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What Exactly is an Intranet?

Written by

Jamie Yan


January 1, 2019



What is an intranet?

By definition:

The global internet offers anyone with access to the ability to connect and share information. Modern employee intranets are based on the same premise, with one significant difference: intranets are designed for internal company use, and access is restricted to a subset of users, such as employees and key company stakeholders.

The earliest versions of employee intranets housed basic company information, but today’s intranets are far more sophisticated. In addition to being the main window for important corporate communications, the modern intranet is the emerging hub of the digital workplace providing a gateway for other productivity apps. The intranet also serves as a virtual watercooler for employees to connect socially and stay in-the-know and a de facto place to find the most critical messaging and documentation.

The value of an intranet

In its most basic form, a modern intranet helps employees better connect with coworkers and find the information they need to do their job. Companies often measure the impact of an intranet on two fronts: first, by improving overall employee engagement and second, by boosting employee productivity.

An intranet helps employees:

  • Stay informed about important company communications such as important news, strategy, and events
  • Find and connect with the various experts across an organization
  • Socially communicate with coworkers, share personal news, and discover shared interests
  • Access critical information, data, knowledge, and documentation to complete business tasks
  • Collaborate with coworkers, particularly those across departmental lines or in different office locations

An intranet helps the company:

  • Tighten consistency in company culture across a distributed workforce and in times of rapid expansion with consistent messaging and engagement
  • Drive employee engagement with a digital workplace that encourages a place for employees to connect and communicate with the rest of the organization
  • Gauge company-wide sentiment and energy on the company’s momentum and strategy
  • Mitigate flight risk by documenting tacit knowledge, history, and processes
  • Improve overall productivity by making it more efficient for employees to find the information they need
  • Onboard new employees faster improving overall time-to-productivity
  • Reduce support costs by encouraging self-service and streamlining common support processes
  • Streamline mandatory processes and make it easier to complete administrative tasks (e.g. HR workflows, IT support processes, financial approvals)
  • Drive adoption of other productivity tools by making the intranet a ‘go-to’ hub that connects the rest of the digital workplace

Evolution of the intranet

At the turn of the millennium, solutions like SharePoint were rolled out to help with content collaboration. At the time, organizations were starting to use networked drives frequently, so these solutions effectively put an interface on these repositories so organizations could put more context around stored content than a simple file name. Since this was before SaaS applications, the first intranets ironically were not intra-connected and required a heavy IT lift to launch and maintain.  Poor user experience, costly maintenance and struggles to keep content fresh oftentimes caused employees to abandon these intranet portals and find manual workarounds.

In the early 2000s, as Facebook and LinkedIn started to transform our personal lives, many social enterprise tools sprouted up in search to bring the same level of digital social collaboration into the workplace.  Many of these capabilities were legitimately game-changing in the enterprise, but as vendors struggled from being a solution in search of problems to solve, organizations in-turn suffered to find a place for the technology. Many times they simply became yet another point-tool that was used sporadically throughout the organization. Other times, organizations tried to pretzel these social collaboration tools into their corporate intranet platform only to find the user experience was off and they lacked many common-sense features.

Today, the modern intranet is experiencing a renaissance. Nearly all organizations with more than 500 employees, where it is no longer efficient to communicate in an ad hoc manner, need a digital workplace hub where employees can go to stay informed on all mandatory communications, make sense of and integrate with all of their digital productivity tools, connect with internal experts and coworkers, find fresh up-to-date information, and socially interact across geographical and departmental lines. The modern intranet took a purpose-built approach to all of these use cases and perfected some of the previous generations’ capabilities.  Furthermore, as the world of technology has evolved since the initial intranet models, the modern intranet has been built to accommodate and leverage advances in cloud-based tools and connectivity, mobile apps and user experience, and artificial intelligence.

Most important capabilities for the modern intranet

While corporate intranet capabilities will vary from organization to organization, the new modern intranets are demanding new capabilities that weren’t commonplace in previous generations.  

Oftentimes they include:

  • An immersive, contemporary user-experience with a consumer-grade UI that employees intuitively know how to use. This makes it easier to drive intranet user adoption and decreases time spent training users.
  • Strong integrations with connectors to your other cloud-based applications. This helps define the modern intranet as the hub of the digital workplace and not just another point tool.
  • Underlying intelligence with an AI-powered infrastructure and smart search capabilities.  Data science is helping employees more easily connect with the information and people they need.
  • Social intranet collaboration capabilities that connect and engage employees. These capabilities help employees collaborate across departments and physical locations.
  • Effortless configuration capabilities with point-and-click administration that requires no IT oversight. That way, with an intranet, technical resources no longer become bottlenecks and administration can be distributed across departments and locations.
  • Strong content organization with document management integrations (like Box or Google Drive), document versioning, and flexible content management options.  This makes it easier for employees to find the correct information and prevents the intranet from becoming a dumping ground.
  • Interactive directories to find and get to know coworkers. This makes it easier for people to find, approach, and ultimately connect with other employees.
  • Mobile capabilities with apps that connect and engage employees on the go.  As the workforce is becoming more distributed, a good mobile experience makes the intranet easier to access outside the office.

See the modern intranet in action

To better understand what a modern intranet can do for your organization and make sense of how they tie everything together, see our Simpplr intranet product demo.

simpplr modern intranet demo

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