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Intranet, Internet, Extranet merger imminent

It all used to be so simple: your corporate intranet would be owned and managed by your internal communications team; your corporate internet site by your external communications, by your investor relations team or your marketing team; and your extranet managed by your sales and customer development departments. Whilst each had a technology foundation, it was likely that there was no common CMS, little commonality of content or functionality. These three were technological islands, organisationally distinct and with clear strategic differences.

The times are changing and we’re seeing the start of a merger of intranets, internets and extranets that raises some interesting governance challenges, as well as realise some enterprise efficiencies.

The influence of Social Media

Many companies have set up Facebook pages and Twitter accounts primarily for customer or consumer interaction but given that many of their employees have private and professional access to social media, many companies are finding that their social media spaces are becoming de facto extensions of their intranet. Publishing a news story via Facebook and allow followers to comment is no different to your corporate intranet except that the conversation may not be entirely limited to employees. Closed internet spaces, like LinkedIn company spaces, or Yammer,  blur the boundaries of internet and intranet still further.

Unified Content Management Systems

Most Content Management Systems (CMS) allow for the management of multiple websites and those websites could be intranets or internet sites. Given the unification of this CMS foundation, it’s not a huge leap of faith to imagine publishing materials directly, to both locations, with a single click of the send button. At the recent EPEM event, I saw exactly this from the Italian company, ENI Group who employ a single CMS and have a broadly singular intranet/internet experience.

Many companies are somewhat hesitant about using their intranet CMS for their internet sites falsely believing that their internal CMS is somehow incapable of the slicker interfaces needed. If you’re in that position in your company, consider these internet sites that are powered by SharePoint, a very common intranet CMS: Ferrari, Dell, US Olympic Committee and countless others. Your CMS is very capable of handling both your intranet and internet materials.

Professional Collaboration Communities

In most Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies, there will be a team of people dedicated to selling and marketing their products into a given grocery store. At the grocery store HQ, there will be a dedicated team of people to manage every supply chain detail of those given products. These two groups of people have entirely different hierarchies, work in entirely different buildings, are paid by different companies and in some cases, may not even be in the same country and yet, they are actually one team who own the chain from design, manufacture, sales, distribution and finally consumption. It will not be long before these people are connected via online community spaces. But what are these online spaces? Extranet, where inter-company sharing has been done in the past; internet or intranet?

Extranets have always been seen as an extension of a companies intranet but the nature of enterprise collaboration and a broader definition of team, will help merge these two concepts still further.

If extranets are becoming intranets; and intranets are becoming internets then …

It’s clear that the once clear distinctions between intranets, internet sites and extranets are blurring somewhat as the technology evolves and business needs develop. Traditional distinctions between internal and external communication teams (and outputs) will also likely diminish, mirroring this application of technology. This merger though will bring some clear advantages.

  • A single design with a single user experience for all places, giving a clarity of corporate identity with smaller overall design bills
  • Publicly listed companies are obliged to publicly reveal some materials to the markets before telling employees (see our intranetizen post on laws and intranets). A single merged space could limits the chances of a mis-timed publishing.
  • Employees read the corporate site too! Merging ensures that there is no chance of mixed messaging especially if the former intranet and internet materials were managed by different teams. Consistency of content is critical when information consumers can compare and contrast.
  • Reduced licensing and support costs as to you move to using a single technology foundation.

How far down the merger have you gone in your company? Share your story




There are 8 comments

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  1. Samuel Driessen

    Agree! Good post. I like the way ‘The Cluetrain Manifesto’ stressed this merger is going to happen because we are the same inside and outside the company. Our voice is (or should be) the same.

  2. EphraimJF

    You can’t include a link to the Ferrari website in your posts Jonathan. It’s just too distracting!

    Also, good post.

    I foresee this being particularly challenging for highly regulated companies that currently have to partition their intranets to avoid different divisions from sharing certain types of information.

  3. James Robertson

    I think there’s two issues at hand here:

    1) Will websites, extranets and intranets be managed using the same software? Possibly, if the functional requirements are the same (http://www.steptwo.com.au/papers/cmb_onecms/index.html).

    This isn’t that interesting though, as it’s just the technology behind the scenes.

    2) Will websites, extranets and intranets become more similar? I hope not!

    Websites and intranets are almost entirely different, with different audiences, needs, functionality, and publishing considerations (http://www.steptwo.com.au/papers/kmc_intranetvsweb/index.html).

    Intranets are becoming more social, more business tools, and less static website. Public-facing website are remaining fairly simple, with much of the collaboration happening elsewhere (Facebook, Twitter, etc).

    My take: the more we deliver *great* websites and intranets, the more different they become…

    It’s a great thing to think about. But I just don’t see all this merging together anytime in the near future 🙂

    (I’ve also seen a few big organisations get themselves into trouble by starting projects with the assumption “we’re delivering one site, with two audiences”. This really leads to some messy thinking in practice.)

  4. @DigitalJonathan

    Technologically speaking, the merge is happening and I entirely agree, that’s not that interesting! Content-wise, a merger already occurs with materials such as intranet news and external press releases.

    Social websites blur the boundaries between internal and external comms. Is the company Facebook page an extension of the intranet or purely an external comms tool? And Yammer — is that intranet, technically?

    Thanks for your comments James. Interesting topic.

  5. Andy Jankowski

    Great post Jonathan. I wholeheartedly agree with you. The intranet, internet and extranet are merging and should continue to do so. In addition to the technology and content mergers you site, I am also seeing examples of mergers between the internal teams that manage these services, both from a technology and content perspective. A large company example is IBM, who has moved responsibility for both intranet and internet to one organization managed by their Office of the CIO. A smaller company example is LSI Corporation, who has also moved overall responsibility and management for intranet and internet under the umbrella of their marketing and communications organization. I think the most important way to think through this is in context of what is best for the users of these services. In all three cases, users of these services will benefit from improved usability, quality and consistency that can be gained from merging technology platforms, authoritative sources of data, content curation and overall management. If this is not the trend we are seeing in organizations, maybe it something we should push for?

  6. Kevin Cody

    As you indicated our clients have always been able to allow external access to intranet sections & communities thereby making these extranets.

    Like James I am somewhat suspicious of using the same technologies for internet & intranet/extranet as the requirements can be quite different. The former has much more editorial control, site content & placement and relies less on user generated content and interactions for example.

    However we’ve begun to explore merging the intranet/intranet for a couple of clients. In both cases the rationale is similar:

    1) There will be a ‘thin’ internet presence and site visitors will be asked to register to get a richer experience; notably in content and the ability to communicate with other people, who by registering have obviously similar interests.

    2) Users can share links & likes not just with other registered users on the client’s site but also to their wider social networks (Facebook, Twitter et al.)

    For sometime we’ve allowed users to embed external content and functionality (e.g. links to Facebook & LinkedIn profiles, twitter feed, blogs, google gadgets etc) on the intranet. However allowing users (employees and site visitors) to broadcast their activity on the intranet to their wider social network is a new direction for us. It isn’t for everybody but it will be interesting to see how this works in practice. Ask me in the new year and I should have some case studies and lessons to share.


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