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Don't get caught in the 'Net!


Pharmaceutical Representative

Untangle Internet terms.

At a project planning meeting with a client recently, I noticed the information technology manager's jaw clench every time the marketing communications director paused to ask, "Er, would that be something that goes on our intranet, Internet or extranet site?"

If you're wondering about the distinctions, you have plenty of company in corporate America. People who are just a few steps ahead of you sometimes pepper their comments with jargon without checking to make sure that they're being accurate or understood.

Worse yet, people with a solid technical understanding lack the ability or inclination to provide a clear explanation of new technologies. Too bad that more technically astute professionals don't realize that by educating their peers one-on-one, they increase their value and likelihood to gain buy-in for projects and initiatives.

The key principle to keep in mind when sorting between an intranet, Internet and extranet site is who should be able to access what information. It has nothing to do with server capabilities, but more so with network capacity and security measures.

Intranet: Keep it to yourself

An intranet is a private network for internal company use only. Your LAN got hooked up to the corporate backbone, which then got a connection to an Internet Service Provider, which acts as a gateway to all the other computers and people on the Internet. As you know, it's a great advantage to be able to send e-mail and access the fabulous Web sites on the Internet. What you may not have considered is the importance of making sure that unauthorized users cannot read your confidential product development plans, modify your spreadsheet budgets or duplicate your proprietary documents.

Traffic flows in both directions until a special purpose hardware device called a router is installed. When a router runs what is known as "firewall" software, it allows certain types of traffic to flow from inside the network to the outside world, and it greatly limits the types of traffic that can flow in the other direction.

During every project assignment I've worked on, the question, "What's the downside of a firewall?" arises, either in a small group or privately. The answer has two parts: speed and services. A router can be a bottleneck if not planned or configured properly. Services can be disabled, and Lotus Notes replication is often prevented to thwart outside use. Another common problem with routers is not being able to use Java applets.

Think of a castle surrounded by a moat as an intranet: only when the drawbridge is down can traffic flow in or out - and a security guard is always checking packages.

So, given these restrictions, what goes on inside an intranet? These are the types of applications that are perfectly suited to the added security and privacy of an intranet:

•Â Company directory.

•Â Project status reports.

•Â Budgets and forecasts.

•Â High-level reporting, such as customer satisfaction issues.

•Â Internal files that are meant for staff only

Internet: For our public

The Internet is the public Web site, the 7' x 24' virtual front office. Its primary audience is not internal staff, but customers and prospective customers. Think of your Internet presence as a big welcome mat.

Here are the types of information and services that are appropriate and important to company Internets:

•Â Product and service information.

•Â How to contact the company (sales, service or investor relations).

•Â Product and sales support.

•Â Value-add sections, such as mailing lists and interactive areas.

•Â Solutions and success stories.

Extranet: For select eyes only

Here's the tricky one, the type of Web site that trips people up in meetings until they get a handle on it. Extranets are special Web sites for partners, suppliers and vendors. These people and organizations have a closer relationship with your business because of their contributions to your products and services. However, their access should certainly be more limited than that of company employees.

Think of an extranet like a lockbox that a real estate agent puts on a house. Inside is a key to the house. Only authorized realtors can open the lockbox with a special code. If the owners of the house want to restrict access to certain rooms, they can lock those rooms to prevent access.

Sometimes special clients or subscribers to premium services can be thought of as extranet users. For example, PAWWS Financial Network offers customers two versions of its accounting portfolio system: The $8.95 per month version provides stock quotes that are delayed by 20 minutes. The $50 per month version offers real-time pricing. For those customers who make frequent trades, the added fee is well worth the access to immediate quotes.

Below are a several other potential extranet applications:

•Â Inventory checking for the sales force.

•Â Ordering information with special pricing

•Â Partners networking with private discussion groups or mailing lists.

•Â Templates for requisitions, work orders or expenses.

•Â Searchable archives of newsletters, journals or fund reports.

If you've found this guide helpful, share the information with prospects and peers. It will cut down questions (both those asked and those wondered in silence) and help generate new ideas. Most importantly, it will help you avoid getting caught up in the 'Net! PR

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