Even if your own organization does not use an intranet, the chances are that you have heard of it, and what it does. Intranets, sometimes referred to as employee portals, are a hugely useful tool for organizations. They simplify and enhance many elements of organizational work, such as human resources (HR), accounting, procurement, communication and more. Intranets are designed to be safe and secure, as well as working for – and with – employees on creating an inclusive and engaging workspace.
This article takes you through all that you need to know about intranets and how they are indispensable for your business. We will cover how cloud-based intranets can be an affordable and secure tool for your company, the differences between ‘intranets’, ‘extranets’, and the ‘internet’, and how intranets can be used to empower your workforce and encourage collaboration.
What is an intranet software?
An intranet is an example of a computer network whose principal purpose is to facilitate information and communication between a set of stakeholders, usually a closed group, such as an organization. The idea of an intranet is to make this sharing of information easier and more secure by limiting ‘external’ people, such as the general public or the competition, from accessing your information. As such, intranets are often secured and need specific credentials to use.
A cloud-based solution
As organizations become ever more complex, they are handling significantly higher amounts of information, and a lot of this is moving online as organizations move to become as paperless as possible.
More traditional forms of data storage (such as saving documents on a network drive which an entire team or company can access) require server capacity and space specific to their organization. Nowadays, this is simply not practical as organizations would need to have additional data capacity across multiple servers to achieve this. This enhanced capacity comes with additional cost, through the real estate it takes up and the systems needed to be purchased.
Cloud computing is often considered ‘trendier’, as it’s a modem and fresh approach to moving a business online. Questions are being asked in organizations such as, “If our competitors are moving to a cloud-based model, then why aren’t we?”.
Cloud-based intranets offer several advantages, the first of which is that they are easy to set up and can be scaled or modeled according to your needs. Additionally, this means there are several significant economies of scale in doing so.
Tailoring your content strategy on a cloud-based intranet is easy to do. If you need greater emphasis on visual material such as photos and videos, then a cloud model can do this. If you just need space for profiles and documents, no problem either.
Because cloud intranets can store more, they are incredibly agile, promoting greater collaboration across work groups. Over time, and with the right training, this ease of access reduces anxieties and stress connected to use of technology. This in turn creates a stronger sense of teamwork and employee engagement.
A secure network
Because many clouds are ‘public’, in the sense that your data is stored alongside other organizations’, the security of cloud-based intranet systems is always a key question. Nevertheless, modem cloud systems offer their clients multiple levels of security that will give organizations and their IT managers peace of mind.
Users of cloud-based intranet systems are offered training on how to keep them secure, and there are numerous authentication options available to stop unauthorized access. IP addresses or ranges can be restricted, and content auditing and approval channels adds an extra layer of protection.
Ultimately, the best level of security comes from the content on cloud-based intranet systems being encrypted. This gives employers peace of mind when it comes to uploading potentially sensitive information online, such as personally identifiable information (PII), or financial documents. Permissions must always be sought from the employees, before uploading any PII.
Intranet, Extranet, Internet: What’s the Difference?
Very often, the terms ‘intranet’, ‘extranet’ and ‘internet’ are used interchangeably, especially within an organization. Nevertheless, there are some fundamental and critical differences between the three of them. These differences mainly concern access restrictions. The best way of thinking about this is when comparing intranets, extranets, and the internet to layers of a pearl. The innermost layer of the pearl is the most secure. Here, we find intranets. The middle layer of the pearl refers to extranets, and the outermost layer of the pearl, with the least security, is the internet.
The internet is the name given to the global, hyper-connected network of computers and data which most people around the word use to share information and connect with each other. The internet is essentially the network which supports the World-Wide Web; every webpage you might click on. By and large, the internet is unrestricted, save for any local security measures you have in place. An organization might use the internet to display their products, services, and contact information for customers to use.
At the other end of the range, you have intranets. These are private networks used by organizations to communicate and connect. Intranets are tightly controlled, use heavy encryption, and offer access only to people who have specific logins or credentials. Because only a single company or organization will have access to intranets, they are mainly used for organizations to share private or sensitive information. This will be anything unsuitable for a public audience, such as employee documents, non-disclosable competitor information, or financial information, and so on.
Intranets and extranets are similar, but extranets offer a little more accessibility. These are private networks which are open to those people or organizations connected to the central organization in some way, for example vendors, suppliers, or franchisees. An extranet might be used by an organization for sending or receiving orders, transferring information, or to host email programs.
Empower your workforce
Intranets offer many benefits to organizations, ranging from simple and secure data storage, special tools such as HR or finance support, and a way to communicate in a safe and specific way.
