After the communication value of the Internet and web technology became apparent, it was only a matter of time before that same interaction capability was applied to internal corporate communications. Company intranets and employee portals sprang up across the business landscape. Will the growth of social networking have a similar effect? 

Today, companies use intranets to provide timely information about human resources, product development, sales and marketing, and a host of other subjects. They host important forms, presentations and tools that employees need to conduct business. Significant company processes are also enabled through browser-based communications, including expense reports, requests for time off and many other straightforward but necessary workflows. With company intranets, employees can access information and resources that are part of their daily work lives.

Working Outside of the Portal

Enterprise social network products can do all the same functions. They can share information, host important files and implement lightweight workflows. They do much of this labor better than traditional portals do, too. Activity streams give a better view of information flow in a company than typical static portal designs. Microblogging provides a fast and convenient way to update company constituents without grappling with the content management system.

Enterprise social networks, by and large, have all the immediate communications features that a portal has, including instant messaging. Typical widget-based designs and REST APIs create points of integration with other systems, including HR and CRM systems, as easily as any other technology.

Enterprise social networks have the added advantage of having been built for collaboration, encouraging two-way conversation instead of one-way communication. This is an especially important characteristic in today’s team-oriented business environment.

Betting on Social

However, just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you will. That begs the question: “Will companies use an enterprise social network in lieu of an intranet or portal?” Although hard to predict, it’s pretty clear that Enterprise CMS vendors think so. Many content management system vendors now offer a complete enterprise social experience in addition to the traditional intranet development platform.

Clearvale from Broadvision is a great example of a company known for intranet, internet and extranet platforms that field a full enterprise social network. Other traditional Enterprise CMS vendors such as Ektron have added so many social features and created an out-of-the-box social experience that is essentially an enterprise social network.

These investments in social collaboration features derive from customers’ needs -- suggesting a move away from the traditional portals and intranets toward a more Social Enterprise approach to employee communications and interactions.

So, my answer to the question of whether companies will use an enterprise social network in lieu of an intranet or portal is “yes.” Enterprise social networks will eventually supplant the traditional intranets and portals currently used to manage internal employee communications, workflows, and files. They have the advantages of being purpose-built for today’s business: they are fluid, immediate, end-user oriented and collaborative.

As organizations embrace the tenets of the Social Enterprise, so too will they adopt the tools of the Social Enterprise across the company. Intranets and portals will be rendered obsolete.

Editor's Note: To read more of Tom's thoughts on the Social Enterprise:

-- Building the Social Layer