Social Business, The Hottest Trend in Intranets is ICEIntranets may be the new hot topic in web experience management, but when it comes to building your intranet, think ICE. ICE stands for Intranet, Community and Extranet. When delivered on the same platform these three pillars of collaboration provide holistic engagement, reduce development and software costs, and simplify user experience for employees and customers alike.

While many would argue that an employee intranet, customer community and secure partner extranet are very separate applications for very different audiences, those lines have blurred. The modern intranet, often termed the “social intranet,” delivers a set of applications for promoting business collaboration, enabling user engagement and automating key business processes.

While the “social” aspect of this has been overhyped, the core set of functionality -- document sharing, directories, discussions, user profiles and activity streams -- provide true business collaboration capabilities for internal and external audiences, with a measurable return on investment.

To that end, web-based business collaboration -- what we typically call “intranets” -- should not be thought of as stand-alone applications limited to specific audiences. Your intranet is one facet of an overall collaboration platform that extends through and beyond the walls of your offices. Organizations should evaluate their technology and software based on its ability to manage all three types of “ICE” sites using a common set of tools, shared content repositories and infrastructure.

The foundation of any intranet should be identity management and permissioning. Intranet software should manage secure user, group and role rights access to content and features. Intranets are not alone in their need to promote engagement and manage secure access to content. Every organization that needs to promote employee engagement also needs to securely collaborate and engage with customers and business partners.

By approaching the intranet as a facet of business collaboration, you can deliver effective solutions for employees and provide an integrated customer experience where content seamlessly flows from internal collaboration, to customer-approved content marketing and business publishing, to value added collaboration with partners and suppliers. Moreover, fewer enterprise systems need support from internal IT, freeing them to invest development resources on a common set of applications and infrastructure.

Defining the ICE Applications

You must understand the purpose of an intranet, customer community and partner extranet before starting a project to deliver end-to-end business collaboration.

Intranets are generally well understood, although employee expectations for intranets have outpaced an organization’s ability to deliver social tools and collaboration capabilities. Shifting the intranet onto a true collaboration platform addresses this gap.

Communities support the business with “voice of the customer” engagement. They may also streamline product support via self-service and broader “crowdsourced” community expertise, or as a platform for membership to share and collaborate. Community and intranet share many of the same features, although human resource solutions are replaced with customer service applications, and information architecture tends to be flatter, without departmental silos.

Extranets are secure websites for sharing information with business partners or suppliers. Similar to an Intranet, an Extranet should mix business content such as documents and articles, social tool such as blogs, commenting and ratings, and automated business services like lead registration, purchasing and ordering, or contract and license management.

ICE Goes Beyond Content Management and Portal Solutions

Supporting ICE in an organization requires technology platforms that expand beyond what is available in traditional content management or enterprise portal applications. While Web CMS may provide powerful content creation and publishing capabilities, a CMS lacks truly flexible authenticated user access, collaboration tools and the ability to empower social content contribution. Likewise, portals excel at managing user access and integrating applications, but fail to deliver content capabilities required to manage engaging websites and large content sets.

Organizations should look beyond their existing content management tools and evaluate more modern community platforms. These tools come under different headings, including community, business social and collaboration. Regardless of how a platform is positioned, to support ICE deployment it should combine the streamlined user management and mass contribution of a portal with the powerful content creation and publishing capabilities of a CMS.

User Management is King

Focus on the user management capabilities when evaluating an ICE platform. The goal is to leverage existing systems, such as Active Directory or ERP systems like PeopleSoft for internal intranet user accounts, integrated account management for community members, and CRM data from systems like or Microsoft Dynamics for business and partner extranet systems.

IT policy usually restricts live access to back office applications. An ICE platform should provide the ability to sync users against external systems at regular intervals, importing the user data and providing local management for policy and security rights in the application.

Get Started Now

Few organizations would claim satisfaction with their intranet, community platform or extranet. The good news is that there has never been a better time to upgrade the collaboration experience. A number of factors have aligned to make business collaboration a hot topic:

  • There are several platforms on the market that can support the requirements for end-to-end business collaboration.
  • Your audience -- employees, customers, partners and other constituents -- have been educated via commercial social networks on the principals of collaboration and engagement.
  • Your business partners and suppliers are capable and eager to connect online and reduce the friction of doing business with you.

It does not need to cost a fortune to deliver an integrated solution. In fact, by focusing on ICE over standalone platforms for your intranet and community software you can reduce your overall technology spend and implementation timelines.

So if you are starting you next intranet product, it is time to look at the big picture. You can deliver a better intranet and make your collaboration experience cool. In fact you can make it as cool as ICE.

Title image courtesy of Suslik1983 (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read more of David's thoughts on intranets in 6 Ways to Drive Intranet Engagement to Unleash Corporate Knowledge