IBM's Intranet Offerings: Pathways to New Heights

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Reprint Courtesy of International Business Machines Corporation, © International Business Machines Corporation

By Jeri Dube and Donna Pierson

This article describes IBM's approach to helping your business develop intranets that enable business enhancement and growth. It defines the different uses of intranets and describes common paths you can follow in adopting intranet technology. It covers IBM offerings in the intranet market. Finally, it suggests the actions that your business can take to start benefiting from IBM's wealth of Internet technology.

Businesses are establishing intranets – internal corporate networks built on Web protocols – at a phenomenal rate. According to Forrester Research, (Forrester Research, The Full-Service Interanet, March 1996) 16 percent of the Fortune 1000 companies have intranets, and another 50 percent are either considering or planning intranets.

Intranets have enormous potential. Today businesses are only scratching the surface of a wellspring of possibilities. As companies jump on the bandwagon using the fastest possible means, they find that IBM's vast experience, along with its depth and breadth of skills, can guide them to get intranets up and running quickly and easily.

As companies build their intranets, they find multiple sources of business value. Intranets reduce communication costs, increase productivity and sales, and significantly improve work quality. Intranets enable companies to reengineer processes as well as rapidly expand their businesses.

Rapid growth often does not take into account future network growth, the advantages gained by leveraging existing data, or how to add new intranet-enhancing products later. These considerations demand that intranets be flexible, open, and integrated. In addition, when a company makes an intranet accessible to a wide group of employees and suppliers, it must establish security mechanisms such as firewalls, access controls, and encryption.

IBM's security products and technologies enable intranets to handle mission-critical data and tasks. IBM's open, flexible, and scalable solutions are designed for intranets of all sizes, from departmental intranets to complex networks connecting worldwide enterprises.

Intranet Innovation: Breaking New Ground

The fierce competition among businesses today leads their customers to expect high quality, low cost, and impeccable service. Traditionally, most companies have emphasized only one of these areas. To thrive today, they must excel in all three. They must transform the way they operate and discover new ways to deliver value.

The Internet and intranets have been the impetus for positive change and new value. Intranets enable companies to develop new areas in their industry and expand elements within their businesses, such as successfully reengineering, broadening their scope, adding new areas of competence, and enhancing their communication channels.

The key to achieving these goals is getting the right information to the people who can use it most effectively. Although businesses generate and maintain a lot of data, often it is not easily accessible. IBM intranets unleash information, give it to authorized users, and simplify its maintenance, thus enhancing the way people use information and share it with others.

Web-Enabled Business Value

Leading companies are rapidly creating World Wide Web applications to address a wide range of objectives, from reducing the cost and improving older ways of administering internal business, to providing the new IT system infrastructure for global engineering projects, to creating a marketing advantage with new customer acquisition and servicing (Figure 1). In almost every instance, firms find that by using Internet technologies, they can communicate and link information, internally and externally, in ways that often were not possible before (Figure 2). IBM calls this phenomenon Web-enabled business value.

For internal applications, users seek lower overall costs and greater productivity. A simple example is how intranets allow 24-hour access to information rather than having to ask someone during business hours for data. For external applications, they want to establish better communications and relationships with their customers and suppliers. Because intranets are platform-independent, it's easier to give customers and suppliers access via an intranet.

Although intranet applications were originally developed separately from Internet applications, the trend is toward merging or interfacing the two. As secure intranet applications are made accessible to the public Internet and to customers and as external Web sites are linked to internal intranets, there is less distinction between the two. With Internet and intranet applications both using the same fundamental, open technology standards, the leading users are planning to expand and extend their systems into new applications such as virtual marketplaces and virtual offices (Figure 3).

Cost-Effective Communications

The first benefit from intranet adoption is cost-effective communications, which yield immediate cost savings. With intranets, people can easily find the information they need without asking for either permission or directions for navigating the information. At the same time, companies can keep the information protected from unauthorized users.

