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Solving Organizational Problems with Intranet Technology

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The paper highlights the importance of the intranet as a means to enhancing governance and speeding up institutional reform. It discusses the advantages and uses of an intranet and briefly explains the steps needed in designing an intranet
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  The Pakistan Development Review  38 : 4 Part II (Winter 1999) pp. 1021–1036 Solving Organisational Problems with Intranet Technology S OHAIL J EHANGIR M ALIK  ,   H INA  N AZLI ,   and K  ASHIF A BRAR    I. INTRODUCTION Information serves as an essential intermediate input in decision-making for any business process. It is an essential requirement not only for effective and efficient management but also for medium and long term planning. In this era of technological advancement the rapid growth of information flow has contributed significantly in the expansion of business, commercial, industrial, financial, educational and research organisations. Electronic communication provides the ability to overcome many organisational problems. In recent years, an easy and inexpensive access to information through the Internet and e-mail has created an atmosphere of strong competition among organisations. In this competitive environment, the organisations need an efficient, productive and competent internal set-up based on a well-informed workforce. In the absence of effective co-ordination, the expansion of an organisation may result in inter-group conflicts, unhealthy bureaucratic activities, and various complexities in decision-making [Telleen (1996)]. This applies even more to organisations in developing countries such as Pakistan that are in need of efficient ways to improve governance and enhance institutional reforms. How can an organisation enhance its productivity, reduce cost, and increase internal communication in a time efficient mode? Can information technology help in strengthening and improving the existing organisational set-up and therefore its overall performance? The  Intranet   has revolutionised the way in which organisations work, communicate, and collaborate. What is the intranet? What are its uses and advantages? How can intranet solve the organisational problems? What are its costs and benefits? The objective of this paper is to answer these questions. In doing so the Sohail Jehangir Malik is Senior Evaluation Officer at The World Bank, Washington, D. C. Hina  Nazli is Research Economist at the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, Islamabad. Kashif Abrar is Systems Analyst, FFC- Jordan Fertiliser Company, Rawalpindi.  Authors’ Note : The opinions expressed in this paper are personal.   Malik, Nazli, and Abrar 1022  paper highlights the importance of the intranet as a means to enhancing governance and speeding up institutional reform. This paper is divided into six sections. The importance of the intranet is highlighted in the second section. The advantages of the intranet and its many uses are presented in sections three and four respectively. The designing of an Intranet is described in section five and conclusions are presented in the final section. II. IMPORTANCE OF THE INTRANET What is the Intranet? An intranet is an inter-organisational network that uses the tools and standards of the Internet to create an infrastructure that connects the offices and staff members of an organisation, regardless of their geographical location. The internet is a network of networks that connects people and machines all over the world and  provides a broad base for information exchange. An intranet on the other hand assists in lowering the operational cost of an organisation by regulating its functions in more efficient ways. The intranet acts as a catalyst that accelerates business activity by improving overall performance and competitiveness of an organisation. It increases the speed of information transfer that, in turn, boosts business activities. In order to support business applications, the intranet uses the open internet technologies such as, HTML, HTTP, FTP, and TCP/IP communication protocol with a graphical web  browser such as the Netscape Navigator or the Internet Explorer  1 . Intranet requires a web server  2  connected to an organisation’s local area network  3  and thus accessible only to functionaries within an enterprise. In other words, an intranet is protected by firewalls 4 . The web server stores all the important information, such as, an organisation’s data base and documents repositories on the web server. This information can be accessible through the web browser to the employees of an organisation. Let us consider an example to understand the difference between Internet, Intranet and Extranet. We all use telephones. To talk to any person having a telephone, we pick up the phone and dial the number we wish to talk to via the public telephone network. Internet is also a public network—accessible to everyone. We can reach any site by typing its internet address in the web browser. So Internet can  be viewed as a public telephone network. Intercom telephone exchanges are common in offices. These are also telephone networks, which work on the same principle as 1 Both these web browsers offer access to web, mail, FTP, news services, facilities for editing HTML, and support for Java. Both use TCP/IP communication between computers. 2 The web server stores and serves up all the programmes and documents placed on it. 3 A local area network is a group of computers and associated peripheral devices connected by communications channel, capable of sharing files, programmes and other resources between several users. 