The investments that banks and other businesses have made in intranet technology are starting to pay dividends, according to a study by Meta Group Inc.

Intranets are closed computer networks that use Internet technology.

About 80% of the 41 companies that participated in Meta Group's study reported positive returns on their investments in the networks. On average, the companies saw annual returns of 38%.

Meta Group executives said the operation of a successful intranet hinges on making the right decisions about the information it contains.

"If you chose to put up a phone book and a cafeteria menu, that may have the same kind of coding challenges as would putting up an order-tracking data base or a customer history data base," said Kip Martin, senior analyst with the Stamford, Conn.-based research firm.

In general, companies have little trouble understanding the workings of intranets, Mr. Martin said. Many people have been exposed to the basics through their use of the Internet.

But intranets are creating some interesting cultural issues for some companies. For instance, some are uncertain about how to promote their use to employees.

BankBoston Corp., one of three banking companies that participated in the study, is building a companywide intranet. An intranet will enable its offices in 23 countries to share information better and more securely than ever before, said Raymond H. Graber, senior consultant in the bank's Internet technology group.

Several BankBoston groups already have intranets of their own. For example, eight departments in the external affairs group are using one for scheduling. And an intranet in the global capital markets group lets its employees share research on-line, Mr. Graber said.

One of the biggest benefits of intranets is the speed with which they can distribute information.

"You'd rather have (employees) closing deals with customers than replicating something that's already been done," Mr. Graber said.

Because it is in the early stages of intranet installation, BankBoston cannot quantify the return on its investment. But it has tried to keep installation costs down, by doing all the development internally, among other things.

Like BankBoston, Nynex Corp. believes in the potential of intranet technology.

The telecommunications company recently announced that it plans to provide intranet and extranet services to the financial services industry. (Extranets are intranets that allow some access to people outside the company).

Nynex aims to help banks and other financial companies "conduct business within their enterprise, but also between enterprises ... in an industry sector," said Rangnath Salgame, president of Nynex Internetworking and multimedia solutions.

"As a service provider, we can be a trusted third party in terms of managing security," he added. "It's just logical for Nynex to expand its portfolio to offer these kinds of services."

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