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Why training needs the intranet
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pixel.gif (807 bytes) Why intranets work
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ONLY SOMEONE shipwrecked for years on a desert island would be unaware of the Internet and that’s assuming that the natives were not already communicating with their relatives on other islands using e-mail or busy building their own e-commerce site to sell holidays on-line. Everyone knows that the Internet is the mother of all networks, a way of inexpensively linking computers at home and at work with millions of others around the world; in fact something like 100 million of them.

Most people say they also know what an intranet is, mainly because it’s one of the trendy buzzwords of the moment and it’s not cool to show ignorance. But the concept is simple enough. It is, of course, a mini-Internet, dedicated to a single organisation and providing employees with all the benefits of the web in their workplace.

The intranet sits alongside the myriad of other communication tools within an organisation, but has its own distinct profile. An intranet is:

  • on-line, which means there is a minimal delay in messages reaching their target and communication can take place over large distances. Compared with off-line media such as paper documents and CD-ROMs, content can be updated centrally and immediately made available to all users.
  • interactive, which means you have the opportunity of receiving feedback; you have a better chance of the message being understood; you can tailor messages to meet individual users’ needs; and the user can control the pace of the communication process.
  • a pull technology, which means that access is at the user’s discretion. Information on an intranet sits there waiting to be ‘pulled’. This is ideal where you have large quantities of information to make available, but not where you need to be certain that a message has reached its target within a given timeframe. For that you need that other on-line, interactive medium, e-mail - a ‘push’ technology for targeted messaging. An organisation’s e-mail system and the intranet are natural partners, in the same way that Internet e-mail works alongside the World Wide Web for home users.

As intranets run over companies’ networks, rather than through a dial-up connection, they should be able to provide smoother and faster access to information than a home user would expect from the Internet. In practice, many local area networks are of inadequate bandwidth to take all of their existing traffic plus the burden of the intranet and so response times can be surprisingly sluggish. Of course, this is changing and most organisations are busy upgrading their networks, but I have not heard of one yet that’s brave enough to encourage the use of audio or video on their intranet. It’s safe to assume for the next two or three years at least that what an intranet gives you, in media terms, is text, graphics and a little animation. In time we will be able to use intranets as audio-visual tools as well, replacing multimedia CD-ROMs, in-company television networks and stand-alone videoconferencing facilities.

The single interface for an intranet is a web browser like Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. This seemingly simple software application will in time provide employees with access to a significant proportion of their working tools: news, reference materials, documents, workflow applications, company databases and bespoke systems, discussion forums and … training.

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                                                     Fastrak Consulting Ltd, 1998. All rights reserved.                                 Last revised 2/11/98.