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The Practical Guide to Intranet Terms & Definitions

Written by

Jamie Yan


January 2, 2019



We’ve been humbled by the onslaught of Gen Zer’s who don’t know the definition of an intranet. It’s not common to hear people explicitly asking for an intranet definition or an intranet meaning. So this post is for all of you, probably too young to know the back story, who secretly ask “what does intranet mean?” Whether you’ve asked this question before, or if you’re considering a modern intranet, we’ve come up with a practical guide to intranet terms and definitions.

Definition of an intranet

Intranets are web-connected sites (like the internet), designed for internal company use where access is restricted to a subset of users, such as employees and key company stakeholders. Companies use modern intranets to share company-wide information such as news, updates, policies, and processes with their employees. Employees use them to stay in the know, find help, and connect with their coworkers.

We’ve also come to appreciate that we throw out a lot of lingo so below is a list of intranet terms and definitions that may help you navigate the industry.

Associated Intranet Definitions

Ready-made intranets

Definition: Intranets that come with preconfigured UI, capabilities, and workflows with technology that can be deployed quickly without excessive configuration. Gartner refers to this as Intranet as a Service.

Examples include: You can guess – yes, Simpplr is an example of ready-made intranet software.

Why it’s important: The technological approach you take for intranets will highly influence how your program gets structured and organizations should carefully weigh the pros and cons of deployment options. This often gets overlooked. Ready-made intranets typically come with tested user-experience, incorporate design best practices, are easier to administer, can be deployed faster, and benefit from recurring product updates and enhancements.

Platform-based intranets

Definition: A base technology platform that can be configured into an intranet with IT or systems integrators development and maintenance.

Examples include: SharePoint, Confluence, Google Sites, Salesforce Communities

Why it’s important: Added customization allows organizations to create capabilities they can’t get off the shelf, but they typically take longer implement (some sources say an average of 1.2 years) and they often suffer from poor UI. These sorts of platforms ultimately require an ongoing dependency on IT resources, so the operating costs should be considered in addition to the added process complexity.

Federated administration

Definition: Intranets that have federated administration capabilities distribute access controls and usage rights so that multiple people and contribute and maintain the intranet. For example, a site manager on the HR team can autonomously update content within their domain without needing assistance from a central resource.

Why it’s important: Intranet technology has improved over the years with better usability, administration, and access controls. Once your intranet no longer depends on a single (often technical) gatekeeper, your intranet can operate at the speed of business and the organization shares joint accountability to make the intranet a fresh, living, and social system.

Digital workplace

Definition: Per Deloitte, “The digital workplace encompasses all the technologies people use to get work done in today’s workplace–both the ones in operation and the ones yet to be implemented. It ranges from your HR applications and core business applications to e-mail, instant messaging and enterprise social media tools and virtual meeting tools.”

Why it’s important: Intranets are oftentimes positioned as the hub of the digital workplace, meaning most of an employees productivity apps should either integrate with or be accessible from the intranet. Some intranets position themselves as digital workplace software to portray more expansive and contemporary positioning.


Definition: A set of policies and an administrative structure that enables decision-making and planning processes. Governance allows your intranet to sustain ongoing meaningful internal communications.

Why it’s important: Simpplr Research has proven time and again that intranet governance models are the primary reason intranets ultimately fail. You can have the best underlying technology in the world, but your intranet program is at risk unless your organization has come together with clear objectives, thoughtful planning, and intranet ownership processes. If you’re looking for a comprehensive checklist on how to create and run a governance team, download our Ultimate Governance Planning Checklist.

Technology Integrations

It’s first important to understand the associated intranet definitions before moving into intranet technology. Integrations are a big part of today’s modern intranet because they help tie together an employee’s digital workplace and help drive intranet engagement and adoption. Here are some of the most common technologies (and definitions) that integrate with intranets:

IT ticketing and helpdesk software

Definition: Simply put, a ticketing system is a piece of a technology that receives a service request (for support, etc.) from an end-user.

Examples Include: Zendesk, Service Now

Why it’s important: Many employees come to the intranet in search of solutions to issues that have already been solved and documented. By integrating with the ticketing system, users have a single place to access support documentation (typically through search) and submit new internal cases.

Cloud-based content management providers

Definition: Software that is used to create and manage digital content (like documents, spreadsheets, presentations) while providing the necessary sharing workflows and access controls.

Examples include: Box, Google Drive, Office 365, Dropbox

Why it’s important: These solutions have greatly complemented the modern intranet. Now that documents have moved from our desktops to the cloud, intranets that sync with the cloud version don’t have to upload new versions every time there is an update.

Identity & access management (IAM)

Definition: Per Wikipedia, IAM refers to a framework of policies and technologies for ensuring that the proper people in an enterprise have the appropriate access to technology resources. Examples include: Okta, Onelogin, Ping

Why it’s important: This technology means we don’t need to type in a password and has evolved with other cloud-based technologies. With less sign-on friction, more employees use your intranet.

HRMS & talent management solutions

Definition: We know everybody in HR knows what this is, but for those in who aren’t, a human resources management system is the software system of record for human resources functions, including benefits administration, payroll, recruiting and training, and performance analysis.

