Monday, 27 October 2008

What is an Intranet anyway ?

A question I ask (and intend to answer) in response to a posting by Shiv Singh on the AppGap blog entitled 'Intranets are not just intranets anymore'.

I am not going to regurgitate Shiv's posting, but I would suggest you go take a look at it. So what do you consider to be an 'intranet' ?

A good place to start is with the wikipedia definition:

An intranet is a private computer network that uses Internet protocols and network connectivity to securely share any part of an organization's information or operational systems with its employees. Sometimes the term refers only to the organization's internal website, but often it is a more extensive part of the organization's computer infrastructure and private websites are an important component and focal point of internal communication and collaboration." It is acually quite a long page, so you can read it all here.

Interestingly, my opinion on what an intranet is goes back to when I first started in IT, and I would have summarised it as "a private internet" too. Anything that uses internet protocols including HTTP, DNS etc

However it has become apparent to me that many people still consider the 'intranet' to be the "internal website". For some reason they do not consider all the other applications as being a part of the intranet, they just think of the 'corporate home' or news pages as provided by a commercial or home grown CMS. If we take the bigger picture as espoused by the Wikipedia definition though, it opens up the world to an 'intranet ecosystem' which may include your;
  • Information published in the form of web pages via a CMS
  • Browser based interfaces to document management systems, your CRM system, your ERP's systems enterprise applications,
  • Browser based query and reporting interfaces to your data wharehouse, operational management systems, strategic planning systems, dashboards and scorecards et al
  • Browser based access to workspaces, and various other 'collaboration' tools
It's all part of the intranet, and so in my opinion when we start to look at Enterprise 2.0 or Intranet 2.0 in particular, i.e. the use of tools and concepts such as blogs, wikis, commenting, user generated content - anything that addresses the original Andrew McAfee SLATES or Dion Hinchcliffe FLATNESSES acronyms - then questions such as 'do we put this in Sharepoint or put it on the intranet' or 'do we use a wiki for this, or do we put it on the intranet' are slightly misplaced. The questions should become those of integration and navigation, of how you craft your information architecture and modify your navigation schemas to take the new tools into account, and of how your governance structures need to change to deal with the new concepts.

Where 'Cloud computing' fits i.e. integrating external, beyond the firewall applications into an existing intranet is another complex, but intrinsically linked question.

Shiv gets really interesting though, when he suggests the intranet might have grown beyond the browser. Using desktop widgets, built using the likes of Adobe AIR or MS Silverlight, we can have Rich 'Intranet' Applications (RIA) that don't need a browser. As noted in a comment on Shiv's posting, less than a year ago I had a serious conversation about using 'Outlook as a portal' - levering MS Outlook's messaging, task management and calendering, with add on's such as integrated RSS reader (now a standard feature of Outlook 2007), the Documentum Client for Outlook (many ECM suites provide an Outlook client) and integration with MS Live Communications server. In the end we did not progress this train of thought. Would it work? Maybe, in an organisation with an MS centric desktop infrastructure.

So what do you think ? You can check out many Intranet 2.0 themed postings by Toby Ward at and even better, you can take part in Prescients Intranet 2.0 survey and help us build the body of research.

Also the slides for 'Intranet 2.0: the future of intranets' are available on, this is a sneak preview of Toby's session at the Jboye08 conference in Denmark.


James Dellow said...

Nice to see someone else thinking about this question with a fresher perspective than some I've read recently. You might find this of interest, where I started with the very same question:
The Intranet Imperative
(bear in mind I wrote this in 2005!)
More recently, have a look at this on Intranet 2.0:
A practical Intranet 2.0 strategic framework
I'd be interested in your comments.

James Dellow said...

Thanks for dropping by my blog and saying hello via GTalk. Sorry the connection broke, but it was nice chatting to you! :-)

Jed Cawthorne said...

James it was indeed a pleasure to say hello in 'real time' - I shall have to pull my finger out and write something that refers to your very interesting posts !