An intranet extends reach and simplifies logistics. For example, an intranet can eliminate the cumbersome task of maintaining a large distribution list for a quarterly status report. On an intranet, the report can be easily updated and posted when information changes.

Publishing information on an intranet is simple, especially with offerings from IBM and Lotus, such as Lotus Domino/Notes, Net.Data and DB2 WWW connection, VisualAge, and the IBM Internet Connection Servers. Domino.Action, from Lotus, delivers a function-rich Web site that can be installed and configured in a Notes environment simply and quickly.

With Domino, information in a Lotus Notes database is easily published on the Web. Domino renders Notes data into HTML format on the fly and serves HTML documents from the file system. With its Notes Access Control, Domino keeps the information away from unauthorized people.

With an intranet, it's no longer necessary to ask someone for copies or to be put on a distribution list. Companies also have more control over what is seen. If only the big picture is of interest, that is all that is presented with hypertext links to more detailed information. Both internal and global information is readily available as well as current. Recipients can respond to information either through implicit e-mail mechanisms or through forms.

For example, Lotus Notes has made it easier for a major semiconductor manufacturer to publish all kinds of documents on its intranet. This intranet publishing has been particularly useful for putting complex data models online. Not only is Web publishing simpler, but employees find they can search for the right document just by using key words.

In addition, the company's employees use their intranet to register for classes. The class registration data is maintained in a Notes repository that users can access from a Web browser. Employees can get class information and sign up from an internal Web site. Before this system was in place, employees registered for classes over the phone.

As another example of making information retrieval easier, a university's information systems technical services group has created an internal Web site. By using IBM's Net.Data, Internet Connection Secure Server, and DB2, the services group can maintain and update an I/S activity-tracking application from a Web browser. Furthermore, a Web-enabled application that tracks network backup activity allows the I/S group to efficiently monitor their computer systems.

Internal Information Management

Information management consists of several elements – keeping content current and accessible, supporting ways for users to interact with information, and ensuring that only authorized people have access.

Intranets may introduce new chores in managing information. For example, presenting a consistent company image becomes important as distributed Web sites proliferate within and beyond an organization. Ensuring that all departments have the same updated versions of information requires synchronization across separate departmental servers, including directories and security mechanisms. Giving different audiences – engineering, marketing, suppliers, customers – the information that each of them needs is an issue.

IBM and Lotus have and are developing several products that address these new information management chores.

Domino bridges the open standards of the Web with the power of Lotus Notes. Domino provides basic requirements for an interactive Web site, including a programmable content store, views, full text search engine, and threaded discussions. Domino's rich object store can contain any type of data or applet attached to a Web page – audio, video, text, Java applets, ActiveX controls, and plug-ins. Domino/Notes can protect information down to the field level if necessary. Notes' bi-directional replication goes beyond traditional Internet mirroring algorithms, enabling the synchronization of databases on multiple servers.

IBM's Directory and Security Server delivers a comprehensive set of industry-standard services supporting distributed and secure computing. Tivoli's Net.Comman-der provides end-to-end systems management by giving administrators enterprise-scale capabilities to configure, deploy, and monitor events between servers, firewalls, and databases.

IBM is further developing its Web Object Manager (WOM) technology, used during the XXVII Olympiad, for enterprises that are putting highly interactive, core business processes on the Web. WOM delivers a state-of-the-art, tested solution that supports scalable, transaction-oriented application development and delivery. WOM enables customers to use the Internet as a business tool for global access, achieve better integration with existing business applications and networks, and exploit the Internet for commerce. WOM meets the challenge of heavy volume and multiple source sites, enabling security-enhanced transactions and providing interactive, personalized content.

Real-Time Collaboration

Another benefit of intranet adoption is enhanced, timely information exchange within the organization. Dispersed work teams need to share information, review and edit documents, incorporate feedback, and reuse and consolidate prior work efforts. Intranets that enable collaboration without paper or copies of files can save days in a project schedule. Electronic collaboration eliminates hurdles such as distance between co-workers and the need to integrate different work efforts. Collaboration also breeds further invention.

