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The humble intranet has been used by businesses for many years, but in more recent times has evolved to become a much more powerful tool than it was in the past. This has been helped along by the advances in technology that we’ve seen take place over the past couple of decades.

An intranet is like a scaled-down version of the internet, where employees can access shared documents, social profiles, wikis and more. Given the right tools, the intranet can also be used for collaborating with colleagues and other key stakeholders.

Whilst once connecting to and using the internet was a tedious affair, now high-speed connections and improvements to the web overall have made the internet a vital business tool. The majority of organisations now have a web presence, but more importantly, the intranet has improved to the extent that it’s now possible to collaborate online via the cloud and shared workspaces.

Collaborating with Colleagues

Online collaboration tools (eg Skype Video Chat, Google Hangouts, screencasting tools, etc) have greatly improved, along with various other tools that are often initiated on the intranet.

Collaboration benefits an organisation by:

  • Facilitating better communication between departments and offices
  • Giving employees the ability to carry out their job more effectively, in turn boosting morale
  • Allowing an organisation to better manage knowledge
  • Enabling employees to work together and produce better outputs

If we add the extranet to this, which allows those outside of an organisation to connect to parts of the intranet, then we also see improvements in communication and collaboration between the organisation and supplier and other partners.

Connecting with Partners

Extending the intranet to include portal access for outside organisations can improve information sharing when two businesses are involved in a business deal. Whilst the extranet doesn’t have to be connected to e-commerce, according to Chris Webster, speaking to Computer Weekly (in 2000 no less!), the “benefits are becoming much more quantifiable as extranets become e-commerce tools.”

“You’re really looking at cost savings,” he went on to say. Computer Weekly further state that “the prospect of reducing cost-per-trade by automating it and taking away the manual work will definitely appeal to the average finance director.” And this is what extending the extranet can do; take away the time necessary for dealing with other companies as they are essentially using the extranet for self-service and for improved collaboration.

In the same article, Nicola Price argues that it’s not only in cost savings that an organisation might see the benefit of using an extranet. “the real benefits come from streamlining and structuring processes,” she says, “It's easier to make a decision about a purchase if all the information is easily accessible online, she says, and can dramatically reduce the time taken to evaluate different prices and sign up to a deal.”

Improving Relationships

The intranet and the extranet, through providing a means of more effective communication, can improve relationships between employees and other key stakeholders. According to a recent study carried out on ‘employee activism’ 39% of people who use social media on a personal level have “shared praise or positive comments online about their employer.”

This is encouraging as it indicates that these users are engaged with their employer. On the intranet, social tools, when implemented and used by staff, can increase engagement with both the intranet and the employer.

Enterprise collaboration tools found on an intranet include:

According to Melcrum, citing a Watson Wyatt Communication ROI Study, “high employee engagement equals high financial performance.” The research found that those companies “that communicate effectively with employees have a 19.4% higher market premium than companies that don’t.”

So effective communication can not only improve on morale and relationships with suppliers and employees, it also contributes to improving an organisation’s revenue.

“Firms that communicate effectively are 4.5 times more likely to report high levels of employee engagement versus firms that communicate less effectively,” said Melcrum.

Of course, organisations that can improve communications on the intranet and the extranet with social enterprise network features, will also enjoy a lower turnover of staff.

Intranet Trends

In recent years we’ve seen businesses shift from owning all of their IT infrastructure to deploying parts of it to the cloud. This has enabled even better employee collaboration as cloud services can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. It has also seen a rise in the number of remote workers as it’s now possible to have an entire workload hosted in the cloud. For example, Desktop-as-a-Service (also known as virtual desktops) allow a user to access all of their work applications and documents from any location. The desktop is presented to the user in such a way that it can be fully personalised, including everything from wallpapers to documents, so that they are available as soon as the user logs in.

Mobile too has changed the way that we work and it’s now common to see staff using personal devices at work. This initially presented security concerns for many organisations, but the MDM (Mobile Device Management) market has risen to provide an answer for this.

Elearning and the Internet of Things

We’ve also seen elearning become increasingly popular in recent years, as technology has improved enough to ensure that it too can become a social experience for staff.

In coming years we’re likely to see further disruptive technology enter enterprises such as the Internet of Things and wearable technology. The former can allow certain machinery within the workplace communicate with each other, whilst the latter is another area in which we’re likely to see movement on a personal devices level.

General Electric has already dubbed the use of IoT in the enterprise the Intranet of Things and predicts that companies will in the future connect assets to the intranet in order to collect data. This could further in theory boost productivity and importantly, earnings, by as much as 25-40% on today’s earnings.

Whilst currently wearable tech is in its infancy, and reports suggest that even the market leader – Apple – hasn’t produced a watch that is truly functional, it’s likely that the tech will mature within a couple of years and we’ll begin to see devices sneak into the enterprise for everyday use.

Summary

So to sum up, intranets and extranets helps in connecting, communicating and collaborating with others - colleagues, suppliers, partners and other key stakeholders. Collaboration platforms such as intranet solutions should be implemented to better facilitate this and the rewards for the organisation can be plentiful. Not only can revenues be significantly improved by offering cost savings and improved productivity, but morale and relationships can also be cemented.

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