4 Security devices that regulate traffic between an organisation’s Intranet and outside world.  Organisational Problems and Intranet Technology 1023 the public telephone network. The only difference is that it is accessible to the people in within an organisation. So intranet can be viewed as a private telephone intercom. If we connect this private intercom exchange with the public telephone network so that the outside world can talk to the people in the organisation, it becomes an extranet. Background The intranet has its roots in technological advancement. In the 1960s, the US Department of Defence first established an experimental four-computer network to share information flow among diverse sites and researchers. The protocol that developed for this purpose was called Internetworking Protocol or TCP/IP. The use of this protocol quickly spread outside the defence community as TCP/IP provided an effective way to move information across diverse networks. In the late 1980s, the  National Science Foundation’s NSFnet began its own network and made it publicly accessible. In 1989, the European Particles Physical Center (CERN) in Switzerland  proposed to use Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) for formatting hypertext files. The protocol that was used for transferring HTML files was called Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). They used the Web to describe the results of transferring HTML files through HTTP protocol. In 1992, the World Wide Web (WWW) system and software were released. The Web is an efficient and economical medium of information exchange as compared to printed material, telephone and fax. The information, or Web pages are stored on the web servers. Web server programmes are designed to receive requests for web pages. The information placed on the web server can be readily accessible to a wide variety of users. The software that retrieves and displays the HTML files is called a browser. The first graphical web browser, Mosaic, was introduced in 1993. In 1994, Netscape communications released  Netscape Navigator browser and in 1995 Microsoft introduced the Internet Explorer. The year 1995 was the year of the Internet and the World Wide Web that revolutionised the world of information technology. According to Creative cyber webs, radio took 38 years, television 13 years and the internet only 4 years to make 50 million users. A substantial growth in Internet domains, website, servers, networks and users has been noted. According to an estimate, the Internet is growing  by 1 million users per month and its traffic is doubling every 100 days. The intranet srcinated with companies using Internet technology on their internal network in 1995. The year 1997 witnessed a sharp rise in the use of web- based e-mail, groupware, 5  and database access. In October 1995, the Internet search engine Altavista showed 45 references to the word “intranet”. This number had increased to 10,000 in June 1996 and in September 1999 more than 1.4 million 5 A network software designed for the use by a group of people all working on the same project or need access to same data.   Malik, Nazli, and Abrar 1024 documents containing the word “intranet” were found on this search engine. In the US, nearly 77 percent companies were using the intranet in 1998. The Business Research Group predicts that 90 percent of all U.S. corporations will have an Intranet  by January 2000. Zona Research Inc. predicts that worldwide Intranet software sales will increase 16-fold in three years. There will be 133 million intranet users worldwide by 2001. The Intranet servers will increase to 45,000,000 in the year 2000 from 80,000 in December 1998 [see LPI Software Funding Group Inc. (1998)]. Uses of Intranet The information placed on an intranet server can be accessible by all the users on a network regardless of geographical location, as intranet is extendable to remote workers through controlled access to internal information. Intranet provides a central place to the  people of an organisation to produce and consume information, communicate and collaborate with each other. The intranet can be used for the following purposes: ã  Information Publishing: This means to deliver news, announcements, e-mail and telephone directories, policies and procedure manuals in easy and more accessible mode. ã  Internal e-mail: This allows a two-way flow of information, i.e., users can get information and send their requests, queries and complaints to the concerned  persons. In other words, intranet e-mail can serve as help desk for the users. In addition this will promote forum discussions. ã  Document management: Intranet makes documents available to the users on request. This boosts the accessibility to information. ã  Workflow: This would enhance the online administrative processes in each department, such as human resources, sales/marketing, finance and management, etc. ã  Online training: Intranet can provide online training to its users. III. ADVANTAGES OF THE INTRANET Intranet provides a platform that easily allows its users to get required information from any department of the organisation whenever needed. It is a  powerful tool for collaborating, project managing, data collecting, and presenting results of analyses. Numerous benefits are associated with the use of the intranet as the web technology can be applied in wide area networks as well as small-to-medium sized local area networks. 1. The Intranet Can Promote a Paperless Office The intranet technology is an excellent way to publish large number of frequently changing documents within a corporation e.g., company policies,
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