A major accounting firm plans to use Domino to build security-rich, interactive workflow applications for the Web. A key advantage is that Domino extends the power of Notes to Web browsers. Notes has been and will continue to be a critical element of all levels of Web applications at this firm, including publishing as well as interactive and complex Web applications.

Students and professors at a southeastern United States university are finding out how Notes' collaborative capabilities can completely change classroom dynamics. Students submit research topics to their instructors using Notes, making it easier for professors to respond quickly and completely. Notes also facilitates student collaboration on projects, allowing professors to see how well students cooperate and help each other by electronically viewing the comments students make on classmates' papers.

The Extended Intranet

Companies that extend their intranets are able to communicate more efficiently with their business communities. Through electronic connections to suppliers and partners, businesses can save time and money by sharing inventory, tracking orders, announcing new products, and providing ongoing support. Sophisticated intranets can increase response time and shorten order fulfillment to customers. Suppliers track inventory levels directly, reduce delays in order fulfillment, and save inventory maintenance costs.

A major automobile manufacturer has set up a parts information network that extends applications and data to its suppliers, including both an analysis of supplier performance and a parts quality system to track bad parts issuances. The data is encrypted between the browser and the server, so that observers can't peek at the information. The applications use CICS transactions on the mainframe to restrict the user to authorized data. The company expects to reduce the time spent dealing with suppliers and increase the quality of communication.

Making legacy information, such as inventory data, accessible via a Web browser is one of the many strengths of IBM's intranet solutions. IBM offers several ways to connect Internet and intranet systems to core business applications.

In a Notes environment, several products enable access and use of existing data for sophisticated information exchange:

  • LotusScript is a cross-platform, embedded, object-oriented, structured programming language, a superset of the easy-to-learn and easy-to-use BASIC language.
  • LotusScript:Data Object supports Notes clients and servers to access and update any ODBC-compatible relational database.
  • Oracle LotusScript Extension (LSX) supports reading and writing Oracle databases using Oracle's native SQL.
  • MQSeries Link for Lotus Notes provides the link to transaction-based systems, allowing business processes to be integrated across Notes and transaction systems.
  • Lotus NotesPump provides a high-performance, enterprise-scalable data exchange infrastructure that allows organizations to use data in both Notes and relational databases, providing replication and synchronization.
  • VisualAge for Smalltalk enables application developers to rapidly build interactive intranet applications that can interoperate with Lotus Notes data and applications. This powerful development tool allows customers to leverage their existing investments in IBM and third-party data transaction systems with Lotus Notes, using a wide choice of middleware such as MQSeries, CICS, or TCP/IP.

Corporations already use industry-leading products that form the foundation for the IBM Software Servers. These companies can make a smooth transition to intranet computing while retaining their equity in existing IBM systems. The servers are used with gateway programs to make existing applications and data immediately available to Internet users, without application changes or programming.

Net.Data builds upon the data access with DB2 WWW Connection, delivering ODBC connectivity to heterogeneous data on both IBM and non-IBM sources, such as Oracle, Sybase, and Informix. Net.Data enables applications written in C++, Java, Perl, and REXX.

IBM's World Purchasing Service offering is a cross-industry, networked service for electronic purchasing that complements reengineering of the buying and selling process. The service includes catalog-enabling tools for Notes and the Internet, catalog management and distribution services, content hosting, and transaction processing. It combines the controls and economies of centralized purchasing with the freedom and responsiveness of decentralized purchasing.

The Virtual Office

In today's fast-paced environments, companies often have dynamic work environments, as evidenced by the emergence of the "virtual office." A virtual office is not a physical place; rather, it is an environment that removes space and time boundaries. Expanding the virtual office's functionality to include multimedia capabilities via an intranet expands workers' horizons. Workers are not isolated from colleagues by physical boundaries. Multi-media-enabled computing brings longdistance interaction one step closer to the effectiveness of face-to-face interaction.

