As 2012 comes to a close, it’s safe to say that the modern intranet has become a mission-critical resource for most in mid to enterprise sized organizations. If we were to look at an intranet today and compare it to the 2009, 2006 and 2003 versions within those organizations, the differences would be nothing less than striking in terms of their effectiveness and impact on the overall organization.

One might reasonably ask what is the role of content management in today’s intranet, and how is it evolving?

Those of us that design and implement these experiences know that content management has an essential role in any interactive project, but understand that an Enterprise CMS isn’t a panacea; there’s plenty going on in a modern intranet these days that’s not content. Today’s intranets are dynamic, social, highly collaborative experiences that connect people to all sorts of content, data, applications and, perhaps most importantly, to each other. 

Content Management in Action on Today’s Intranet

While enterprise social capabilities are clearly essential, a practical intranet implementation simply can’t succeed without some “traditional” Enterprise CMS feature support. For example:

  • Easily adopted tools: Non-technical content contributors must be able to create web pages, documents, centralized asset libraries for video, images, etc. This is especially important for inherently social content like blogs, wikis, and threaded discussions. If you want people to create and share, it can’t be too difficult or time consuming.
  • Governance tools often found in the Enterprise CMS stack: Editorial approval workflows, security enacted via permissioning and personalization, revision control with audit trails, analytics containing access data. These are especially critical for any group beholden to a standards body (Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA, SEC, etc.).
  • Templating concepts: Structured/normalized content and branding/design standards are usually necessary, especially when building an organization’s primary intranet site.

Taxonomy Matters

The CMS often provides the core "glue" for all collaborative experiences on an intranet: the classification engine.

A well implemented Enterprise CMS with a robust classification engine for taxonomy, folksonomy and metadata is at the heart of any intranet with “long-legged” strategic goals. While technical scalability is essential, a “killer back end” isn’t nearly enough on its own. Here’s how I’d define “robust” in this context:

  • The classification engine has to be easily adoptable, by information architects, librarians, subject matter experts and the entire contributing user base alike.
  • The same terminology within the enterprise classification engine must be universally available to all content -- and people. All related implementation decisions should be non-technical in nature. For example, a major adoption barrier in SharePoint 2007 was rooted in an inability to share terms across Site Collections.
  • Folksonomy and controlled vocabularies must have an inherent relationship. Tools that allow for easy promotion from the former to the latter, along with the ability to define synonyms, must be available to SMEs and librarians.

Where Social and Collaboration Fit In

Wait, aren’t intranets all about enterprise social connections and collaboration these days? Why the taxonomy rant?

This isn’t an “either/or” decision point. At a minimum you need a cocktail of content management tools, Enterprise Social feature support and a super-reliable search engine to unlock the potential of the intranet and raise an organization’s IQ. Consider how combining these tools can become an “intranet trifecta,” if we tune and prioritize search result ranking, using:

  • Popularity: frequency of views, “likes” and other social ratings, re-tweets, number of links to content, etc.
  • Expert authority of the contributor: Content authored by “blessed experts” on the terms used within search queries ranks higher
  • Presence of controlled and folksonomy tags (perhaps tuned further to prioritize one over the other)
  • Text search/match

Content Management + Intranet = Application Delivery Platform

Delivering highly functional components alongside good content management contribution experiences can make for a powerful combination. As the intranet evolves as an application delivery mechanism and integration platform, the level of engagement, collaboration and contribution increases exponentially.

Let’s make this a little more tangible with a use case. The intranet we’re talking about includes integrated Business Intelligence and Unified Communications features. Toolsets at work are indicated (parenthetically):

I'm an analyst trying to assemble my quarterly report on operations and profitability in a line of business. I'm slicing, dicing, and reviewing data using integrated BI and reporting tools that are delivered via my intranet.

At the end of my business day, I have a "Margin Call" moment about why we're losing money in a particular region based on my analysis. 30 people need to know about this ASAP and collaborate/comment on my findings.

The Problem? 10 of the 30 people that I need to get input from are still sleeping, in a time zone 9 hours away. Calling isn’t going to be practical, and a mass emailing is going to create a “spam avalanche.”

How do I leverage the intranet to facilitate the solution to this problem?

I create a collab space for this issue (CMS). I create an internal blog post (CMS) and post it to my team's internal site (CMS) on the intranet. I include the dashboard/scorecard/report that led to my discovery (BI) to the post. Right next to it, I place a threaded discussion for capturing comments (CMS/Social), and tweet/IM/SMS the link out to the group (UC/Social).

By tomorrow morning, half of my audience has added important commentary providing insights into resolving the problem (Social). Another team member successfully scheduled a web conference collab session for the afternoon (Enterprise messaging/UC), during which a resolution plan has been written and posted to the document library within the team’s site (CMS).

As you can see, this case isn’t remotely possible without the presence of the content management features of the intranet. The Enterprise CMS provides crucial collaborative building blocks that are available instantaneously at the right moments, and allow the content to persist once the live collaboration is complete.


Intranets are the closest thing an organization has to an "experience system of record" for internal content, collaboration and applications. The intranet of today and tomorrow is built on a series of critical foundational components that are all at various levels of maturity. A content management system is among the most mature tools in the stack. If your Enterprise CMS can serve as the most reliable, trusted and adopted subject matter classification system in the organization, the sky’s the limit.

Editor's Note: This is the first contribution from Seth. To read more on this topic, look at this month's focus on the state of the intranets and enterprise collaboration.