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The Intranet Has Come a Long Way: Where is it Going Next?

Written By: J. Dowling
Published On: July 26 2002

The Intranet Has Come a Long Way: Where is it Going Next?
J. Dowling - July 26, 2002

Introduction  

The intranet was born from the marriage of two opposing business initiatives. The word processing department was cutting costs by eliminating the printed telephone directory and the information systems department was trying to find any reason for playing with HTML. Well, maybe not exactly, but not too far from the truth. What lies on the horizon for this collaboration technology?

Whenever my (not so) hypothetical Word Processing Department manager friend released a new Corporate Telephone Directory she would hold a lottery. The one who guessed how may complaints would arrive in the first day won the pot. It was inevitable that people would be added, relocated, reorganized or terminated during the printing process causing the directory to be wrong before it was distributed.

Following each new release, she would sit back and hope that she could make this "bad data" problem an IS issue and not a Word Processing issue. As Mike Nelson used to say "and then it happened" she read an article about a company that had posted its Telephone Directory on a network server and provided a means for department administrators to maintain their own segments on line. No more maintenance! No more complaints! One less to-do!

Note: This note first appeared in a column by James F. Dowling in Mid-Range Computing. Look for other previously published Mid-Range Computing columns by Mr. Dowling at this site or visit Midrange Showcase at www.midrangecomputing.com/showcase/.

The Internet Spawns The Intranet  

Meanwhile over in the IS department, a few technology guerillas were tiring of their current tool set. They had locked onto Internet development as their next differentiator. They bought a few books with animals on the covers, wrangled some software from a few vendors and built their first Intranet application. It was something that everyone wanted and the mainframe and client-server worshipers were incapable of creating with their stone-age tools. They could hold discussions about matters of supreme interest without ever coming into direct contact with participants. Not only that, but these discussions could run on for days and involve dozens of people!

Meanwhile Mr. CIO was attending the annual meeting of the Shareholder Value Enhancement Through Information Technology Association. Globalization, Virtual Organization, Operating at Hyper-speed and How the CIO Attains Respect were the topics of discussion. There is of course, only one solution each year and this year it is Collaboration. As companies expand across the globe they must minimize the impact of time and distance. By mastering zero-latency data flow and collaboration technologies the CIO will enable the enterprise. The Intranet is the new answer!

Beyond the lack of a business case for investing in any of the above applications, what is most unique about Intranet and Internet is that the phenomenon hit companies of all sizes at about the same time. Moreover, it is the small to mid-size companies who leveraged the technology most to their benefit. Even as larger corporations were beginning to discuss getting ready to evaluate Internet technology, smaller companies were building applications and learning the peculiarities of the new tool set.

Who Has The Advantage?  

IBM AS/400 has been well ahead of the non-Unix pack as a platform for business application deployment over the intranet with Lotus Notes and Domino providing a leg up on the competition. Having already addressed the application development and deployment issues, companies who employed Lotus Notes were able to leverage their investment in collaboration technology.

From a financial point of view, companies who owned the AS/400 / Lotus combination also had an advantage over those with proprietary (non-Unix) platforms in that little incremental investment was needed. Some companies failed to recognize what they had and others got caught up in application shifts that demanded new platforms. In either case, many shops find themselves with a potpourri of platforms and have chosen to move away from AS/400 in favor of the now traditional Unix servers and in some cases to the extreme Linux operating system. Why? To reduce cost?

Microsoft NT is supporting mid-sized companies and midrange Unix servers are readily available but the trend in larger companies is to consolidate servers. It is not unusual to find a billion dollar enterprise with fifty to seventy servers in a single data center. One IT Manager said that although he adopted all of the lowest "total cost of ownership" products, his budget was in the third quartile of the benchmark because he made up for it through volume. Such companies are finding it very difficult to consolidate applications onto a smaller population of servers because planning is difficult, execution is risky and payback is only achieved over an extended period.

Change happens by revolution or evolution but it does happen. Shops that stayed with their AS/400 platform continue to work with the applications that serve them well and continue to obtain value from their technology investments. Through evolution of the platform, its tool set and its broad complement of business applications, the value gap between proprietary and non-proprietary systems widened rapidly and closed slowly but it has closed.

As Intranet-based applications continue to gain dominance, the mainframe features of systems like AS/400 are more and more appreciated. Network printing and spool file management, security and access authorization, web-enabled relational database and performance management capabilities that assure availability of mission critical application are all native features of the platform that will serve well as the evolution continues.

Conclusion  

Companies that establish and maintain relationships with partners who focus on value delivery and who react responsibly to revolutionary concepts always seem to benefit in the long term without suffering too much in the short term. IBM with its AS/400 and Hewlett Packard with its HP3000 /iX platforms have exemplified such responsibility. Similarly, responsible IT managers must choose partners and platforms and products and potential to assure simplicity and business value.

This column will continue to explore the change/size paradox-big companies desiring speed and growing companies desiring stability. The author would appreciate feedback on material presented as well as suggestions for future study and reporting. The general theme is IT management and the goal is to make it easier to get clients what they want and what they need to succeed.

About The Author  

Jim Dowling is VP of the Alignment Consulting Practice at TechnologyEvaluation.Com, Inc. located in Woburn, Massachusetts. TEC researches IT products and suppliers as well as the ways companies obtain business value from IT. TEC's consulting services remove time, risk and ultimately cost from IT related decisions.

Jim can be reached at jdowling@TechnologyEvaluation.COM.

 
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