The concept of the virtual office is not limited to the business environment. A technical institution is providing education to residents in rural areas of Georgia. They worked with IBM to develop "Distance Learning," a network that allows an instructor to present multimedia classroom presentations to students at unstaffed rural satellite locations. They further enhanced this network by using IBM's Person to Person (P2P) collaborative computing application across local LANs as well as the Internet.

Applications: The Driving Force for Intranets

The focus of IBM's intranet strategy is to enable applications that empower businesses to make effective changes that yield significant business value. IBM is focusing on several key application areas:

  • Electronic commerce
  • Collaboration
  • Content management

Collaboration and content management pertain directly to intranets, and they indirectly support the effectiveness of electronic commerce.

IBM's view of electronic commerce encompasses key needs, such as:

  • Marketing, advertising, and promotion
  • Sales processes requiring intelligent catalogs
  • Order-tracking methods
  • Secure payment methods
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Efficient, electronic customer self-service

IBM's collaboration direction is to build applications that enhance the way people work together, enabling cross-enterprise, cross-platform, secure communications and information sharing.

IBM's content management offerings facilitate distribution, reuse of existing information, and protection of intellectual property. IBM is constantly building its inventory in these arenas, taking advantage of improved technologies, such as video streaming, as they become commercially available.

With applications as the linchpin, IBM's current and future offerings focus on:

  • Enabling applications
  • Leveraging existing content and applications through enterprise integration

Application Enablers: Platforms and Tools

Application enablers provide the infrastructure for building applications easily and running them effectively.

With Lotus Notes' powerful facilities, Domino satisfies the open networking requirements of Internet standards and protocols. Domino transforms the Notes server into a dynamic, interactive Web application server (Figure 4). It enables any browser to tap the power of Domino/Notes to collaborate interactively with content-rich applications.

With Domino, you can develop and deploy a broad range of Web-based business applications, from publishing applications, to collaborative applications that help employees work on a project, to interactive applications such as sales-force automation. Domino/Notes offers:

  • Rapid, easy Web site construction and maintenance
  • Rich development tools for creating dynamic, interactive applications
  • Unparalleled security management
  • Enterprise systems integration
  • Remote Web site management featuring replication for automatic server synchronization

Companies can integrate their e-mail systems into Domino using either browser-based, third-party, or native Notes e-mail. Furthermore, Domino's groupware capability makes collaboration easy.

Lotus Notes has always been an outstanding platform for application development. Domino expands that capability to include frameworks that enable a company to quickly build and maintain an integrated, interactive intranet site. One of those application frameworks is Domino.Action. With it, you can build your Web site in an afternoon if you already use Notes.

In addition, Domino/Notes supports major data management functions, including replication, link management, directory services, and network management. It has a broad range of security facilities from access control to authentication to encryption. The services provided by the IBM Internet Connection Server are integrated today with Domino and will subsequently be integrated into other IBM Software Servers. Today, the IBM Internet Connection Secure Servers are also separately orderable.

IBM's strategy for Java is based upon a three-tier programming model. The first tier is the thin client, which is focused on presentation logic and user interface. It is completely server driven – no application-specific code is installed on the user's system. The second-tier server contains the business logic. The third tier consists of database, transaction system, and/or legacy applications. Separating the business logic from the data makes it faster to change the application to reflect business changes, such as a corporate reorganization.

IBM plans to introduce Java application development tools and servers that enable application developers to easily build, deploy, and manage three-tier client/server applications. The cornerstone of IBM's Java developer toolbox strategy will be IBM's VisualAge for Java product. Currently under development, this product will give Java developers a rich, integrated, visual development environment and a set of pre-built components. This environment will enable Java developers to rapidly build multi-tier, platform-independent Java applications.

Enterprise Integration: Enabling Existing Content

Perhaps the most important capability of intranets is to provide easy access to existing information. Lotus and IBM have key products and technologies that enable the integration and use of information contained within an enterprise's existing IT infrastructure (Figure 5).

