So Just How Many Intranets Are There?

Sep 20, 2004

September 2004 Issue

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I have spent much of my career counting things. From 1985 until 1995, I managed market research teams trying to work out not only the size of the European market for IT and telecommunications products but also providing five-year forecasts. Some we called about right, but we never got close to forecasting how successful mobile telephony would become. Even the problems in trying to work out something as seemingly simple as how many PCs there were involved an adroit mixture of research, guesswork, and the manipulation of a Gompertz Curve.

This train of thought was sparked off by a visit to Internet World in London in June. Pre-2001, this was a massive show, but it has dwindled to around 100 stands, some of them quite small. This year I was struck by the number of low-cost CMS products, with server license fees in the range of $25,000 to $40,000. The vendors were all keen to target the intranet market, where they felt there was more growth than the Web market, but there seemed to be little idea of how many intranets there were to target at. At one time my "educated guess" was that there were around 300,000 worldwide, but this was based on some rather questionable assumptions.

Most Western governments spend a percentage of our tax contribution counting things on citizens' behalf; in the U.K., this is carried out by National Statistics. For the last few years they have been struggling to develop some reliable metrics of the adoption of ebusiness applications, including intranets, but have found that definitional problems abound. As a result, its annual E-commerce Enquiry to Business report has had to be classified as experimental, so the conclusions I am about to make reflect a substantial margin of error.

The 2002 E-commerce Enquiry to Business (www.statistics. gov.uk) results were published in late 2003 and are the most recent available. Companies are categorized by the number of employees; 12,000 were surveyed of the 1.6 million businesses in the U.K. Based on these figures I was able to calculate that there were around 150,000 intranets in a total of 1.6 million businesses. This excludes the public sector, education, and other not-for-profit organizations, so in 2002 there might have been 200,000 overall. I doubt that the growth in new intranets has been high, so I'll say that 200,000 intranets is a solid conservative figure for the U.K..

However, if finding out the installed base of intranets isn't hard enough, try finding out the number of CMS licenses. All the market figures from companies such as Ovum, IDC, and other IT market research companies quote the market in value terms, usually derived from a detailed analysis (as far as is possible) of the corporate filings of the leading companies. Undertaking a survey would be a very expensive undertaking and only a government department can undertake surveys of 12,000 companies, which would be needed to provide a statistically sound extrapolation to the total base of companies. Given how small the offices of CMS vendors are in the U.K., the number of installed CMS can not be terribly large, perhaps under 1,000? (I'd welcome any better guesses, if you'd care to email them to me.)

I have not been able to find comparable data for the U.S. (again, can any reader help?) but there is another U.K. survey, Business in the Information Age—International Benchmarking Study 2003. This study has been carried out by the Department of Trade and Industry since 1997 as a means of showing how advanced the U.K. is as an ebusiness nation. I will admit to a degree of interest in this survey as I wrote the report for 2000. The survey covers eleven countries, with 3,000 businesses surveyed in the U.K. and 500 in other countries.

Unfortunately, the numbers do not make sense. The country with the highest intranet penetration is reported to be Canada with 58% of businesses having an intranet. The U.K. figure is reported at 52% (compared to 9% from the National Statistics survey) and the U.S. figure is 48%. I must try and find out why the DTI number is about five times that of the National Statistics survey but in any case, the discrepancy doesn't inspire confidence.

According to the DTI survey the top three uses for intranets in the U.K. are knowledge-sharing, business help desks, and personal diaries. Personal diaries?

You may wonder why I'm bothering. Well, the main reason is to try to judge what the potential market is for CMS software, especially in smaller organizations. Clearly there is considerable potential but just how much depends on which statistics source you believe. On the DTI figures there are at least 800,000 intranets in the U.K., and that just seems unrealistic. But—if you take the far less optimistic National Statistics figure—even with 200,000 to aim at, there is a lot of business out there.