Dangers When Introducing Intranets

Writing toolsYou may have gotten the impression from our blog, presentations, workshops, and in many places on the web, that we believe an intranet is a tool that is suitable for every purpose. Certainly, we do believe that a well designed, functioning and well-accepted intranet is a wonderful, important and useful tool for any company.

Even so, we continue to get questions about the risks of corporate intranets, because of something a person has read or heard. Basically, yes, an intranet can be dangerous. In most cases, only in theoretical scenarios, but these must be taken seriously when discussing the introduction of an intranet.

Misuse/Security risks caused by employees

Some decision makers are particularly distrustful of including or strengthening the involvement of employees in the communication process. They fear that employees will intentionally misuse the company’s intranet, or inadvertently harm the company:

  • Openness is not wanted in all companies. (All employees with appropriate rights can change content.)
  • There is the possibility for the intentional spread of false information, deliberately hidden amongst a large number of valid changes.
  • False information may be spread unintentionally.
  • Important information can be “stolen” with copy&paste.
  • There is a theoretical danger that harmful code may be introduced through user input.
  • Information can be saved in the intranet that doesn’t belong there (e.g. confidential customer information that shouldn’t be accessible by everyone, password lists that shouldn’t be searchable, etc.).

Chaos

Other fears center on the organization of the content: On the one hand, lost or misplaced information. On the other hand, redundant and worthless content.

  • Documents may exist multiple times and in various stages of development, and this can confuse users: If they don’t eliminate this problem as they come across it, it continues to grow.
  • Data storage: Data may be indiscriminately imported, e.g. from network drives.
  • There may be unsorted, non-categorized, and non-context-based content.

System complexity

IT departments are occasionally particularly concerned about the systems involved. Because of the number of systems already used by their company, they see adding more tools as introducing the following additional and critical risks:

  • It may cause competition with other systems that should be used together, and not instead of each other.
  • Redundancy: Information from one “category” can be in two different places. That is a problem, and should not be ignored.
  • Not another system?! We should first ensure that the existing systems are properly and fully used: Stop starting, start finishing!

Costs

Some companies are wary of the difficult-to-calculate costs of an intranet project. Not without good reason, because even when an intranet has been launched, it accumulates running costs and always needs internal resources to keep it in good order:

  • The intranet can be a “bottomless pit”.
  • There are fixed and ongoing costs for servers, maintenances, licenses, updates, add-ons, editors, …
  • There is a possible long-term dependency on specialists.

Data Security

The employee representatives (workers’ council) and data security groups are particularly concerned about the company’s sensitive information.  Criticism focuses on the following two risks:

  • Employees may access too much information about their colleagues.
  • Strict data protection guidelines in the company may be violated.

Stability, performance and safety

Again from a technological perspective, there is the risk that products from various software vendors or open-source communities must be integrated into the system, and it is not foreseeable in the middle to long term, whether these companies or communities will continue to exist or support their products:

  • Many add-ons come from third-party vendors: The lack of secure integration and maturity has the potential to damage the entire system.
  • The future development of the intranet software (or add-on) is not guaranteed (e.g. since the fork of TWiki, one of the most mature open-source wiki software products, it has hardly been developed).

As noted at the beginning: Most of these risks are theoretical in nature, and may or may not have the potential to influence your intranet project. Some risks are almost meaningless in a corporate setting (e.g. cyber-vandalism by employees, or edit wars). Sometimes these risks are caused by misunderstandings, and can be minimized when the appropriate organizational and technical expertise is available. These risks must still be discussed in the planning stages of an intranet project.

Are you faced by these concerns when planning to introduce an intranet, or do you need support with an existing project? Would you like to see a few more advantages to be convinced that it’s a good idea? We are experts in both corporate communications and intranets, and would love to help you mitigate the risks as you plan and implement your project, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

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Further information

Intranets from the point of view of the employee representatives: Tips, tricks and mistakes
Corporate communication and Intranet 2.0
Survey results: Requirements for Confluence intranets
How companies fail in choosing intranets

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