To access their existing information, customers can take either of two paths. The first is Domino/Notes, which can be the conduit for transporting transaction-based and relational database information into collaborative and workflow applications. Lotus and its partners provide a series of LotusScript Extensions (LSXs) that enable information access. For example, the MQSeries LSX runs on all Notes client and server platforms, connecting via MQSeries to more than 18 different back-end systems. Customers can combine browser-based processing with Domino/Notes servers to provide complete, interactive Web applications.

The second approach uses a Web server with gateways to existing relational database and transaction-based information. IBM's Internet Connection Servers provide several gateways for accessing CICS, IMS, and DB2 applications and information. CGI gateways, included in bonus packs for OS/390 and AIX, support open industry standards rather than proprietary architectures and protocols, so that you can interconnect multivendor systems within your business and extend your reach to environments outside your company's boundaries.

IBM's Net.Data, CICS WWW, and MQ WWW provide direct access between data and the Web. Net.Data leverages existing data and provides an integrated environment for developing new Web applications, as well as re-deploying client/server business applications to the Web. Net.Data builds upon the strength of DB2 WWW Connection. Not only can users access data in DB2, but with ODBC support they can access data in many other databases, such as Oracle, Sybase, Informix, and Microsoft – giving them the ability to access relational data wherever it resides. Net.Data, which can be used with any Web server, can significantly improve processing time for first-generation "dataweb" applications, and it allows the Web application developer to build new-generation processes that deliver faster performance in Internet-to-database transactions. Net.Data applications also exploit the latest browser technology.

A customer with both relational databases and Notes collaborative workflow applications has the best of both worlds. Middle-ware tools, such as NotesPump and LotusScript, integrate information from back-end systems into Notes. The power of Notes, combined with the richness of information sources, can be used to develop robust Web applications.

IBM Software Servers are integrated, cross-platform products that help businesses share information with companies, business partners, and customers that use diverse network architectures and protocols, operating environments, platforms, and applications. IBM Software Servers can be used in various combinations to transform database and transaction data into information that can be viewed with a Web browser.

To enable rapid development for an intranet, IBM offers a suite of application development tools under the VisualAge brand. VisualAge for Smalltalk, the first VisualAge product to be intranet-enabled, now has a set of Web and Notes parts that enable developers to rapidly, visually assemble interactive Web CGI server applications that can access data residing in a wide variety of data stores. With native and ODBC support, these data sources include DB2, IMS, Notes, Oracle, Sybase, Informix, and SQL/Server. With the Lotus Notes parts in VisualAge for Smalltalk, developers can not only access Lotus Notes data, but also use Lotus Notes' mail capabilities and forms-based applications to build the next generation of intranet applications. In the near future, these capabilities will be added to other members of the VisualAge family, including VisualAge C++ and VisualAge Generator.

The IBM Roadmap

If you're just getting started learning about intranets and assessing your readiness to develop one of your own, check out IBM's intranet readiness tool on the Web at http://www.csc.ibm.com/journey/intrared/index.html. This self-service aid helps identify key considerations and evaluate critical success factors for creating an intranet.

If you already have IBM systems installed, you can get a straightforward start by using the Internet Connection Servers, available for all platforms.

Domino provides extended functionality for a Web site; Notes users can download Domino from the Lotus site at http://domino.lotus.com. With the Lotus Domino.Action solution, Web sites can be installed and configured simply and quickly.

There are several ways to integrate enterprise information, depending upon a company's current investment and environment. Lotus and IBM products make it easier for organizations to access and integrate information from transaction-based and relational database systems, using Net.Data, MQSeries Link for Lotus Notes, LotusScript data access, NotesPump, and VisualAge.

With the modular IBM Software Servers, you can build a high-function, reliable environment for e-mail, messaging, decision support, groupware, transaction processing, and other vital business functions.

