Intranet vs. Internet: Dispelling The Common Misconceptions
Information technology has rapidly advanced in recent years and continues to. With data being accessible as an on-demand commodity, most businesses or corporations use intranets to manage documents, boost efficiency, and improve communication.
You will have your credentials to log-in to the intranet to access any information.
So, why do they do this? You might have never been asked to use your credentials to access the internet, then why now?
Let's understand both the terms in detail.
Internet vs. Intranet: What Is The Difference?
An Intranet is different from the Internet. While the "internet" is a worldwide network of interconnected computers, an "intranet" is a small, local network of computers & servers within an entity.
An intranet is explicitly designed for the benefit of the members of the said entity. Its purpose is to enable storage and exchange of information within a group of select users who tend to be members of an organized institution - be it an educational institute, a business organization, a government department, a large hospital and so forth.
The information mainly being exchanged pertains to the operations of the institution. Intranet also comes with custom built tools to manage and utilize the data as per the specific operational needs of the entity.
So, Intranet is similar to internet in the way it functions. One might even say it is another form of internet, yet it is different in its purpose, outlook, and usage.
Ever wondered or tried to understand why there is a need for Intranet when you have Internet readily available to the people and the organization?
Before we can answer that question, first lets understand what is internet and how it functions.
What Is Internet and How It Works?
As stated earlier, the Internet is essentially a network of billions of computers, which are interconnected via a standard Internet Protocol (or IP).
In this network, the computers can be personal desktop computers, smartphones, tablets, laptops or servers. Each one of these computers has a unique Internet Protocol Address (IP Address).
An IP address is a combination of numbers (e.g., 22.214.171.1241), which is used to identify the location of a computer within the global network of computers.
However, as we cannot possibly remember multiple IP Addresses, each IP Address is given a unique name by a server called Domain Name Server (DNS). This name helps us search for and locate a particular computer where the specific information or data may be hosted.
For example, consider a dummy computer with a dummy IP Address 126.96.36.1991, which is given the name "examplename" by a domain name server.
Users across the world can access this computer by using its web address www.examplename.com. A web address is also called a Uniform Resource Locator (URL).
Thus, all the computers across the world with their unique IP addresses and domain names can be accessed by internet users to share or store information in various forms in real time.
In other words, users across the real world are now interconnected in the virtual world via computers.
However, one must bear in mind that this is an open network with no boundaries. Of course, there are some restrictions and regulations. A certain amount of information remains in the background and is accessible only to the managers of the information.
The internet is freeway accessible by everyone across the world. It enables global business transactions, widespread sharing of knowledge, communication, large scale entertainment, and sometimes even national or international governance.
Not always, as there are some challenges with the internet.
Since the internet is open to everyone, it is in a way, "transparent." Therefore, there is limited privacy.
Additionally, the speed of sharing information or carrying out transactions can vary drastically and at times, be slow due to the "traffic" of millions of users worldwide.
Also, the freely available information storage and tools are generic and not always customized to meet the needs of a group of users. Due to these challenges, organizations seek a mini internet for use within themselves.
In colloquial terms, they require a special club within the internet, with exclusive access and usage with a high-speed connection. This is when they opt for the Intranet.
What Is Intranet and How It Works?
An intranet functions almost exactly like the internet, with interconnected computers enabling data storage, information exchange, and secure transactions.
The computers within an intranet also have individual IP addresses for identifying their locations and tracking their activities.
Unlike the internet, computers in an Intranet are not freely accessible by the general public. These computers are a part of a closed and secure network and are available only by the members of an organization to which the Intranet belongs.
However, the said members might access the open internet from these computers, though this access is regulated through a "firewall" or a security layer.
Many organizations today operate an Intranet. There are many benefits of establishing an Intranet, especially for organized businesses.
Apart from the benefits mentioned above (exclusive access, speed, and security), there are many other advantages of establishing an Intranet within an organization. Let's take a look at some of them.
1. In-house Websites and/or Portals
In-house websites and portals can be created for fundamental training and education to business-specific operations such as travel bookings, publishing company policies, data libraries, leave management, payroll information, transactions, etc.
These websites are created for internal use only and have curated content or applications.
2. Collaborative work within the users
The users of an Intranet can efficiently work together in groups on the same project by:
- Sharing data
- Creating multi-user applications
- Making individual additions/changes to a single file
- Communicate with each other
- Share ideas & updates
- Store their work in a central repository.
Although this is achievable with the internet as well, the speed, security, and productivity are much better with an Intranet.
3. Customized tools and applications
Elsewhere, a hospital may create a patient management tool, which allows storing or updating the treatment records of patients to the doctors and monitor their progress or take suitable measures if required.
A hospital may also have online tools for administrative purposes such as managing financial transactions and bookkeeping, managing insurance claims, managing inventory, a supply of medicines, and so on.
In a business organization, online tools can be created for customer relationship management, sales activity tracking, after sales service management, project management, financial management, etc.
Many more examples of online tools can be given, but what's common among them is that they are customized to the needs of the entity. They are also highly cost-effective as such tools eliminate unnecessary travel and paperwork while raising productivity through process automation.
4. Implementation of software updates
Earlier, organizations struggled with implementing software updates on employee computers. With Intranet, it is possible to simultaneously install software updates in all employee computers (laptops or desktops), thereby, significantly saving time, effort, and cost of doing so manually.
This may be done for all employees or to a particular group of employees who are the intended users of the software or tool. In some organizations, employees can update the software themselves using the Intranet and available software updates, further easing the workload of the information technology management department.
5. Corporate communications (internal)
Intranet also enables the management of an entity to communicate with the members (usually employees) and make important announcements regarding its operations, policies, events, management changes, achievements, advisories or any other formal communications. These may be done via emails or through internal portals’ message boards.
6. Internal social networking
Though this is not common, it is not unusual as well. Many organizations, especially large ones, create internal social networking websites for employee engagement and wellness.
While not the same as social networking websites on the internet, these internal websites enable social activities. These could be festive greetings, birthday/anniversary wishes, appreciation of specific efforts, planning employee engagement events like family days or team outings, sharing photos of such events and other light activities.
Employees can also create groups based on common interests and goals or the sale of personal assets such as vehicles, houses, paying guest accommodation, etc.
A common aspect to notice in the above-listed uses and benefits is that they are difficult to achieve through the internet, as it is not a closed and customized network. Replicating the benefits of Intranet through the internet is not only highly challenging but also inefficient unless you have the guidance of experts.
Intranet, on the other hand, is efficient, cost-effective, manageable, customizable and fast. There are various other benefits of Intranet that can be specified, but they would mostly be categorized under the above-mentioned categories.
As we progress into the modern era of big data, internet of things, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and software automation, the case of establishing an Intranet within an organization is stronger than it ever was.
Not leveraging its benefits can lead to the development of a serious handicap in an organization that intends to stay relevant in times to come.