The Team Collaboration Blog

29-08-2017
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What is an intranet and what can you use it for?

Get an understanding of what an intranet is and how it has evolved.

Perhaps, your company has an intranet, but what exactly is it? Let's start with a definition to the main question in this blog post: What is an intranet?


Intranet definition

According to Webster's Dictionary the term intranet refers to "a computer network with restricted access, as within a company, that uses software and protocols developed for the Internet." The term 'Intranet' was first recorded from 1990-95.

To elaborate on the definition of an intranet, the term can also be defined as a secure local network where employees collaborate, find company information, create content, and manage tasks and events. It is designed for internal communications. It is a multifunctional tool that works as a website, communications channel, and collaboration platform.

The intranet is accessible only to an organisation’s employees, as it is closed behind a login credential. As opposed to the internet, a wide range of information and services from the organisation’s internal IT systems is available, which are not intended for the public on the internet.

Intranets used to be restricted by geographic locations, where employees needed to be at the company site to access the intranet. Earlier, definitions on intranets, therefore, stated that physical location, in fact, restricted them. Although some intranets are still limited to a specific local area network (LAN), most can be accessed from remote locations over the internet.

Having intranets that are not restricted to the physical location of the workplace is particularly important in the emergence of cloud computing and geographically-dispersed staff.

A company-wide intranet can act as an important focal point of internal communication and collaboration, and provide a single starting point to access internal and external resources.

 

An intranet includes a wide range of service such as the following:

  • File sharing and document management
  • Personalised news feed
  • Automated business processes such as online forms
  • Project workspaces
  • Employee directories, including skills and contact information
  • Digital workplace

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intranet server plugging patch cable in a rack


What is the difference between internet, intranet and extranet?

Internet, intranet, and extranet are three different terms, and all three of them are beneficial to businesses in any industry. The terminology may be confusing, which is why we provide a comparison of the three terms.

The difference between the internet and intranets is that the internet is an open network, which connects many people to many websites, whereas an intranet is a local communications channel restricted to members working in an organisation.


Much like an intranet, an extranet is a local secured network, designed to facilitate collaboration and make it easier to communicate and share information in real-time. The major difference between the two is that an extranet allows businesses to communicate with clients, and vendors outside an organisation. Extranet sites connect people inside an organisation with external parties, like professional partners, clients and vendors. An extranet is an extension of an intranet, where other users, which are not necessarily part of the company, can gain access.

With a Colibo intranet, you can invite external partners to collaborate on projects, share files, ask questions, and comment on the progress you are making.

 

What is an intranet definition


What is the main purpose of an intranet?

The main purpose of an intranet is to provide communication and team collaboration tools to enhance knowledge sharing and file sharing, and drive productivity.

An intranet helps employees work better by combining the best features of social networks, file sharing-solutions, blogs, and content management systems.

There are a lot of reasons why it might be beneficial for your business to implement an intranet, including organising employees’ projects, as well as streamlining daily activities and increasing employee engagement. An intranet is a tool that can be used in your organisation’s strategy and internal communications.   

Intranets are often valued for:

  • Streamlining business processes and driving operational efficiencies
  • Significantly reducing costs of internal business functions
  • Enhancing communication and collaboration between employees and managers

A functional and well-designed intranet with relevant tools can save time for your business. A focused investment in making business-critical information available to the right employees will always pay off. If you save an individual employee a couple of minutes a day, you will quickly see a return on your investment.

According to a study conducted by Mckinsey Global institute, the average employee uses around 28% of a normal workweek on administrating e-mails and 20% on searching for colleagues and internal information. Using a social intranet can help your reduce this wasted time by up to 35%.

 

Intranets helps improve team collaboration

Intranets can improve team collaboration by making information relevant and available to employees.

It is especially effective for employees working remotely, as they are always able to collaborate with their colleagues, just as they would in a traditional office setting. As organisations become more and more decentralised, intranets hold more importance in the business landscape than ever before.

 

Learn how Kosan Crisplant improved collaboration and efficiency with Colibo


Intranets can remove barriers in your organisation. In many companies, there are barriers between departments. These barriers arise from a geographical distance, different knowledge areas and organisational structure. But it does not have to be that way.

A social intranet can serve as a meeting place across departments, and geographical distances.

