Why have an intranet?

INTRANET VRS EXTRANETS

Many organisations have an intranet. But not all intranets are created equal. So why have an intranet versus an extranet?

Organisations use intranets for a number of different functions:

  1. An intranet as a depository for information that employees need to do their jobs.
  2. An intranet as a portal to access a collection of microsites, belonging to the different regions and/or functions of an organisation.
  3. An intranet as an online news centre to give top-down news of what is going on in an organisation.
  4. A personalised experience where the intranet is different for every user based on their job, needs and interests.
  5. A one-stop-shop intranet to other applications that colleagues use, such as Microsoft Teams, email, Salesforce, PeopleSoft etc.
  6. An intranet-based forum for side-to-side collaboration
  7. An intranet that serves as an organisation’s eyes and ears to collect bottom-up comments and
  8. intranets as an extranet to collaborate with suppliers and customers.

Intranets can be one of these or a combination and we go through each function below. But first a word of caution.

Many are based on SharePoint, Microsoft’s intranet tool, and they have been around for a while. Originally SharePoint was designed as a library tool rather than as the basis of an effective intranet, so they tended to become large collection of documents that rapidly went out of date. Searching the intranet tended to surface multiple versions of duplicated content and users soon gave up on finding what they were looking for. Intranets became the place in organisations where information went to die.

Over time the only people who felt positive about them were the intranet managers who were responsible for their upkeep. It was a job that tended to attract detail-orientated, classifiers of content, rather than journalists or publishers. In short, early intranets suffered from ignoring the needs of the users.

The situation has improved considerably over the years, thanks to better tools, dramatic improvements in SharePoint’s capabilities and investment in knowledge services.

Functionally, an intranet is likely to feature a search engine – categorised as local (searches just the intranet) or federated (searches other content sources too), people finder/directory and peripheral features such as blogging tools, notification centres or event tools.

How does an intranet differ from an extranet or the internet?

The simplest differentiator is audience:

Model Audience
Internet Public, subject to criteria unrelated to company
Intranet Open to anyone within a company domain, or group of domains
Extranet A private network space, often hosted by a company to share collaborate with select partners, vendors and individuals

There are some common communication use cases that serve to put pressure on these definitions, so it is often useful to consider the primary function of a site when assigning labels. Two frequent examples are:

  1. A closed employee-group on a social platform like LinkedIn or Facebook. These are both internet sites of course, but when closed, they act like intranets in a limited form.
  2. An intranet with sections open to partners for collaboration remains an intranet, but with some extranet features

What is the purpose of an intranet?

Here at simplycommunicate, we group the use cases of an intranet into four categories:

Communication

  1. A platform for internal news: Intranets commonly provide access to corporate news via their homepage to allow employees to keep up to date with changes in the organisation.
  2. Promoting common culture
  3. Immediate, time-critical updates
  4. Driving employee engagement
  5. Event calendars
  6. Blogs: Allowing employees a space to air opinions, ideas and opportunities is extremely common

Collaboration

  1. Team spaces for productivity: These could be centered around a line manager, a project, a campaign, an initiative or indeed, geography and language.
  2. Community tools: Organisations recognise there is value in supporting social engagement and often provide tools for employees to meet, work, learn and network. Typical examples may include car-sharing networks, LGBTQI+ groups and, increasingly, working-from-home tips and tricks

Knowledge Bases/Tools

  1. “How-to” guides: Operational communication to ensure that employees can be self-sufficient. These are commonly provided for IT, HR and Finance systems
  2. Policies: Critical internal standards defined for all employees to ensure consistency, legal compliance and more
  3. Files: Access to commonly requested data and information, centrally housed on the intranet for ease of access
  4. Q&As

Transactions

  1. HR tools including vacation booking, objective setting or uniform ordering
  2. Finance tools including expense claiming
  3. IT tools such as ordering new laptops, requesting fixes and permissions
  4. Facilities/Building tools such as room booking or ID card creation

The degree to which an intranet provides these features and benefits is defined by the underlying technology and by the employee and business needs.

The intranet as a portal

The word ‘portal’ has come in and out of favour several times over the last two decades, but we feel it is a useful descriptor for many modern intranets.

A portal is a doorway to other enterprise locations. That means that the intranet itself may not be the primary home of that feature or content, but it can act as a signpost to help the user get directly to what they need.

A good example are common features like vacation booking tools. While it is possible for an intranet team to directly code their own vacation booking tool, it is much more likely to link with the organisations existing tool. It might be that the intranet simply links to the tool (acts as a signpost), frames the tool (acts as a portal) or interfaces directly (through APIs), so making the tool feel like the rest of the intranet itself.

Who should own the intranet?

The answer will depend somewhat on the nature of the intranet you’re providing, but in the vast majority of cases, the intranet is co-owned by a group comprising communications, IT and HR to reflect the multitude of purposes.

We believe this co-ownership model is critical to the intranet success.

What is the difference between an intranet and a digital workplace?

These two phrases are often used interchangeably, but there are some important differentiators. A digital workplace are the devices and services that an employee chooses to do their job and one such tool could be your corporate intranet. Every company has a digital workplace but not every organisation has an intranet.

One reason that the phrases used mutually is that both cover the same four building blocks: Communication tools, collaboration tools, transactional tools and knowledge bases. With an intranet, these features are encapsulated into one browser or app experience whereas a digital workplace is a broad ecosystem of employee tools.

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