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Pop the champagne and get ready to celebrate: your Intranet and Enterprise Social Network are getting married!

As we prepare to toast this joyous integration, remember that the Intranet and the ESN are strong, independent entities with many individual merits. As in any marriage, each partner must remain unique with its own purpose. By tying the knot, however, the Intranet and the ESN will complement each other’s strengths (and minimize their weaknesses), improving the overall employee communication experience.

“Wait,” you might be thinking, “don't we need to choose one or the other? Maintaining two separate systems is too much work. Nobody uses the (pick one) antiquated Intranet / unproven ESN anyway. Integrating the two is unnecessary and will cause confusion.”

Let’s be clear: this is a modern marriage that I’m advocating. You won't see the Enterprise Social Network suddenly barefoot in the kitchen at home, waiting with a warm meal for the Intranet. The Intranet isn’t going to pop on a suit every day to work comfortable boss-man hours with a three martini client lunch a la Don Draper.

They’re going to be equals. Each will maintain its individual identity, while intertwining its best features to strengthen the other half.

It Takes Two

In the world of modern employee communications, large organizations will have both an intranet and an enterprise social network. Companies cannot get away with one and not the other as they serve, in many ways, polar opposite functions.

This may seem puzzling at first. Both house information and communications for an audience of employees. Allow me to explain the differences between an intranet and an Enterprise Social Network from a human -- not technology -- perspective.

  • The Intranet: Intranets fill the need for leadership and management to push information to employees in a streamlined manner. Small group of employees use these tools to disseminate officially curated information to the masses of the company. Smaller teams and individuals may find value by storing and accessing important documents or connecting to the company directory or team site. From an employee perspective, the Intranet is a hub of official content.
  • The Enterprise Social Network: ESNs are technology conduits through which human relationships flow in the workplace. They are designed for any and all employees to connect with people first, and information second. The information one sees inside the network varies based on one’s relationships, interests and subscriptions to content/groups. From the employee perspective, the ESN is a real-time stream of opinions, ideas, conversations and free-form dialogue.

So let’s help these two crazy kids get married, yes? I think it was the great Paula Abdul who most eloquently stated, “It ain’t fiction, it’s a natural fact -- we come together ‘cuz opposites attract.”

These two very different enterprise tools will be better together, giving employees a way to find content and converse with context.

3 Steps to a Happy Marriage

Integrating the intranet and ESN should preserve the individuality of each tool while creating a unified experience on the surface for employees. Each tool must be managed separately and with different purposes — and likely by different teams.

Remember that the management of the intranet is about pushing official content efficiently, whereas the ESN is simply a tool that allows employees to broaden their relationships and converse. Therefore, ESNs require the art and science of community management.

This could get a bit tricky, so let’s take the integration process in three steps.

Step 1: The Prenup

I know, it’s not romantic, but a prenup will keep this Intranet/ESN marriage secure in the long term. Before bringing these tools together, determine the principles and requirements that will govern the integration, including:

  • Which team manages each tool? Does IT manage the development work to integrate the two tools, and Communications pays for the license fee for the ESN? Who handles upgrades and bugs? Who owns Community Management? The division of responsibilities should be clearly drawn up early so that nobody gets angry when the clothing still isn’t folded, I mean, when the software patches need to be applied.
  • How will the integration occur? Will you use APIs to create custom integrations (analogous to hiring an interior designer to redecorate the former bachelor pad), or vendor provided out-of-the-box widgets to display certain ESN content inside the Intranet (analogous to hitting up IKEA -- so easy that anyone can do it, and it may not be perfect, but it sure works)?
  • What stays and what goes? Will you keep the Intranet’s commenting functionality, or forgo it for the ESN’s commenting and liking engine?

Step 2: The Honeymoon

After the deal has been sealed and the ESN and Intranet are working together seamlessly, it’s time to celebrate.

Congratulations! You have given your employees a thoroughly modern set of tools that serves their individual purposes while strengthening the overall value that they can achieve together. Watch your employees revel in their newfound abilities to share content easily, give their opinions, connect with others and socialize information with teams like never before.

Document adoption and engagement on both before you go-live, because you’re bound to see an increase. Cheers, my friend -- this is a match made in heaven.

Step 3: Couples’ Counseling

Walking down the aisle doesn’t mean that bliss awaits behind every corner. Marriages take work and it’s best to manage the process openly and honestly.

Once you've integrated the intranet and ESN, schedule quarterly meetings for their respective managing teams (with open dialogue on an as-needed basis) to discuss new integrations, bugs, updates, and strong points.

The Community Management team must take the pulse of the ESN community daily in order to ensure long-term success. The technology team should monitor how employees are utilizing certain groups, areas and functionality in order to optimize for future integrations.

Couples’ therapy isn't just a means to fix problems, but continues constructive dialogue once the pomp and circumstance is over. An integrated intranet and ESN need continual maintenance, and this will help maintain the engagement seen during the Honeymoon stage.

Growing Old

The world of enterprise communication and collaboration will continue to change. We don’t know what intranets and social tools will look like in five years, 10 years or in the long term. We've seen so many changes to the landscape in the past decade, that the prospect of continual innovation seems somewhat alarming.

But since we can't predict the future, the best course of action today is to embrace the integrated intranet and ESN, nourish their connection, and prepare for whatever the future may bring. 

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License Title image by  richard winchell