Intranet sites allow employees access to confidential information.

Image courtesy of Newport News Public Schools

Intranet Benefits

The chief advantage of using an intranet for a small or large business is that they're cheap to implement and run, greatly increasing the return on investment (ROI) [source: Net Access]. In the modern office, most computers are already equipped to connect to the Internet and browse the Web. With an intranet, there's no need to buy new equipment for the end user or significantly restructure the corporate network. The only thing that needs to be purchased and configured is a Web server (hardware and software) to host the intranet. And the most popular Web server software, Apache, is free.

Another benefit of using an intranet is improved information sharing and collaboration across an organization [source: Digital Web Magazine]. Let's use the example of a sales department in a software company. Instead of each salesman maintaining his own sales lead lists and saving them on his own computer, all sales leads can be posted and tracked on a central Web site on the corporate intranet [source: Intranet Roadmap]. Salesmen can post and share product pitch scripts, training videos and industry reports. Instead of sending hundreds of different group e-mails, all of the information lives at one central location. This saves time, which in turn saves money.

Intranets become even more powerful when they're linked to corporate databases. Suddenly, all of the information on the corporate network is searchable and accessible through a simple Web interface. This can be another money saver for a company. Instead of buying and licensing software for each and every desktop in the office, the company can switch to Web-based applications that are accessed through a Web browser [source: Devware]. Peoplesoft is a Web-based application that can be hosted on a corporate intranet. Human resources can maintain employee records and customer service reps can track help requests all through an intranet Web site.

Another financial benefit of intranets is that they're scaleable and flexible [source: Intranet Roadmap]. A small company can turn a simple desktop PC into a Web server, build some basic HTML Web pages and be up and running at practically no extra cost. As the company grows, it can invest in a more robust Web server, hire a Web developer to design more dynamic intranet Web pages and make more and more information and software available online.

Beyond their tangible, financial benefits, intranets can also help develop and reinforce the corporate culture of a business [source: Intranet Roadmap]. Executives can maintain blogs on the company intranet site alerting employees to new and exciting developments. Employee relations specialists can post newsletters, maintain event calendars and organize volunteer groups through the intranet site. And employees themselves can start blogs and build Wikis that explain every facet of corporate life.

For companies that also maintain well-trafficked, dynamic Internet Web sites, the corporate intranet Web site can be a place to test out new ideas and emerging Web 2.0 features [source: Information Week]. Maybe a company is toying with the idea of launching its own online social network or Internet television channel. All of the technical quirks and usability issues can be worked out on the in-house intranet site so that everything runs smoothly when the new features are unveiled to the public.

Now that we've covered some of the advantages of using an intranet, let's talk about how an organization plans for and develops its intranet.