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By Joel G. Siegel, Stephen W.
and Anique Qureshi

The Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW) have changed the way individuals access and utilize information. Web technology allows global access to all types of data including text, sound, and video. The primary reason for the popularity of Internet has been the simplicity and adaptability of Internet's open and standard protocols. It represents a major shift away from closed proprietary systems.

An intranet is a network that serves the internal needs of a business; it is essentially a private Internet. Intranet users are able to access the Internet, but firewalls keep outsiders from accessing private and confidential data. It makes use of the infrastructure and standards of the Internet and the Web. Intranets use low-cost Internet tools, are easy to install, and offer tremendous flexibility. Intranets have already been established by at least two-thirds of the Fortune 500 companies and many other organizations.

The extranet serves as a bridge between the public Internet and the private intranet. The extranet allows connection of multiple organizations such as suppliers, distributors, contractors, customers, and trusted others behind virtual firewalls. These organizations can partner and share the network for transactions. Extranets provide a critical link between the extremes of the Internet and intranet. Extranets enable commerce through the Web at a very low cost and allow companies to maintain one-to-one relationships with their customers, members, staff, and others.

Some practical applications of intranets and extranets are included in Exhibit 1.


An intranet requires Web application development for its internal network such as appropriate Web servers. Quick response times require a direct connection to the server. Web browsers, such as Netscape's Navigator and Microsoft's Internet Explorer, may be used to achieve cross-platform viewing and applications for a wide variety of desktops used within the company. The use of Web technology allows each desktop having a Web browser to access corporate information over the existing network. Employees in different divisions of the company located in different geographic areas can access and use centralized and/or scattered information.

The major element in an intranet is the Web server software that runs on a central computer and serves as a clearinghouse for all information. Some vendors of such software are listed in Exhibit 2.

Hypertext Markup Language (HTML)

The use of a Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is recommended in developing intranets/extranets because it is easier to program than window environments such as Motif or Microsoft Windows. HTML is a good integrating tool for database applications and information systems. It facilitates the use of hyperlinks and search engines enabling the easy sharing of identical information among different responsibility segments of the company. Intranet data usually goes from back-end sources (e.g., mainframe host) to the Web server to users (e.g., customers) in HTML format.


The more accessible a computer is, the more it is susceptible to attacks. When setting up an intranet or extranet, managers want the advantages of an accessible computer but without exposure to security attacks. One solution is the installation of a firewall. Firewalls are control devices that can be used to protect the company's intranet from unauthorized access to alter accounting and financial information, steal property, obtain confidential data, or commit other inappropriate or fraudulent acts. A firewall limits access to selected "gateways." A gateway is a computer or a router that selectively passes information between the inside and outside networks. It rejects all incoming traffic not specifically directed to itself. A proxy server is a program that mediates application-specific traffic through the firewall. It makes secure access less difficult and generally has additional logging, user authentication, and protocol-specific security capabilities. Firewalls can be individually constructed or provided by an Internet service provider that offers firewall and gateway service between the network and the Internet.

Setting Up an Intranet

Intranet applications are scaleable-- they can start small and grow. This feature allows many businesses to "try out" an intranet pilot--to publish a limited amount of content on a single platform, and evaluate the results. If the pilot succeeds, additional content can be migrated to the intranet server.

Content. Many organizations find building Web interfaces to "legacy information" as a key application. Legacy information sources include databases, existing word processing documents, and groupware databases. With tools such as Purveyor's Data Wizard, HTML Transit, and WebDBC, end users can build simple point-and-click access to this legacy information without any programming, making it available to nontechnical users through their web browser. In addition, individuals can quickly set up seminar or training registration forms for short-term usage, loading the registrants' information into an easily manipulated database.

Conversely, interoffice e-mail may be more appropriate for "interrupt-driven" time sensitive treatment, especially for a focused group of recipients. "Our most important customer is coming on March 2, so please attend the briefing at 9 AM." In this case, the web server is an extended information resource: "Before the meeting, review the internal web server link for current customers for updated information about this account."

Enhancements. Intranets provide efficient access to other external information resources including--

* group access to mailing lists

* threaded discussion groups

* stock/bond quotes.

Frequently accessed information can be aggregated at the firewall and efficiently dispersed within the company, thus reducing external bandwidth and connectivity requirements. Multithreaded discussion group software, or conferencing applications, can run on the same platform as the intranet application, providing further chances to discuss company issues and the content that resides on the server.

Intranets Versus Groupware

Intranets and groupware are not mutually exclusive. Many companies find that groupware (workflow, collaborative computing, etc.) is appropriate for certain focused applications, while intranets are suitable for migrating existing content to online delivery. Others find a powerful combination in groupware and web server (e.g., Lotus InterNotes engine for publishing Notes databases on the web).

Each application strategy has its advantages. Beyond this, intranet applications and web servers make an excellent
foundation for web-based groupware, allowing businesses to employ a
web-centric intranet system strategy and leverage the nearly ubiquitous web browser and the powerful navigational aids provided by HTML.


Extranet may be viewed either as part of a company's intranet that is accessible to other companies or as a collaborative Internet with other companies. The information on the extranet may be restricted to the collaborating organizations or may be available publicly. The concept of extranets has existed informally in various intercompany groupware packages. Prior to extranets, available software solutions were expensive and difficult to implement. To enhance security, privately owned or leased transmission lines may be used. Alternatively, Internet access with password authorization may be used.

Extranets are extremely powerful. They support and streamline business processes across collaborating companies. Efficiencies are achieved through economies of scale and other returns on investment for collaborating companies. Extranets are flexible, scaleable, portable, and extensible. They may be used to integrate across distributed, cross-platform, and heterogeneous system environments. Extranets significantly reduce barriers to cross-organizational networking.

A proactive approach is required to implement an extranet. While extranets rely on simple Internet based technology, the process is not effortless. Users at all levels from collaborating organizations must be actively involved and participate in the process. Consensus by the organizations on a common goal is important. Information should be maintained, but not duplicated, by all the collaborating organizations. The interface should be simple. HTML forms can be used to submit or modify information on the extranet. An extranet Web committee may be established to make the system maintenance more cohesive and promote and facilitate the use of the extranet. Proper planning should minimize any disruption from the implementation of an extranet. *

Joel G. Siegel, PhD, CPA, is a
professor and Anique Qureshi, PhD, CPA, CIA, an assistant professor at Queens College. Stephen W. Hartman, PhD, is an associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology.

The CPA Journal is broadly recognized as an outstanding, technical-refereed publication aimed at public practitioners, management, educators, and other accounting professionals. It is edited by CPAs for CPAs. Our goal is to provide CPAs and other accounting professionals with the information and news to enable them to be successful accountants, managers, and executives in today's practice environments.

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