This is an edited version of an article written back in 2011 by James Royal-Lawson, Mark Morell and Kristian Norling.
Wikipedia defines an intranet as ‘A private computer network that uses Internet Protocol technology to securely share any part of an organization’s information or network operating system within that organization. The term is used in contrast to internet, a network between organisations, and instead refers to a network within an organisation’.
For people new to intranets or new to managing intranet professionals, an intranet can still be confused with the internet. While it has many similarities – use a browser, view web pages, complete tasks, share knowledge and views with others – it has many distinctive differences. These include focus on consistent branding and usability across all sites, everyone using the same processes and tools, everyone uses same publishing tool and probably only one search engine to use amongst others.
Every intranet is different. This is because an intranet is a visual display of the organisation’s values, culture, purpose, direction and overall approach to how it supports everyone. These differences, sometimes subtle ones, affect the experience people have using their organisation’s intranet.
There are numerous definitions of the term “intranet”, they are all correct in some way. Here are a few examples:
A part of the Internet or part of the Web used internally within a company or organization.
a private computer network that uses the protocols of the Internet
A privately maintained computer network that can be accessed only by authorized persons, especially members or employees of the organization that owns it.
a computer network with restricted access, as within a company, that uses software and protocols developed for the Internet.
Our intranet definition
A collection of tools and websites that are restricted for use by employees and workers within a particular organization.
However, in practice, the word “intranet” is used differently by different people in different organizations: The broadest definition is as above. It refers to a web-based collection of information, collaboration spaces, business applications and networking tools that people in the organization need to do their jobs.
For some people, the word “intranet” includes both information and collaboration, but not the social and networking tools. It will probably include business applications. A third more narrow definition focuses only on the information needs of the organization. Teamwork and collaboration may happen elsewhere, using dedicated tools.
In addition, the term “social intranet” has been used since 2000. This refers to the concept of an intranet with integrated social media and social networking tools. The emphasis here is people “connecting” and collaborating.
Another term in use is “intranet 2.0” which is similar to a “social intranet”. The 2.0 concept refers to the term “enterprise 2.0” (coined by Andrew McAffee in 2006) which emphasizes how business processes are streamlined through the use of social media tools. The emphasis here is more on ”’process”’ and collaboration. A third, recent term used is ”digital workplace” which conveys the concept that the intranet is no longer an internal communication and information tool, but has become the ensemble of what people need to work.
Our view is that intranet and the digital workplace is the same thing. Others are free to disagree.