Intranets can also offer means to empower the workforce and significantly and directly contribute to employee satisfaction. This is achieved mainly through offering a comprehensive HR self-service completely at their fingertips twenty-four hours a day, as well as supporting and enhancing internal communications.
An HR self-service at their disposal
Intranets are commonly used to organize and provide access to many different HR tools. This will often begin with publishing an overview of the company and its strategic initiatives, such as its values, vision, mission, and goals. Although this information will be covered on the internet as well, employees might be given a deeper understanding of these areas as well as information about how their role or department contributes to wider organizational narrative.
Alongside top-level company information, the intranet will also offer employees news updates and other company announcements. This information can be customizable, and displayed in the form of notifications or pop-ups, to ensure employees receive the news as soon as they log on to the intranet.
Intranets also support a consistent approach to HR policy and process. Document templates, policies, standards, and job aids can all be uploaded and shared on the intranet, meaning everyone has access to the same information. This removes ambiguity and the risk of someone doing or communicating something which isn’t in line with established standards, rules or even law. Having these documents online also simplifies the request process for them. Rather than emailing someone to ask for the documents, an employee only has to log on and download what they need.
Employees can also view other company documents through the intranet, such as e-signed forms, letters, absence and vacation information, and contracts, as well as archives of information such as annual reports or photos.
Develop your team
Intranets can also engage and empower employees through offering a streamlined way to manage performance. Managers can use HR intranet to set their employees goals, which can be tracked virtually, with the results uploaded in real time.
These goals can then be measured against performance standards which can in turn feed into appraisals. Paperless appraisals can be completed via the intranet between the employee and their manager. The advantages of paperless appraisals are the ease of how they can be updated, and authorized. Historic appraisals can be stored, and the contents used to create meaningful action plans.
Learning and development programs can also be built into intranets. By simply logging in, candidates can enroll in courses, and partake in e-learnings. All completion and certification can be recorded virtually and added to the employee’s record. Once again, this is a very efficient way of storing data, as learning history can be archived and sorted easily.
The above information can all be combined into what are known as ‘internal résumés’, online career profiles stored on intranets that are specific to an employees’ time in the organization. These are updated automatically as goals are achieved, appraisals completed, and learning undertaken. Internal résumés are then used by leadership to assess employees’ suitability for promotion, or to rank employees as part of a succession planning activity.
Reinforce internal communications
Intranets don’t only facilitate the flow of career development information. All information uploaded onto intranets can be swiftly and comprehensively updated if needed. This ensures internal communication channels are always kept open and accurate. Compared to more tangible internal communication tools such as meeting, posters, noticeboards, and newsletters, online information can be quickly updated with only a couple of clicks.
Some intranets utilize blogging tools or an ‘internal wiki’, a bank of knowledge which can be edited by anyone in the organization. With moderation to ensure all changes are accurate, blogs and wikis can empower employees, increase the accessibility of information and be updated in real time.
The open nature of intranets means that in theory, every employee has an equal shout when communicating, and this dialogue can happen in many different directions. Employees can collaborate through the intranet with their own teams, with other units or even directly with senior management and C-suite executives. Some intranet programs have internal chat tools built in, with some companies using this to host regular Q&A forums with their CEO.
Open communication channels contribute to enhanced socialization. Employees will find it easier to connect with each other and disseminate organizational news and updates. Some intranets go beyond offering chat programs, by offering a full suite of communication tools similar in style to email programs and even bulletin boards. Replicating official correspondence, as well as ‘watercooler’ moments not only increases socialization, but the overall impact of internal communication. Both go a long way to driving a strong culture of employee engagement.
Another benefit to internal communication that an intranet brings is mobile functionality. Intranets are not just limited to employees sitting at desks at home or in the office. Websites with responsive design are becoming the norm, meaning that employees can access intranet systems on the move, such as when traveling or at a networking event.
Unlike other sources of business information, such as an HR department or an employee assistance phone line, the intranet is never ‘closed’. Employees wanting information out of hours, or in need of urgent documents or processing vacation request forms can use the intranets whenever they want.
Intranets, once exclusively used only by large or prestigious organizations, are becoming an increasing necessity in today’s modern and connected world. Employee expectations are increasing, and their working day is becoming busier and more demanding. Intranets connect employees with each other and provide them with huge swathes of information which allowthem to get their job done. Intranets can be used to develop employees and chronicle their journey through the organization.
Underpinning all these incredible advantages is increasingly sophisticated technology meaning your organization’s data is kept safe and in the right hands. Developments in cloud technology means that having a comprehensive and secure intranet can result in significant cost savings. In short, there are few reasons not to invest in a company intranet. It’s win-win and could be the best decision you make to drive your organization forward.