More than half the respondents to Computerworld's Market Watch survey are either strongly considering setting up extranets or are already using them.
Extranets make use of Internet protocols and the existing telecommunications infrastructure to securely share information between companies and are often considered the first step on the way to a full e-commerce system.
"We're looking at putting our 'material safety data sheets on an extranet," says Sandy Reymond, IT manager for Courtaulds Coatings, a paint and coating manufacturer.
"People need to know what's in these products from a health and safety point of view. We supply these sheets now, usually on CD." By putting moving to an extranet, however, Courtaulds can ensure the latest information is available to all customers as soon as it becomes known. Customers would log on to a server and be granted access to the information, enabling Courtaulds to keep a tally of who was accessing the data.
Once that system is running, Courtaulds plans to add a list of specifications for certain products to aid customers in their decision-making process before they even need to call Courtaulds.
"This is a service that we are providing for the customer. It's like mobile phones — people said, 'let's wait five years to see whether it's a toy or a tool'. More businesses are finding it cost--effective to use this technology."
Reymond says she wouldn't be looking to move to a full e-commerce environment yet, although she doesn't rule it out in the longer term.
At the other end of the spectrum from Courtaulds is Treasury, which is also considering its options when it comes to an extranet.
"Basically we would look to connect different departments together to share financial information, but we're still at the very early stage at the moment," says system support director Brian Smith. Of primary consideration when setting up an extranet is security, says Smith. "That's where we're spending the majority of our time in this assessment phase." Smith believes a 12-month time scale for deployment at Treasury is "optimistic" and points out that they're still evaluating the idea at the moment.
One company that isn't about to contemplate extranets is forestry company Earnslaw One.
Finance manager Robert Ting says that without customer demand to drive the development, an extranet is unlikely to get off the ground. "We're not an IT-intensive industry and really technology like that is all about horses for courses."
In high-speed telecomms technologies more than 60% of respondents said they were either using or likely to use ISDN in the next 12 months, with the majority of those using it already.
ATM fares less well — fewer than 20% are considering it in the short term, and only 6% currently use it, down from last year's results. This may reflect a lack of availability rather than companies' willingness to use ATM, however.