Intranets; inside-out

NOTE: this is about companies making parts of their intranet public; a braver move than creating employee extranets.

When I first started working in digital not everyone in the company had access to the internet, there were still concerns about time-wasting and risk (in fact exactly the same concerns now hover around access to social media sites). The result was that information on the company’s site was separately published on the intranet.

Companies handle a range of information, which can be roughly classified as;

  • public = for anyone to see, can be published or shared anywhere
  • internal use = for employees only
  • confidential = restricted to a small group of employees, often this information relates to customers

The first will be published on websites, and the first two on the intranet, the third would only be published in secure internal environment, if at all.

But these lines are becoming blurred. In a large company the information going onto the open intranet is increasingly considered “public”, partly because of the large audience it already reaches, and partly because it’s increasingly easy to share information outside the company. Secondly there’s an increasing expectation that employees will work from home, or from more mobile locations, it’s complicated to deliver an intranet within a firewall to mobile workers; and the work experience tends to be disappointing. So companies are turning to the internet as the infrastructure and building an extranet – where employees login to their work environment, IKEA is one such company.

This is not new, more than five years ago the Jericho Forum wrote about this, calling it de-perimeterisation, and predicting that companies not facing this reality will increasingly be left behind in the technical sphere.

So why have a separate intranet? Well the arguments come down to a different purpose for the intranet, wanting to use a different tone of voice, and a different target audience. But I suspect that the tone of voice and the purpose are merging, there used to be a striking difference in the formality of tone on external sites compared to internal, and that is disappearing. And the purpose is often to inform, to tell the whole company story – it should not matter if that is internally or externally.

A few companies have decided that it doesn’t and have made their intranets into public sites, these examples are from ASDA, Tesco and Royal Mail;

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I’ve heard Neil Barnett talk about the My Royal Mail site, and for them it solved a huge technological barrier, most of their employees are by the nature of their work on the road. It was really difficult to provide them with up to date information or give them any sort of engaging internet experience on the traditional “in-house” model of intranets.

All three companies also have parts of their intranet behind a login, but have chosen to share employee stories, information about working at the company, and employee-relevant campaigns. My Royal Mail, for example, has been campaigning for better dog control laws following attacks on delivery staff. Tesco’s showcases employee fundraising efforts – a source of pride for colleagues, and they provide an app for the site. ASDA connects to their public social media channels and publishes stories of incredible customer service.

I suspect this is a challenge for any company to consider, we are so used to thinking in terms of intranet for colleagues and internet for everyone else and the structure of communications functions within organisations reflects that. But our audiences are not neatly distinct – they may be customers and shareholders as well as employees- our content is no longer as compartmentalised as it once was and technology allows more permutations in presenting content.

It’s time to move away from rigidly defined channels, and think more holistically about our content, keeping in mind our shifting audiences and their changing needs.

images; screenshots taken of ASDA and Tesco sites 21 July 2013, image of My Royal Mail from the Digital Workplace Group

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