Intranets evolve from current infrastructure, say UK users

A paradigm shift in computing often translates into millions of dollars and many years of troubleshooting. However this has not the been the experience of some users deploying corporate intranets in the UK.

A paradigm shift in computing often translates into millions of dollars and many years of troubleshooting. However this has not the been the experience of some users deploying corporate intranets in the UK.

"A paradigm shift yes," says John Wodehouse, advanced informatics and technical specialist for Glaxo Wellcome. "But millions of dollars, no." The installation of an intranet at Glaxo -- the second largest pharmaceuticals company in the world -- has been inexpensive and easy, according to Wodehouse.

"We did not really make a conscious decision to roll out a corporate intranet," says Wodehouse. "But we discovered that we had all the components in place. The only thing we needed was to buy some Web servers and address the security issue," he says.

There are several driving forces for intranet deployment, according to Kathy Burrows, UK research manager for the International Data in London. "Firstly, most companies are using existing hardware and simply buying or downloading World Wide Web server software and authoring tools. They can experiment without investing a large amount of money," she says. "Secondly, a corporate intranet is a very cost-effective way to connect disparate software and hardware platforms," she says.

At Molins Engineering Machinery International, IT director John Lashbrook has found that to be the case. Molins has 17 sites across Europe, Asia and the US which are connected via an intranet. "We have mainframes, minis and personal computers running Unix, Windows and legacy transaction processing systems, as well as computer-aided design systems." says Lashbrook.

The company did not even have to set aside a separate budget for its intranet installation. "It's quite amazing when you think that we are enabling the connection of so many sites and computer systems with so little money," he says. "If we were to attempt this ten years ago it would have cost millions of dollars for the network connection alone," he says.

The key enabling factor for Molins, according to Lashbrook, is that the company had deployed corporate-wide email several years ago. "We just used the existing network infrastructure which was already TCP/IP," he says. However, Lashbrook believes that several factors have recently made the building of an intranet even easier. "Internet authoring tools have become a great deal easier to use," he says.

HTML authoring is not the complicated issue it used to be. "Anybody who can drag and drop can create an HTML document," says Andrew Spybey, UK press relations manager for Silicon Graphics. "Now we are taking things a step further by offering off the shelf pre-configured Web servers," he says. While the major inhibitor for Molins was the security issue, says Lashbrook, it has solved this by installing Checkpoint Software Technologies's FireWall-1 software which encrypts documents sent via the Internet.

Other benefits of the Molins intranet are that management at its Buckinghamshire, England headquarters can view computer-aided design documents held on systems in its design operation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. "We can use a VRML browser to view designs on the other side of the world," says Lashbrook.

Internet and intranet database front-end tools and search engines will be the next killer applications, according to IDC's Burrows. "Tools that will make life easier for corporations are Web relational database search engines, and virtual reality viewing browsers," says Burrows.

But for Glaxo it's the simple information publishing applications such as internal telephone directories and information regarding the company's many different departments that is driving the deployment. "This is an evolution rather than a revolution," says Wodehouse. "But that does not mean that it will not completely change the way that we do business. My personal ambition is to weed out all the valuable information held in those dusty green and gray filing cabinets make it available to everybody in the company," he says .

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