by geography or membership in a larger organization.
Enterprise Collaboration System Components
The enterprise collaboration system is an information system. Therefore, it uses
hardware, software, data, and network resources to support communication, coordination, and collaboration among the members of business teams and workgroups.
9-8 Groupware for Enterprise Collaboration Groupware can be defined as collaboration software that helps teams and workgroups work together in a variety of ways to accomplish joint projects and group assignments.
Groupware is designed to make communication and coordination of workgroup activities and cooperation among end users significantly easier, no matter where the members of a team are located. Groupware helps the members of a team collaborate on group projects, at the same or different times, and at the same place, or at different locations.
Many industry analysts believe that the capabilities and potential of the Internet, as well as intranets and extranets, are driving the demand for enterprise collaboration tools in business. On the other hand, it is Internet technologies like web browsers and servers, hypermedia documents and databases, and intranets and extranets, that are providing the hardware, software, data, and network platform for many of the groupware tools for enterprise collaboration that business users want.
Groupware provides software tools for:
Collaborative work management
9-9 Electronic Communication Tools [Figure 9.36] Electronic communication tools include electronic mail, voice mail, bulletin board systems, and faxing. They enable you to electronically send documents and files in data, text, voice, or multimedia form over computer networks. This helps you share everything form short voice and text messages to copies of project documents and data files with your team members.
Electronic Mail E-mail has become a vital, fast, and convenient way to communicate and build strategic relationships with each other in business. E-mail has also become an important medium for transporting electronic copies of documents, data files, and multimedia content.
The downsize of the E-mail phenomenon is:
The information overload
The torrent of unsolicited junk E-mail (called spamming)
Internet Phone and Fax You can use the Internet for telephone, voice mail, faxing, and paging services. All you need is a suitably equipped PC and software such as Internet Phone by VocalTech, or Netscape Conference or Microsoft NetMeeting. The minimum PC requirements are a 75 MHZ Pentium microprocessor, 28.8 KBPS modem, 16 megabytes of memory, a sound card, speaker and microphone, and Windows 95 or Windows NT.
Web Publishing Web publishing can be viewed as an important electronic communications tool for enterprise collaboration. Application software suites and other programs now enable you to publish hyperlinked documents in HTML directly to Internet or intranet web sites. Intranet web publishing has become a much more efficient and effective way of communicating among teams and workgroups than previous paper or electronic methods.
9-10 Electronic Conferencing Tools [Figure 9.36] Electronic conferencing tools helps people communicate and collaborate while working together. A variety of conferencing methods enable the members of teams and workgroups at different locations to exchange ideas interactively at the same time, or at different times at their convenience. Electronic conferencing options also include electronic meeting systems, where team members can meet at the same time and place in a decision room setting. Electronic conferencing tools include:
Data and voice conferencing
Electronic meeting systems
Data and Voice Conferencing Voice conferencing can be accomplished with Internet telephone software and groupware that supports telephone conversations over the Internet or intranets on PCS.
Data conferencing is also popularly called whiteboarding. In this method, a groupware package connects two or more PCS over the Internet or intranets so a team can share, mark up, and review a whiteboard of drawings, documents, and other material displayed on their screens.
Videoconferencing: Videoconferencing is an enterprise collaboration tool that enables realtime video/audio conferences among:
1. Networked PCS, known as desktop videoconferencing
2. Networked conference rooms or auditoriums in different locations, called teleconferencing.
Characteristics of videoconferencing:
1. Team and enterprise collaboration can be enhanced with a full range of interactive video, audio, document, and whiteboard communications among the online participants.
2. Desktop videoconferencing can now take place over the Internet, intranets, extranets, as well as public telephone and other networks.
3. Videoconferencing over the Internet, intranets, and extranets is proving to be an efficient, economical, and effective way of supporting communications and collaboration among physically displaced teams and workgroups.
4. Reduces travel time and money to attend meetings results in increased team productivity as well as cost and time savings.
Limitations of desktop videoconferencing:
1. Jerky motions of video images and the lack of nonverbal communications from “talking heads” displays of videoconference participants
Teleconferencing is an important form of enterprise collaboration.
Characteristics of teleconferencing:
1. Team and enterprise collaboration can be enhanced with a full range of interactive video, audio, document, and whiteboard communications among the online participants.
2. Sessions are held in real time, with major participants being televised while participants at remote sites may only take part with voice input of questions and responses.
3. Teleconferencing can also consist of using closed-circuit television to reach multiple small groups, instead of using television broadcasting to reach large groups at multiple sites.
