The intranet is essentially a small-scale version of the internet, operating with similar functionality, but existing solely within the firm. Like the internet, the intranet uses network technologies such as Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). It allows for the creation of internal networks with common internet applications that can allow them to communicate with different operating systems (Newell et al 2000).
Although it need not be, the intranet is usually linked to the internet, where broader searches are implemented. However, outsiders are excluded through security measures such as firewalls.
The Role of the Intranet
The intranet can be a very useful tool in the knowledge management process. It allows for the integration of multimedia communication and can act as a platform for groupware applications and publishing. It is intended to enhance collaboration, productivity, and socialization, but also to influence organizational culture and to act as a repository for embedded knowledge.
Robertson (2009) identifies seven key roles of the intranet homepage:
- key tools
- key information
- community and culture
- internal marketing
The focus is to provide a useful site that enhances work practices, communicates key information, provides the right navigation tools, and helps define organizational culture. Many factors have to be balanced to create the right homepage, including quality of content, site design, site navigation, site & content maintenance and updates, and the application of tools that are directly useful to the business processes and networks. The objectives of the intranet will also vary depending on the individual business, and may focus more on certain aspects than others.
Perhaps the most important function of the intranet is knowledge sharing and collaboration. The main functions supporting this are (Damsgaard & Scheepers 1998 in Newt et al 2000):
- Publishing: E.g. homepages, newsletters, documents, employee directories.
- Searching: The intranet can integrate different search functions, e.g. through a search engine or using a system of categorization.
- Transacting: Allows user to make transactions with other web/intranet homepages.
- Interacting: Collaborative applications and other groupware, expert finders, directories, etc.
- Recording: It can be used as a storage medium for such elements as procedures, best practices, and FAQs (embedded and explicit knowledge).
Successful Intranet Implementation
Naturally, the implementation of the intranet must be done in line with organizational needs, processes, and objectives, as outlined in the section on implementation of knowledge management systems.
One specific and key concern is the selection of the search engine. Google offers an option for on-site search, which you can read more about here.
In his article, "The Ten Best Intranets of 2011", Jakob Nielsen (2011) indicates that the best intranets implemented solutions in the following areas:
- Knowledge sharing: This aspect is very similar to what I have discussed so far on this site and includes the sharing of all manner of explicit knowledge, but also connecting people that require assistance to experts that can help them.
- Innovation management: By incorporating tools that support the recording and management of new ideas.
- Comments: This is an easy way to allow users to contribute with their insight. This type of loose, unstructured communication can provide some limited tacit knowledge transfer and can encourage participation.
- Ratings: An even quicker, albeit shallower, way for people to point to good sources of knowledge.
- Participation rewards: Point systems, badges, and other symbolic rewards actually increase participation. Sometimes non-symbolic rewards (i.e. actual prizes) were used.
- Customized collections: By allowing users to customize content collections, one can bypass the shortcoming of never being fully able to predict a user's knowledge and information needs.
The extranet is an extension of the intranet to the firm's external network, including partners, suppliers and so on. The term is sometimes used to refer to a supplementary system working alongside the intranet or to a part of the intranet that is made available to certain external users.
The extranet provides a shared network with limited, controlled access to organizational information and knowledge resources, and uses security protocols, such as authentification, to limit access. An extranet can enhance collaboration and information transfer with partners in the external network.
Security is a key concern, and a firm must protect its crucial knowledge and information resources. This can be done using firewalls, use of encryption, and simple or strong authentification. Simple authentification involves usernames and passwords, while strong authentification makes use of digital certificates.
The content of both intranets and extranets is usually managed with a content management system.