What is an ‘intranet’?

What we mean by the word ‘intranet’ has evolved from a bunch of web pages hosted inside a company firewall to … to … to what exactly??

I was reading a post from Paul Miller on the Intranet Benchmarking Forum blog about Facebook ‘… not cutting it as an intranet’ and it got me thinking. At BT we define the intranet as:

‘… ALL the on-line information an individual generates and consumes and the services they use through the screen of whatever electronic device they need to perform their role for the organisation. This includes e-mail but excludes the applications that run on the various electronic devices used to access on-line information (e.g. the PC desktop real estate).’

(BT Intranet Strategy 2007-8)

The idea behind such a broad ranging definition is that when a BT person turns on their PC, they should be offered an integrated, seamless on-line experience – essentially, they don’t care what is or isn’t part of your intranet (depending upon the definition you choose to adopt), nor who manages what bit of your on-line estate … it is all the same to them and should meet the same standards of design, information management, usability etc.


However, what our definition fails to take into account are tools on the internet, like Facebook, which our employees can legitimately use for their work and, as such, could be classified as components of our ‘intranet’ … or at least form part of our employees’ intranet experience.


Given the above … here are some characteristics of what an intranet means to me.


An intranet is:

  • a concept rather than an object … or possibly an experience rather than an object
  • not bound by a firewall
  • not a static ‘space’ but a dynamic ‘footprint’ incorporating the tools and services I need to do my job
  • specific to my needs at a given point in time
  • accessible to the people with whom I need to share and collaborate, regardless of who or where they are and who pays their salary.


I think our Intranet Manager isn’t going to be best pleased with that definition … 🙂



  1. Hi Richard

    Please excuse me for being cheeky – but is the BT Intranet Strategy 2007-8 publicly available? I’m guessing being an intranet strategy, probably not, but I’m keen to learn what others are planning.

  2. Richard,

    I’m actually comfortable with your definition. BT’s intranet has grown in concept as well as a physical object as it celebrates its 14th birthday today!

    I’m uncomfortable with your team not being thrashed by mine last Friday because of the weather! 😉

    Looking forward to more online debates in 2008!


  3. Steve,
    I don’t think we would want to publish the complete intranet strategy … I will have a look through it and see if I can pull out some themes and maybe do a separate post on it this week.


  4. Thanks Richard, much appreciated.

    We’re having an internal debate as to what the primary purpose of our intranet is: a communicatios tool or channel; or a tool to help us in our everyday work (perhaps a ‘chicken and egg’ arguement?). We’re also struggling with the nature on an intranet with in excess of 65,000 users – can this still be an ‘intranet’? Very happy for any insights you can give.


  5. Refreshing view on the definition of an intranet. I agree that it shouldn’t be static, but a dynamic space where one can use all necessary tools such as Facebook, Twitter etc. Thanks!


  6. i would add some topics:

    is a process and not a product
    is a way to give a name and a face to innovation and projects
    is a instrument to inking people to information
    is a theatre in wich can rise new stars
    is the alternative way to hiearchical organizations
    is a conversation users driven


  7. I enjoy the way you put things Richard……I feel “intranet” is a metaphor for technologies that facilitate the world of work. One reason the term has survived despite the advet of portals, information workspaces etc is that the term can evolve to suit the current way work happens.

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