In the race to define how information-sharing technology will be used, the intranet leads its better-publicised cousin, the Internet. The reason: the explosive growth of Internet technologies such as World Wide Web servers and browsers is causing the intranet to experience a much faster adoption rate than that of the Internet.
"Starting in the second half of 1995, we began to see the intranet growing slightly faster than the Internet, in terms of servers and software licences. Less than a year later, the intranet is growing twice as fast," said Jeff Warner, managing director of Melbourne-based Intranet Australia, an intranet systems integrator. "That's not to say the Internet is on the decline - it's not by any means. They're both growing, it just so happens the intranet is growing faster and that disparity is only going to increase as time goes on. Three or four years from now, we'll be looking at a 4:1 ratio of intranet servers to Internet servers."
Warner attributes much of the intranet's recent growth to Web servers' suitability for groupware applications. "People are starting to see that they can use their Web server for many of the same functions they would use Lotus Notes for - and at quite a savings.
"It's all happening very quickly," Warner said. "When I was talking to people 30 to 60 days ago I was telling them electronic publishing and database applications were the real growth areas for intranet, and that groupware applications were fairly immature. What I'm finding now is that a lot of people want the lower-end functionality of Notes and are able to get that from their Web server. That's what's driving the growth."
The Singapore scene
Warner points to recent figures released by research organisation IDC that indicate intranet growth will increase by an order of magnitude through the year 2000 - and, not surprisingly, it appears to be an international trend. In Singapore, intranet growth via-a-vis Internet exceeds that of the robust Australian market.
"Seventy per cent of the Web servers used today are inside of the firewall," said Singapore-based Alex Madsen, director of marketing and communications at Oracle. "This means that it is used more for the intranet rather than the Internet."
However, as Intranet Australia's Warner underscores, the intranet's heartiness is not at the expense of the Internet. "The Internet is [also] growing exponentially. However, the adoption rate of the intranet is increasing much faster because it is clearly defined in terms of its usage," said Yap Poh Keng, regional director for Asia at Meta Group Asia-Pacific. "Whereas with the Internet, most companies are still trying to justify their investment in marketing their products or services on it."
"A lot of companies are toying with the idea of setting up an information warehouse where users within the organisation can easily access information," said Tan Tong Hai, open client/server and advanced technology solutions center manager at IBM. "And they found that this concept can be implemented much faster and easier with the Web than with traditional tools."
Ravi Chandran, systems manager at The National University of Singapore, agrees. "The Web is something that is both easy to set up and use," he said. "With the intranet, all you need to do is go to the Internet, download the Web browser, and give the address to the users. No training is required because the concept involves only pointing and clicking at the content that the user wants to view." Besides, the cost of setting it up is also much cheaper, he adds.
"Companies don't have to invest in expensive software that needs to be installed in every user's PC," Chandran said. "A lot of stuff, such as the Web server software, is free because you can download it from the Internet."
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