With global Internet users estimated at 1,966,514,816 and some 77 percent of the U.S. population connected, Internet use is now part of the mainstream. In business, the Internet has become a widely-used tool offering public access to support communication, collaboration and commerce throughout the world. Internet technology is also used in closed networks to support intranets within an organization and extranets, which link an organization with its partners.
The Internet has replaced many traditional forms of business communication, using websites or digital media to distribute and share information. This has reduced costs, eliminated waste and improved customer service, compared to paper-based information. Email, instant messaging and social networks provide high-speed, highly-accessible communications tools, speeding up processes that are time-critical. Collaboration over the Internet increases productivity, improves decision making and reduces travel costs.
Global Internet access makes it easy for organizations to do business anywhere in the world without investing in a local physical presence. Using e-commerce facilities, organizations can sell their products globally, taking payment electronically and offering customers the convenience of digital delivery for suitable products or services. Organizations can also provide support to local customers or partners.
An intranet is an internal network that only authorized users, typically employees, access. It uses Internet technology and offers similar business benefits. Organizations use intranets to distribute or share information, deploy business applications, support collaboration and project management, simplify internal communications and streamline business processes. Statistics from Intranet Insider World Tour Live 2009 show the potential for significant cost savings. For example, the retailer IKEA reported paper cost savings of $192,000 while the introduction of self-service human resources services saved the company $219,000.
The international consultancy firm Deloitte reported that their investment in a global intranet – D Street – had delivered a wide range of business benefits. The intranet, which utilizes social networking techniques, has built a strong sense of community. The firm stressed the improvements in knowledge sharing and preservation that underpin productivity and innovation in their service delivery. They also believed that the quality of information and collaboration facilities on the intranet helped them to recruit, assimilate and retain talented people. These factors combined to help build and maintain a position of market leadership.
An extranet extends intranet facilities to locations outside the organization over secure network connections. An extranet can connect an organization with branches, remote workers, suppliers, distributors, business partners, key customers and other authorized users to create an extended enterprise. Extranets simplify the two-way flow of confidential information, enabling organizations to collect and share critical business data.
Extranets help to improve the efficiency of supply chain operations, building collaborative relationships and making the supply chain more responsive to changes in the marketplace. Organizations with a number of locations can use extranets to provide branches with the same business applications and data found at headquarters. This enables the organization to offer a consistent level of customer service throughout its network.
Based in the United Kingdom, Ian Linton has been a professional writer since 1990. His articles on marketing, technology and distance running have appeared in magazines such as “Marketing” and “Runner's World.” Linton has also authored more than 20 published books and is a copywriter for global companies. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in history and economics from Bristol University.