You do not need to be an Internet professional to recognize the basic difference between a company’s intranet and its online presence. An intranet, the internal system, is protected against external access and contains non-public information. Online content, however, can be accessed by anyone. If you take a closer look, it’s clear that many different aspects must be considered and play an important role. We will therefore turn our attention in these two articles to the question of how to differentiate between an intranet and a website. First, we will look at the organizational aspects before dealing with the technical aspects in the following article.
The focus: users’ needs
Intranets and websites are fundamentally different. These differences exist both on the organizational and technical levels. Both systems, however, are means of digitally displaying existing communication and interaction patterns to the respective target groups of the systems.
Intranet and websites are not ends in themselves, rather they are used by companies to reflect things that function in the analogue world today, but in the digital realm.
Buzzwords like web 2.0 and social media often mean only that the systems are in some way more personal, approachable and better suited to the needs of recipients:
It is not we who determine how the website or intranet looks, but the needs of our users.
This is a basic and irrefutable realization that determines the success or failure of a digital system.
An intranet is meant for employees and people within a company. Often, intranet and extranet are operated as one or two similar systems. In this case, business partners, suppliers and existing customers also belong to the target group. The main objective of intranets and extranets is to promote interaction and transaction. Forms of interaction are digital communication, exchanging messages and discussion. Examples of intranet transactions are registering for a training event or submitting a request for time off.
A website has many target groups. These groups are mainly interested parties, future customers and sometimes existing customers. Often, secondary target groups include the media, the public, a company's own employees and partners, potential employees and applicants.
The main tasks of a website are presenting yourself to customers and informing them. Frequently, interesting information about the company's range of products and services is presented in a visually appealing way. A website is first and foremost a marketing instrument.
The onion layer model
The organizational aspects of intranet and Internet are best explained using the onion metaphor. There are binding rights for accessing information in a company, which are represented by the different layers of the onion:
Fig.: The intranet according to the onion layer model
- In more conventionally run companies, shareholders and the management have the most comprehensive access and deepest insight. (For now, we will ignore the fact that in stock corporations, shareholders have less access than the managing board and, for simplification, assume this is an owner-operated company).
- The HR department also has comprehensive and personal insight, such as relevant information about information about salaries and the staff.
- Other managers in the company (in this case, heads of department and group leaders) may also have access to the staff data of the employees reporting to them.
- In successful intranets, employees themselves often provide the most information but are unable to view the innermost part of the onion. In the intranet, users can often move freely to the outer layers of the onion but cannot move further into the onion than their own position allows.
We talk about the "onion within the onion" if, for example, the Research & Development department of a pharmaceutical company grants access to their own information internally, but excludes even the executive management from accessing it.
The extranet of a company has external employees, partners & suppliers, applicants and existing customers as target groups. The extranet is usually operated in a separate system in order to guarantee information is secure and critical content is clearly separated.
Should you integrate your website and intranet?
The website is frequently supplied with information from the intranet. A successful intranet is a gold mine of high-quality customer information for the marketing department. The information only needs to be processed properly.
Content is often moved from the intranet to the Internet during a multi-stage publication process, at the end of which approved and processed content is manually transferred to the website.
Integrating the website and intranet, however, is not necessary to do this. No direct interfaces and no "single-system solution" are required. Ideas like this cannot be justified from an organizational perspective and are, at best, based on technical considerations. These considerations, however, should be met with skepticism because the target groups and objectives are so different.
In fact, the desire for a single central system for the website and intranet usually comes from the company’s (misconceived) notion that a single central system will be simpler or is based on economic sales calculations by the service provider commissioned with implementing the solution for the company.
At the same time, the integration between extranet and website is conceivable and possible. Usually, however, a simple linking is appropriate and sufficient.
This brings us to the technical aspects of differentiating between intranet and Internet. These aspects and an overview of the various requirements with regards to internal, semi-open and open systems within the company are provided in the second article on this subject.
Internal and external corporate communication: We are your partner
Do you want to optimize your intranet? Are you evaluating tools to make your internal communication more effective and efficient and help you coordinate with customers and partners? Or are you looking for better ways to adapt your website to the requirements of your users?
We are experts for internal and external corporate communication and would be happy to assist you however we can with our conceptual and technical expertise gained from numerous intranet and web projects. Feel free to contact us with no obligation!