Turn disconnected teams into unified teams, which work more effectively. Get your team talking to one another, as well as to people from other departments. An intranet can break down the barriers that inevitably occur in large organisations.                   

What is an intranet

Easy document management  

An intranet enables you to organise all of your documents and files. If you store all information in one place, employees always know where to look for information, and most intranets actually let you share and store information easily from any device.

Your users may struggle with this question: Should I share a file in Outlook, in OneDrive, Yammer, Dropbox, or Google Doc?

This question is probably not new to you. In how many locations do you save documents and files? If you have a document located in different places, which is the most recent? With an intranet, you can share files and content in the same place. No more linking to Dropbox or sharing a Google Doc. Upload a file directly to the intranet, or add a link to a file kept elsewhere.

Stop spending time searching your inbox to find the most recent version of the document. With document version control, your employees always have access to the most recent version of documents and files.

If you cannot remember exactly where you put your files, you can simply search for it with the intelligent search engine.

Intranet definition

 

Enhance team productivity

Intranets can help drive productivity and effectiveness. With one point of entry for your team, collaboration tools help secure effective knowledge sharing and employee engagement.

With an intranet, your workday becomes easier and more effective by getting access to user-friendly features and apps, with the sole purpose of simplifying processes and sharing knowledge.

When several people work on a common project, it is important that you have a central location to gather content and communicate with one another.
 

The first intranets

Intranets saw the peak of life in the mid-1990s with the emergence of the first intranet platforms.

They were basically static web pages. Many companies saw intranets as an opportunity to share information among employees from a central location. The first intranet solutions were revolutionary for their time, but not very user-friendly by today’s standards.  

As technology has changed, so have intranet solutions.

Historically, internal communication has been a one-way street. Therefore, intranets were often built as a one-way communication channel with limited functions, typically distributing company policies, corporate news, or some basic activities, i.e. employee anniversaries. The responsibility for distributing information on the intranet typically fell to one business area (generally HR or corporate communications).

The focus was to get a message communicated from the management to the employees. Intranets were not built to be a collaboration channel. However, intranet software has come a long way since then. Intranets have evolved into much more valuable tools for employees and organisations.                    

With time, there has been a dramatic shift in the way digital information is managed and how people live and work.

With the emergence of web 2.0, web pages have become more interactive. It changed websites from being primarily designed around the retrieval of information to websites that allowed the user to create, store, and retrieve content all in one place. Intranet software followed suit, allowing intranet producers to build intranets that are more adapted to the needs of the user.

Technology has changed the way we get things done and the way we communicate with each other. Nowadays, people expect that their intranet works as intuitively as the other technologies they use every day. For instance, with the emergence of social media, people expect two-way communication from the platforms they use at work, too.

What is an intranet

Modern intranets

The modern intranet has the potential to become far more business critical than a traditional intranet because it embraces one-to-many communication, many-to-many dialogue, knowledge sharing, and collaboration tools. It is adapted to the individual employee, and simultaneously supports professional and social communities across organisational and geographical boundaries.

The modern intranet becomes a place you can reach with all of your private or business entities, like mobile, tablet, and PC. This means that you can access the intranet wherever you are and on whatever device you use. The purpose of a modern intranet is to save money and be more effective, as it makes it easier for you and your colleagues to do your work.

 

Modern intranets increase employee engagement

Modern intranets are typically made for collaboration, with social features like commenting or tagging colleagues. Social features, such as user directories, drive engagement. These features also lead to a collaborative culture.

Modern intranets are personalised to each user, with personal dashboards and user directories. User directories work like an old-fashioned telephone book, but with profile pictures of each employee and their professional skills. User directories make it easy for staff to find employee contact details and search for employees with the right set of skills.

Customisable profiles allow users to present themselves to their colleagues in the organisation in a way that is personal to them. Moreover, user directories make the social intranet look like it is inhabited by real people, making employees more likely to want to engage with it.
 

Would you like to know more?

Hopefully, this intranet definition has improved your understanding of intranets; the difference between intranets, extranets, and the internet; and how they work in practice. If you would like to learn more, contact our team or have a look at our case studies.

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Nicoline Sørensen
Blog Author
Nicoline Sørensen
Nicoline was Colibo's Head of Marketing. Her interest is in employee engagement, intranet best practices and SEE ALL POSTS

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