Examples include: Workday, ADP, SuccessFactors, Oracle

Why it’s important: HRMS is the employee system of record and it’s simply best practice to rely on it to know who’s an employee and what their access level should be. As intranets become more prescriptive based on things like an employee’s tenure, role, and location, HRMS integrations are becoming tighter.

Enterprise search

Definition: Enterprise search systems index data and documents and search for from a variety of sources such as file systems, intranets, document management systems, email, and databases.

Examples include: Coveo, Lucidworks

Why it’s important: There is a constant tug-of-war between trying to make the intranet an “everything hub” across the organization versus having the intranet focus only on trusted, curated, in-demand information. Search integrations that go after different systems try to bridge this conflict and provide users a compromise so the intranet doesn’t become a content dumping ground.

Social collaboration tools

Definition: Imagine if your instant messaging and legacy social networking capabilities merged.  These predominantly team based chat apps keep conversations organized into groups, often called channels or rooms.

Examples include: Slack, Chatter

Why it’s important: Enterprise social networking and chat tools have gone through significant disruption over the past few years. As a company like Slack is rightfully considered an internal communication tool, lay audiences often ask how Slack different from your intranet. Slack is more about real-time, team-based workplace messaging and collaboration whereas intranets are built for critical, curated, company-wide news. Modern intranets, like Simpplr, appropriately integrate with tools while preventing information overload.

Intranet technical terminology

Now that we’ve defined what the intranet means along with its technological integrations, we’re moving onto the technical terminology of intranets. The terms below are technology-specific that will help you understand the most important components of a modern intranet.

AI-based search

Definition: AI-based-search or smart search helps employees quickly search and find the information they need. User testing shows that users prefer to find information either through their intranet homepage or directly through the search navigation.

Why it’s important: Search is a large part of the intranet user experience, and if it’s not accurate or if it doesn’t return the desired results, employees will eventually abandon the intranet. But not all smart search is equal. We can’t speak for the search functions in all intranet platforms, but we can talk about Simpplr’s smart search technology (which uses AI and machine learning approaches):

  • Stemming: describes words that stem from a user’s search term
  • Relevance: the process of parsing the search query to the results while indexing the documents for better and faster results
  • Recency: Returns the most recent results in chronological and most recent versions of documents
  • Predictability: Autocompletes search terms by predicting terms based on the user’s entered prefix
  • Popularity: The process of indexing and scoring documents based on multiplying the value by weight categories

Information architecture

Definition: Information architecture refers to the way information is displayed, organized, and structured with the goal of making the intranet (in this context) simple and intuitive for users to navigate.

Why it’s important: If you have to train employees to use the intranet, then you’ve already failed. Products need to be intuitive upon initial use because users have a low tolerance for complexity. In addition, if your intranet is hard to use, your intranet will suffer from low adoption and usage rates. Why even bother to have one if no one uses it?

Sites (Channels, Spaces)

Definition: Sites is the way information is shared and structured with varying levels of permissions. For example, if you’re working on a team project, you can create a site for your team to share project-related files and updates.

Why it’s important: Sites allow you to organize and share information with specific teams or groups of people. It’s important to have public vs. private sites whenever appropriate. For example, all employees should have open access to the HR site, whereas Accounting should have a private site to shield private information.

Daily active users (DAU) / monthly active users (MAU)

Definition: Active users indicate that your employees are interacting with the intranet. DAU measures the total number of people who engage with your intranet in a given day. MAU is the number of unique users who have engaged and performed an action within your intranet in the last month (30 days).

Why it’s important: Determining and measuring daily active users/monthly active users help you predict the success of your intranet adoption. If your adoption rate is low, ways to help you increase your adoption rate to keep your employees engaged.

Site administrator / App administrator

Definition: Both the site and app administrator refers to users’ access roles within the intranet application. The site administrator owns rights to individual sites (see definition above) whereas the app administrator has the controls manage underlying security and user management features like SSO (see below), branding elements, and other application-wide configuration settings.

Why it’s important: These roles are primary examples of federated administration. As described above, federated administration removes administrative burden off of a single individual or department (most often IT). Under this approach, knowledge and engagement are distributed across the board, allowing constant communication to permeate the business.

Single sign-on (SSO)

Definition: Often termed by its acronym SSO with a variety of standards (e.g. SAML 2.0), Single sign-on simply is an authentication process that allows a user to access multiple applications with one set of login credentials.

Why it’s important: We often get asked by internal communications professionals to explain what this is. Everyone in IT will know how to handle this and pretty much every cloud-based enterprise application will play nice. So it’s typically not a big deal.

Feed (Stream)

Definition: A web feed (or news feed) is a data format used for providing users with frequently updated news or social content. Oftentimes content distributors can syndicate news or social media feed, thereby allowing users to subscribe to or be prescribed to specific content.

Why it’s important: It’s a common vernacular for modern social intranets.


If you’re new to the world of intranet software, we hope that this intranet terms and definitions guide provides a guiding light as you learn more about what modern intranets can do and why certain features are valuable. Ultimately, choose wisely when you’re selecting or migrating to a new technology platform for your intranet initiative. 

Note: We tried to limit the intranet terminology that people have asked us for. If you’re looking for a longer list, check out another intranet glossary here.

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