I first wrote about the convergence of intranets, extranets and websites in 2001. The concept was pioneered by a select few trailblazers who were merging the technology and user experience of various online properties into a single experience.

Nearly 20 years later, the concept is still foreign to most enterprises. 

Though a smattering of corporations attempted (with rare success) to create this unified online experience, the great recession and subsequent lean years halted progress of the intranet and extranet in particular. 

The ensuing lean IT years (which have yet to fully rebound to pre-2008 levels, notwithstanding investments in ERP and CRM, which have received a disproportionate share of the IT budget) hampered or completely halted much of the progress and planned evolution of many intranets. There are exceptions, particularly those that had invested heavily in Microsoft SharePoint, SAP and Salesforce. But the typical intranet has suffered greatly, and the extranet has gone almost completely ignored by organizations that funneled funding elsewhere.

One Property, to Unite Them All

Enter Cisco Systems, an early adopter of intranet and internal social media, which decided to take the convergence leap in 2015. Earlier that year, Cisco underwent some significant internal changes, including the appointment of a new CEO, and changes to its internal network. Cisco ditched its home grown enterprise social network, and instead replaced it with Jive. It also made the daring decision to create a single online user experience on a single technology platform, Adobe Communique, whereby all (or most) employees, customers and partner companies would — by default — interactively engage with the San Jose, Calif.-based technology behemoth via one web property: Cisco.com.

Cisco.com is now the starting point to all of Cisco’s online properties. Instead of starting behind the firewall on some arcane internal IP address, Cisco employees now access internal tools and content via Cisco.com. Upon hitting the website, the technology platform recognizes the individual’s role — whether employee, customer or partner — and serves up the necessary access and information architecture.

The employee view looks nearly identical to the customer view, with one notable exception: to the far right-hand side of the global information architecture is a section labelled “Employees,” which does not appear for customers or partners. While Cisco.com is not technically the intranet homepage, employees can easily navigate through this menu to the intranet homepage, where the focus is on employee tasks.

More than 100,000 employees can then access the various sub-sections of ‘intranet’ content and tools via a mega menu, or link through to the “Employee Connection” (the name for the enterprise intranet site for more than 20 years). Partners are served a similar extranet experience, again via Cisco.com.

Cisco Homepage

The defacto home page view at Cisco.com

Cisco Employee Homepage

The employee or intranet access version of Cisco.com with the Employees section and Quick Tasks

In addition to the Employees section in the information architecture, the Quick Tasks menu at the bottom of the page for World users becomes the Employee Quick Tasks menu with icon links to Find People, Find Tools, Get Support, Download Software, Internal News and Share Documents.

A Cambrian Explosion

Although it's still in the early stages of the convergence journey, Elijah Lovejoy, Cisco’s intranet architect and IT staffer of more than 10 years, said people are enjoying the transition.

“It has been very positive so far. The main measures we have are visits (about 50,000 employee users per day; 100,000 per month).”

With the anecdotal improvements come business improvements, particularly in the form of cost savings and financial benefits from merging multiple web content management systems and teams to one content management system and one team.

“The transition is a lot of work, but there’s no doubt we’ll have a great deal more flexibility as to what to prioritize going forward with a single platform,” added Lovejoy.

Convergence is no small task, and while Cisco always had a solid intranet and Internet presence, the new platform and its content reveal priorities for improvement.

“We’re seeing several big transitions: desktop to mobile, broadcast to collaboration, content that needs to be coded to casual authoring, and a Cambrian explosion of new collaboration and marketing technologies,” said Lovejoy. “Making sense of all these challenges in real time, and managing the transitions is definitely an area we’re keenly focused on."