Considering all the Issues

Intranets provide the technical means to implement far-reaching, effective change in a business. They give people greater access to the information that will improve job performance. But along with the benefits of enhanced access lie some risks. Increasing the number of people who touch important data or systems makes an information technology infrastructure vulnerable if precautions are not taken to protect it. Integrating security mechanisms into an intranet minimizes exposure to misuse of corporate data and increases system integrity.

A secure intranet solution distributes seamless and consistent security function among desktop clients, application servers, and distributed networks. It should include policies and procedures and the ability to monitor and enforce them, as well as robust software security tools that work well together and do not leave any gaps in protection.

The following are the basic functions necessary for broad security coverage:

  • Anti-virus software protects systems from disruptive to destructive viruses by detecting, verifying, and removing viruses.
  • Authentication software validates that information appearing to come from a particular source actually did come from that source.
  • Access control software permits varying levels of access to applications and data.
  • Secure transmission mechanisms, such as encryption, restrict outside parties from eavesdropping or changing data sent over a network.
  • Repudiation software prevents people who have bought merchandise or services over the network from claiming they never ordered what they received.
  • Disaster recovery entails both software and procedures that assist recovery from data loss.

Intranets that extend beyond organizational or company boundaries may require integration among various security systems. IBM worked with a company to develop security integration for a controlled-access Web site where established customers order their products. One customer required the site to integrate with its Kerberos security so that the site could access customer account codes for different projects. Other customers using this site were able to use the secure aspects of the IBM Internet Connection Secure Server. The same site also needed to integrate with the security system of a major credit card issuer.

Because intranets give more people the opportunity to access information, they increase a company's dependence upon computer technology. This increased dependence requires appropriate backup and emergency recovery measures.

The more a business relies on its intranet, the more reliable and available the system must be. The system also must be able to grow as the business grows. Scalability is a critical feature that IBM has embedded into its product families. One Lotus Notes server, for example, can handle up to 1,000 clients. The IBM Software Servers scale from PC-based systems to enterprise systems and run on a variety of platforms including OS/2 Warp, AIX, and Windows NT.

A business's application requirements may also change; therefore, the intranet must be flexible and easy to update and maintain. VisualAge and Lotus Notes development capabilities, along with their systems management features, satisfy these criteria. The IBM Software Servers' modular architecture makes this product family well suited to adapt to new requirements as they appear.

Costs are another important intranet implementation consideration. Beyond the prices for hardware and software components lie less obvious costs of administration, maintenance, and additional development. Despite competitor claims to the contrary, recent consultant studies demonstrate the efficiencies of Notes installations for typical and popular intranet usage in both dollars spent and implementation time required. Often, alternative solutions require each aspect of the intranet to be independently developed.

Intranets create virtual enterprises that work best if they embody the following attributes:

  • Security – The ability for entire organizations to come together for maximum synergy without jeopardizing proprietary data or compromising system integrity.
  • Reach – The ability to easily connect with a single employee, a group of contractors, other vendors, and even millions of customers.
  • Flexibility – The freedom to merge on either a permanent or ad hoc basis with anyone, anywhere, anytime regardless of hardware or software differences.
  • Transparency – The ability to seamlessly interact with external or remote systems, without regard for data location or the underlying hardware or software.
  • Scalability – The ability to handle up to the most demanding enterprise-level computing and transaction rates across disparate systems.

IBM and its partners are best able to meet all these requirements with a wide range of products and service offerings, years of enterprise experience, and the strategy and technology to lead the way.

Enabling a Peak Intranet Experience

IBM's direction is to help customers accomplish their business goals through strategic corporate intranets by using next-generation technology to leverage the investments they have made in people, systems, and applications. Despite the momentum of the movement toward intranets, companies need to carefully plan their implementations, keeping a long-term view in mind.

As part of this plan, companies must recognize the need for experienced and trusted help. Such experience can determine the right path given the starting point, the abilities of the team, and the goals. The best guide provides the confidence, direction, and security that can only be gained from extensive experience.