three decrepit pay phones in a row with telephone books attached
PHOTO: Maarten van den Heuvel

You can set your calendar by it. Every six months, someone declares “Intranets are dead!” or “Intranets are awful!” or something similar in an article and it sends the industry into a fervor. These articles typically wheel out a few clichés about how intranets are incompatible with the modern digital workplace because of their cost, lack of functionality, or their difficulty to manage. 

This is frustrating. Because these writers are criticizing an intranet implementation that is no longer the reality of what enterprises around the world are actually rolling out. It’s like someone publishing a scathing teardown of the horse and buggy 20 years after Ford introduced the Model-T. We need to update our definition of what an intranet is and what it does for businesses today — and specifically what they do for today’s employees — before we can have a discussion about what they can and cannot do.

Related Article: Intranets, the Window to Your Digital Workplace

All Businesses (Not Just Major Enterprises) Need an Intranet

Modern intranets are appropriate for businesses of every size, in every industry. Today’s workforce is increasingly mobile and completes work outside of the office at an increasing rate. The business and technology leaders who get the highest productivity rates from their employees are using their intranets to provide a communal space for their people to get things done securely.

Related Article: Does Your Company Really Need an Intranet?

Intranets Aren’t Data Silos

Companies used to shovel information by the terabyte into servers for years where it laid dormant or nearly inaccessible – and became harder to find as each day passed. Businesses are not using intranets this way any longer, for obvious reasons. Instead, modern intranets are positioned as a key component to a larger digital workplace strategy, creating a destination that proactively delivers content to users based on their needs and creates a space with tools that help workers do their job efficiently and effectively. These workplaces are heavily reliant on an open system that enables advanced integrations between the company’s intranet, communications platform, collaboration engines, and the third-party applications required to deliver relevant information directly to workers.

Modern intranets play a central role in data mobility. In fact, most leading intranets or employee experience platforms don’t even store data anymore. It’s the same principle that makes Airbnb the largest hotel brand in the world, even though it doesn’t own a single property. The purpose of the modern intranet is to make it easy for people to access critical information when they need it most, whether it’s in the office or from the road with a mobile device. Connected platforms make corporate data available everywhere so intranets no longer serve as idle data warehouses.

Related Article: Internal Communicators, Please Don't Abandon the Intranet

Modern Intranets Emphasize Data Relevance

Now that we’ve updated our definition of what a modern intranet is — and isn’t — let’s tackle another common myth: outdated content. The easiest way to ensure content on corporate intranets is fresh, relevant and accurate is to add some measure of accountability to content creators. Too often, content is posted with little thought as to whether employees are accessing, sharing or otherwise finding it useful. When a company doesn’t create content with a specific purpose, these documents clog up the enterprise search function and make it difficult to find useful information. 

When discussing documents, many organizations put a time stamp on information and retire the content without much thought. While that’s a good way to keep content fresh, it’s also a good way to force enterprise content creators to rewrite perfectly good information for employees. Data is never outdated if it is actionable and useful.

The modern intranet will never be perfect, but it will remain valuable as long as it's used effectively within an organization. Businesses need to update their perspectives and view intranet platforms as critical informational hubs that deliver relevant content to employees. We’ll see AI and machine learning integrate more deeply with these solutions to offer more customizability and insights for workers. Companies that do the legwork now to get their infrastructure set up for this capability will be able to reap significant employee engagement and productivity benefits down the road.