Employee Communications ~ 7 min

What is an Intranet and Does Your Company Still Need One?

Are intranets still a useful communication tool for a company to have? Are they still even relevant? In this article, we’ll answer these questions and more.

What is an intranet? That’s a question we run into often. The notion of an intranet has been around almost as long as the internet itself, beginning as a way for companies to communicate and share information internally.

But with the events of the last two years, plus the simple evolution of employee communication, many companies have found that traditional intranets simply don’t get the job done, and have wondered what the idea will even mean in 2022. In this bog post, we’ll discuss the origins and initial purpose intranets served, how they have evolved, and finally, we’ll answer the question of whether or not you need one today.

What is an intranet? Here is an intranet definition.

The idea of creating intranets first came about in the late 90s, shortly after the internet became a regular fixture at companies. The purpose was to create an online space where employees could find everything they need for their digital life. This included documents, links to applications, company news, an employee directory, and static pages related to the company, like processes, cold information, etc.

Historically, these intranets were provided by specialized software vendors, who offered an on-premise solution, and who have now moved their platform onto the Cloud. Microsoft entered this market with SharePoint, and had a significant impact on the intranet market, with strong integration with Office365, and a natural place for keeping documents. Many companies have used SharePoint as the cornerstone of their intranet.

Since then, many of these intranets have evolved by integrating extended features, like content management systems, forums, and ready to use “widgets” connected to third-party apps.

Intranet definition

Microsoft has had a strong influence on the development of intranets, thanks to integrations with Office365 and SharePoint.

However, there are difficulties with an intranet

Yes, intranets have been around for a while, and yes, generations of vendors have tried to evolve and reinvent the concept. But despite all of this, in many cases, intranet projects have proven to be expensive projects that didn’t really get employees engaged as active users. And frankly it’s getting worse. Why is this the case?

Several reasons:

  • Content is not updated regularly, or personalized, because it’s too complicated.
  • These days, employees have multiple apps, especially on their mobile devices, and they don’t want to search for information on a centralized portal.
  • Most intranets look old-fashioned and feel out of date, and if they do look good, they’re expensive to maintain.
  • Most do not have a corresponding mobile-friendly app. Smartphone usage has reached 85% of the population, yet many intranets don’t address this.
  • Frontline workers don’t have access to the intranet, either because licenses are too expensive or because the UX doesn’t accommodate it, making it difficult to transmit “Must Read” news.
  • Content is generally top-down, without the possibility of bottom-up content like UGC, surveys, quizzes, etc.
  • They’re not effective for managing push notifications or updates, like newsletters, mobile alerts, etc.; users have to go to the intranet, the intranet doesn’t come to them.

The complicated role of intranets in the digital workplace.

Today, the digital workplace is crowded with highly specialized tools designed to serve different purposes. Teams and Slack are used for collaboration, document repositories like DropBox or SharePoint are used to store information, and different solutions are used for HR and intra-office communication.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to convince employees to access a single portal to then, in turn, access the tools they use.

People want direct, immediate access to the digital tools whenever they need them, just like they access apps on their phone with the touch of a button.

Intranet definition

Do you need an intranet?

To begin with, it’s possible you already have an intranet at your company. Something your organization has invested in, and perhaps it even does some things well, such as serving as a document repository, providing access to apps, or even offering a widget to some apps via a “window.” In such a scenario, if employees are actively using it and the maintenance costs aren’t too high, it likely makes sense to keep it.

However, it’s important to conduct a survey to find out:

  • If everyone has access to it, especially deskless workers
  • If people really use it
  • If it’s easy for them to find content
  • If they find the mobile experience acceptable
  • If the content is tailored enough for them
  • If they feel engaged with this content
  • If they feel like they don’t know what’s going on at the company, or feel disconnected from the strategy, the culture, the values
  • If administrators & content producers find it easy to create and add content, to target this content to the right audiences, to delegate admin rights
  • If administrators find it easy to add third party content, or social media feeds (LinkedIn company news, etc.)
  • Beyond that, if the leadership team has the feeling that the intranet really supports the business

Based on these answers, you can decide if your intranet is sufficient, or if it needs to be augmented by something else. But in fact, it’s also possible there’s a bigger question to ask.

At Sociabble, we’ve worked with many companies who started out by looking for a new intranet, but this was only because they were unaware that there were other solutions to suit their needs.

Or a better question: What do you want to achieve thanks to Intranet?

If your primary concern is giving access to documents to your workforce, SharePoint might simply be enough to get the job done. If you only want your employees to be able to collaborate on projects and share information, MS Teams or Slack could also fit the bill. Perhaps that’s enough.

However, if your needs include the following:

  • I want my workers to be well informed with personalized information
  • I want to reconnect my deskless workers with the company
  • I want to develop a sense of belonging and the engagement of employees
  • I want to promote diversity, our culture and our strong values
  • I want to get feedback from the field
  • I want to support the business with operational communication
  • I want to be able to reach out to my employees whichever channel they use: email (newsletters), mobile (alerts), display screens, news channels in Teams
  • I want to understand how my content performs
  • I want to understand who my most engaged employees are
  • I want my communication to be modern, impactful, audio, video, photos, top-down and bottom-up
  • I want my communication to be simple, for employees but also for content managers and administrators

If this is what you’re looking for, you probably need an Employee Communication Platform.

Interested in knowing what an Employee Communication Platform can provide for your company?

At Sociabble, our expertise is in Employee Communication, and we provide a cutting-edge platform backed up by training, support, and consulting services to help you get the most out of it, whether it’s by augmenting your existing intranet, or simply replacing it altogether.

We’ve worked with industry leaders like Coca-Cola CCEP, Group Renault, and L’Occitane, and we’d love to discuss adding your company to our roster of satisfied clients. To learn more about how Sociabble can help, just click here for a free demo.