An intranet is a private network that can only be accessed by authorized users. The prefix "intra" means "internal" and therefore implies an intranet is designed for internal communications. "Inter" (as in Internet) means "between" or "among." Since there is only one Internet, the word "Internet" is capitalized. Because many intranets exist around the world, the word "intranet" is lowercase. Some intranets are limited to a specific local area network (LAN), while others can be accessed from remote locations over the Internet. Local intranets are generally the most secure since they can only be accessed from within the network. In order to access an intranet over a wide area network (WAN), you typically need to enter login credentials. Intranets serve many different purposes, but their primary objective is to facilitate internal communication. For example, a business may create an intranet to allow employees to securely share messages and files with each other. It also provides a simple way for system administrators to broadcast messages and roll out updates to all workstations connected to the intranet. Most intranet solutions provide a web-based interface for users to access. This interface provides information and tools for employees and team members. It may include calendars, project timelines, task lists, confidential files, and a messaging tool for communicating with other users. The intranet website is commonly called a portal and can be accessed using a custom intranet URL. If the intranet is limited to a local network, it will not respond to external requests.
Intranet - Historical Background
Intranets have come a long way since first creeping onto the digital scene back in the 1990s. To understand the role they play today, it helps to look back at the earliest versions and see how they’ve evolved.
- 1990s: The World Wide Web explodes into wide commercial use. This period also makes the earliest appearance of the intranet, traditionally as a singular welcome page with essential, basic company information. Flat, text-heavy with the traditional blue hyperlinks, they served to deliver basic company communications before developing to a clunky document management system (DMS) by the mid-late 1990s.
- 2000s: Technology was developing, and the intranets followed suit. Help desk features were introduced, enabling users to perform transactional processes such as finding colleagues on the employee directory, performing basic HR functions such as booking absences or searching for information. Platforms began to integrate the company brand and identity with content and applications designed to support employees in their day-to-day roles. While still heavily weighted as a company information tool, intranets could deploy better search features, allowing employees to access the information they needed quickly and effectively.
- 2010s: Entering the public domain is the phenomenon that became social media. Recognizing the value of these tools, many intranets began to follow suit and integrate basic social functions including limited blogging tools, wikis and discussion forums. Now, the intranet was no longer about one-way communication from the top down: it was a place for conversations. Intranets also swept up developments in document management, offering better access to centralized information. Communities began to appear, as early forms of collaboration emerged. Forms also saw improvements, meaning intranets could serve a cross-functional role in business: helping employees to self-serve and making some basic, common workflows more efficient.
- Recent years: Sweeping up developments in social media, intranets now give precedence to user profiles and incorporate an array of social features, such as @mentioning, #tagging, microblogging or commenting. Activity streams provide real-time insights and information, while increasingly sophisticated algorithms and data analytics allow for greater personalization, pushing recommended content to users. User experience is given greater focus and investment, with developments in design, accessibility, performance and user journeys. Integration functionality is now common, with intranets designed to work in partnership with other applications. Intranets, as we know and recognize them today, are far removed from the earliest versions in the corporate market and show great flexibility to evolve and change with wider technological trends.
Uses of the Intranet
Potential uses of an intranet include:
- Streamlining everyday activities by making repeated tasks more feasible.
- Centralizing and managing important information and company data in a single database.
- Making collaboration easier since information can be shared across the entire network.
- Providing personalized content to employees based on their role within the company.
- Improving internal communication by making employee directories, company news and organization charts readily available.
- Providing fast and easy access to information about company policies, benefits and updates.