4. Several major communications carriers offer teleconferencing services for such events as sales meetings, new product announcements, and employee education and training.
Limitations of teleconferencing:
1. Some organizations have found that teleconferencing may not be as effective as face-to-face meetings, especially when important participants are not trained in how to communicate using their systems.
2. Cost of providing teleconferencing services and facilities can be substantial and make teleconferencing not as cost effective as expected.
Discussion Forums This category of collaboration tools includes Internet and intranet newsgroups, discussion groups, and discussion databases.
Characteristics of discussion forums:
1. Are an extension of the earlier concept of online bulletin board systems (BBS)m which allowed users to post messages and download data and program files form the online services, businesses, and individual BBS operators.
2. Are an outgrowth of the long time and widespread use of newsgroups to provide a forum for online text discussions by the members of special interest user groups on the Internet and the major online services.
3. Can be used by companies to create or encourage communities of interest or virtual communities.
4. Discussion forum groupware can keep track of the discussion contributions of each participant, organize them by a variety of key word discussion topics, and store them in a discussion database (threaded discussions, virtual discussion groups, discussion tracking, and discussion databases). This creates threads of discussion contributions on each topic over a period of time that can be tracked and retrieved from the discussion database for analysis.
5. Discussion forum groupware can be used to create a virtual discussion group where discussion forum groupware can create a virtual discussion group by weaving together the threads of contributions on the same topic by people, who had been participants in other online discussion groups.
Chat Systems Chat enables two or more people to carry on online realtime text conversations. Characteristics of chat systems:
1. You can converse and share ideas interactively by typing in your comments and seeing the responses on your display screen.
2. Chat is an important tool for enterprise collaboration on corporate intranets, especially where voice and videoconferencing have not been implemented. One advantage of chat is that it records and stores the dialogues of all participants, so that other team members can review them later.
3. Chat rooms are also being added to Internet and intranet web sites as another way to encourage participation and collaboration by customers or employees.
Electronic Meeting Systems [Figure 9.36] Organizations frequently schedule meetings as decision-making situations that require interaction among groups of people. The success of group decision making during meetings depends on such factors:
1. The characteristics of the group itself
2. The characteristics of the task on which the group is working
3. The organizational context in which the group decision-making process takes place
4. The use of information technology such as electronic meeting systems
5. The communication and decision-making processes the group utilizes
Information technology can provide a variety of tools to increase the effectiveness of group decision making. Known generally as group support systems (GSS), these technologies include a category of groupware known as electronic meeting systems (EMS).
Research studies indicate that electronic meeting systems produce several important benefits.
Computer support makes:
Group communications easier
Protects the anonymity of participants
Provides a public recording of group communications (group memory).
This significantly improves the efficiency, creativity, and quality of communication, collaboration, and group decision making in business meetings.
9-11 Collaborative Work Management Tools: [Figure 9.36] Collaborative work management tools help people accomplish or manage group work activities. This category of groupware includes:
Calendaring and scheduling tools
Task and project management
Calendaring and Scheduling Calendaring and scheduling tools are a groupware extension of many of the capabilities provided by desktop accessory packages and personal information managers, and mainframe office automation systems. These packages enable you to use electronic versions of a variety of office tools such as calendar, appointment book, address book, contact list, and task to-do list.
Task and Project Management Project management and personal information packages can be used to do task and project management on your PC.
Characteristics of task and project management groupware:
1. Project management groupware helps project teams work together and helps team members keep track of the many tasks and timelines involved. These tools produce project schedules, program reports, and automatic reminders of due dates for project tasks.
2. Task and project management groupware also produces charts to help plan and track projects. These charts include:
Critical Path Method (CPM)
Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT)
Workflow Systems Workflow systems are related to task and project management, as well as a type of electronic document processing called document image management. Characteristics of workflow systems:
1. Workflow systems involve helping knowledge workers collaborate to accomplish and manage structured work tasks within a knowledge-based business process.
2. Workflow systems are typically based on rules that govern the flow of tasks and task information contained in business forms and other documents.
Knowledge Management Knowledge management is a tool of enterprise collaboration that groupware packages use to organize, manage, and share the diverse forms of business information created by individuals and teams in an organization. Groupware application software stores this information in document libraries, discussion databases, knowledge repositories, and web site hypermedia databases. These forms of stored information help create a knowledge base or organizational memory of strategic business information to be shared within the organization. Knowledge bases are part of the knowledge management systems being developed and used by many companies.