What is an intranet (2)?

While I was ‘off-air’ over the festive holidays, my post on What is an intranet? (which I published just before Christmas) was picked up by Neville Hobson and Shel Holz and nearly made it into the excellent For Immediate Release podcast (show #305) … as it turned out, it ended up on the cutting room floor 😕

Shel/Neville … I am a ‘regular’ rather than ‘occasional’ listener and I think the show is great – keep up the good work!! I’m also not responsible for ‘all’ social media tools in BT … I’d hate to upset the many BT people engaged in this space and who contribute to the exciting social media stuff we are introducing and using!!

Anyway … one interesting comment that Shel made in the piece was about ‘duplicating’ internet tools for intranets … this has certainly been my experience to date of how intranets evolve and take advantage of innovations that happen on the internet.

However, I wonder if that will continue to be the case in the future, or if companies will be forced to allow employees to conduct more and more business activity on the internet itself in the ‘native’ tools (… providing security, legal, etc, risks are mitigated).

We are really beginning to see the concept of the ‘extended enterprise’ become reality in BT (we have 110,000 employees and around 160,000 users of our intranet – the difference being partners, suppliers and contractors etc.).

As the ‘edges’ of companies become more permeable and as companies increasingly rely on third parties and contractors to deliver their business, will it be sustainable in the long run to duplicate what happens on the internet internally, manage all the access permissions in real time, and keep up with the vortex of new innovations that appear daily on the internet?

Wouldn’t it be simpler to let employees engage and collaborate on the internet … while providing the tools and services internally that require higher levels of security or carry significant legal/HR risks? Playing catch-up on an intranet is becoming less and less sustainable and, due to the rapid rate of innovation on the internet, it is becoming increasingly difficult to offer anything other than a significantly poorer user experience behind firewalls from the one employees can experience on the internet.

Food for thought??

[PS – I’ll have to try to think of something REALLY interesting to say to make it into a full edition of FIR in the future!! ;-)]



  1. Thanks for this nice post. Most intranets I know of have complex content management systems and workflows. So person A has to write it, person B approve it and maybe person C even too. I wonder how this can lead to any creativ exchange or innovations. I believe classical intranets represent only top-down communication and take no use of potential possible for knowledge sharing and social networking. But I experience that there is a clash of culture between the intranet sympathizers and those for open horizontal knowledge sharing trough all sorts of web2.0 tools.
    Lastly in my work as a knowledge manager I also see a danger in letting all employees have their “playground” in the internet, because how do you make this information available for other employees then? Social networking and different conversations would be spread all over internet. But how can you deliver the classical KM question. To get the right information, to the right person in the right time? However it is obvious that many organizations and especially IT departments have yet not realized that they better offer something or employees find their own way through the internet.

  2. I was talking about this very thing late last year with Nic Price AKA Beatnic. The distinction between internet and intranet is increasingly blurred (I would argue that a primary tool for knowledge workers in any organisation is still internet search) and I think this is a good thing, potentially saving everyone time and effort re-creating solutions to common problems.

    However, what is needed is a way of enabling information to be re-used in different contexts. Take an employee directory for example, again a primary tool on any intranet. As an individual I might maintain information about me in a number of different places, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr etc, as well as my company directory.

    Now, if I move jobs or work freelance for a number of (enlightened) organisations I will most likely need to re-enter my information, or maintain multiple copies of the same or very similar information.

    What is needed is a way for me to maintain my information centrally somewhere and grant access to it for particular individuals, applications or organisations.

    Is this too much to ask?

  3. Christian – I sympathise with your concerns about how an organisation can capture and re-use information if it is spread all over the internet. By chance, I think Andrew has answered the question for me 😉

    I agree with Andrew that the way to access information is through networks of individuals or through the individual that has created it … that really makes the physical location of information irrelevant (i.e. on the intranet or internet) so long as information that carries risk for organisations is ‘secure’. If you detach information from its creator(s) you are in danger of loosing the context for it which makes it useful as ‘knowledge’ for others.

    Andrew – no I don’t think it is too much to ask!

  4. Nic – wow … only 2 years ahead of your time! 🙂

    I like the idea of renaming the intranet ‘experience’ …

    Happy New Year to you too!!

  5. Found you from the FIR cutting room floor, as a long time listener you should have made the show. Shel you should reconsider…

    Richard as the manager of our corporate intranet I really like your definition of an intranet. Glad I found Nic Price’s comment and his definition.

    I think the problem facing most companies is going from the state that everything is on the corporate intranet to providing ‘you’ the relevant tools and information for the task at hand so ‘you’ are more effective.

  6. Bill – you are spot on … not about Shel reconsidering my post … well, maybe that too 😉

  7. Interesting stuff. Responding to Andrewmarr, comment 2, isn’t the dataportability initiative hopeful when it comes to reuse of information in different contexts. Now this is focuses on data in different Internet tools. But why not expand this to tools inside and outside the organization?

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