Employee Communications ~ 11 min

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

HR Team, People Experts, Sociabble
HR Team People Experts

What is an intranet? 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 few 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 2023.

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 a corporate intranet today.

Are you wondering, “What is an intranet?” No problem. Let’s tackle the intranet definition before discussing intranet software solutions. 

The idea of creating intranets first came about in the late 90s, shortly after the internet via a web server 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, as well as access to helpful internal and external resources.

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 platforms 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. The modern intranet still does the same basic functions, but with more integrations and additional capabilities provided by the private intranet platform. 

What is the main purpose of an intranet?

The main purpose of an intranet is to enhance internal communication, knowledge sharing, document management, collaboration, and resource access. However, utilizing additional tools can offer enhanced functionality and features beyond its limitations.

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. And some of them can affect employee engagement. 

Yes, intranet platforms have been around for a while, and yes, generations of vendors have tried to evolve and reinvent the private network concept.

But despite all of this, in many cases, intranet software projects have proven to be expensive programs that didn’t really get employees engaged as active users. And frankly it’s getting worse. Why is this so often the case with a company intranet?

Well, there are several reasons related to the inherent disadvantages of an intranet:

  • Content is not updated regularly, or personalized, because it’s too complicated. Knowledge sharing and information sharing does not occur.
  • These days, employees have multiple collaboration tools and apps, especially on their mobile devices, and they don’t want to search for information on a centralized portal. It fails to engage employees, especially remote workers.
  • Most intranets look old-fashioned and feel out of date, and if they do look good, modern intranets are still expensive to maintain against the internal communication budget. 
  • 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 in an increasingly digital workplace. 
  • Content is generally top-down, without the possibility of bottom-up content like UGC, surveys, quizzes, etc., which can hurt employee engagement and the formation of company culture, with no options for employee feedback. 
  • They’re not effective for managing push notifications or updates, like newsletters, mobile alerts, etc.; users have to go to the intranet to access communication tools, the intranet doesn’t come to them.
  • Intranet security is weak, which can be especially problematic in industries where data security is paramount. 
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In this article, you will also find other valuable information on the future of internal communications.

The complicated role of a company intranet in the digital workplace.

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

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 their digital tools via a web server whenever they need them, just like they access apps or private messages on their phone with the touch of a button. An intranet strategy may not take into account how people actually communicate and access company knowledge in this day and age. 

Intranet definition

Do you need an intranet?

To begin with, it’s possible you already have an intranet at your company for communication, project management, and file management. A private server or network 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 these private networks and the maintenance costs aren’t too high, it likely makes sense to keep it. The significant cost savings may justify sticking with what you already have. 

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

  • If everyone has access to it, especially deskless workers & understands how the intranet works
  • If people really use it; it gets employees engaged 
  • If it’s easy for authorized users to find content on the intranet site
  • If they find the mobile access acceptable, including knowledge management features
  • 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, or the values during their employee journey 
  • If administrators & content producers find it easy to create and add content, to target this content to the right audiences, to delegate admin rights & intranet usage
  • If administrators find it easy to add third party content, or social media feeds (LinkedIn company news, etc.)
  • If it comes with a secure connection, even if accessed from a public network 
  • Beyond that, if the company leadership team has the feeling that the intranet really supports the business and encourages employee participation 

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 when it comes to corporate communications. Learn more about how to optimize your employee communication strategy.

At Sociabble, we’ve worked with many companies who started out by looking for a brand new, modern intranet, but this was only because they were unaware that there were other solutions to suit their needs. Modern intranets can be effective, but often more is needed beyond simple intranet best practices.

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

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 & relevant corporate information 
  • I want increased employee engagement and to empower employees 
  • I want to develop a sense of belonging for the entire company 
  • I want to promote diversity, our culture, and our values with employee recognition 
  • I want to get feedback from the field via a secure network
  • 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 social networking features to promote online sharing 
  • I want my communication to be modern, impactful, audio, video, photos, top-down and bottom-up, complete with document management systems, as well as a content management system safe from data breaches 
  • I want my communication to be simple, for employees but also for content managers and administrators; basically the entire team 

If this is what you’re looking for, you probably need an Employee Communication Platform. Traditional intranets or employee experience platforms probably won’t be enough.. 

Case Study: How Pierre Fabre transformed their internal communications with an employee communication platform

Pierre Fabre is a leading French pharmaceutical and cosmetic group created in 1962 and based in Castres, in the south of France. Globally, the group employs nearly 10,000 people in 43 subsidiaries, marketing medicines, family health products, and dermo-cosmetics. 

In recent years, however, like many companies in the pharmaceutical & cosmetics sectors, the Pierre Fabre Group has faced numerous communication challenges, which led it to undertake a profound transformation of its organization, starting with a new communication initiative in 2019. And one of the major obstacles to tackle was the uneven presence and usage of communication tools

Previously, there had been significant disparity in Pierre Fabre’s communications. Many employees in the organization received little or no company information. In more concrete terms, “factory operators, logistics teams, medical sales representatives on the road and sometimes even an international subsidiary received unequal information from the Group,” recalls Stéphane Puyou, ComTech Manager for Pierre Fabre. It wasn’t the same information, it wasn’t the same media channels, it wasn’t the same time frame. Sometimes, employees even found out about the Group’s news on external channels, via social networks in particular.

While an intranet was a possible solution, the Pierre Fabre Group decided to work together with Sociabble to create their own centralized employee communication platform which could offer the same services and more.

What made the new platform stand out was:

Translation capabilities 

Sociabble offers an integrated translation engine. It allows communication teams to create editable versions in all of the company’s spoken languages.

Mobile first 

Sociabble is a platform designed and accessible as a social application. All employees can consult the company’s content on their mobile devices, which is a major advantage for workers in factories, or medical visitors. 

Engagement features

In an internal communication context, the possibilities of interaction inspired by social networks (liking, commenting, etc.) are decisive for the performance of messages, and even the acceleration of business. 

Targeting and personalization capabilities

In a group with multiple sectors and locations, communications to employees can quickly become overwhelming. By giving admins and users alike the choice of topics that actually matter to them, and of notification and alert methods, Sociabble reinforces the relevance and targeting of company information.

In only the first weeks, the new platform radically changed the Pierre Fabre Group’s internal communication, making it more visual, more interactive, and more in line with users’ social network practices. Instead of long files or articles that are not adapted to their needs, employees now find shorter, targeted publications, already sequenced for them to read. They also discover a much more local communication stream, reflecting news that’s close to them. 

pierre fabre success story

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, Renault Group, 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.

Schedule your demo

Want to see Sociabble in action?

Our experts will answer your questions and guide you through a platform demo.