Secure intranet in times of cloud services

This post was originally written by Martin Seibert for Team Empowerment: Insights 2017, published by Clearvision.

Cloud tools are popular, but intranets still have an important role to play

Google Drive, G Suite, Dropbox, Box, Office 365, Salesforce… all popular tools, but have these and other cloud services killed the intranet? Is this ‘new world’ of team collaboration and groupware solutions enough?

These are questions I hear a lot, particularly from people who run old and stale intranets. But as useful as these cloud solutions can be, there are numerous reasons the intranet still has a vital role to play in modern workplaces. In fact, there are multiple use cases where cloud systems are inherently weak – like news, reference, documentation, guidance, compliance, processes, discussion and digital social interaction.

Security is also a significant factor here. Dedicated intranet solutions like Confluence and Linchpin offer session-based access and can even require two-factor authentication. Cloud solutions don’t necessarily offer this level of security, while traditional communication channels like email are probably not even encrypted (in contrast, encryption is standard for Atlassian software).

What we’ve found with Linchpin is that an effective and efficient intranet can have significantly improve collaboration and communication – and even cloud tools can slot into this strategy.

Here, for example, are the tools I currently use and recommend:

  • Email: Gmail or G Suite, yes, also for large enterprises (Compliance fallback: IMAP mail server)
  • Task management: JIRA Server behind the firewall
  • Collaboration on text: Atlassian Confluence behind the firewall
  • Group chat: HipChat Server behind the firewall (Cutting edge: Telegram, but not enterprise-ready)
  • Top-down messages and personalized news: Linchpin intranet
  • Document storage and spreadsheets: Google Drive (Compliance fallback: shared drive)
  • Software development: Bitbucket server, Bamboo, Sonatype Nexus, Sonarqube (We call the Atlassian stack with the tools above ‘Codeyard’)

In the Intranet Compass there are over 60 use cases and features that are part of a good intranet. It is important to understand two things.

Best-of-breed

Some use cases are solved by individual software solutions so well that you won’t find a better way than using this software if you want to fully embrace the benefits in your company. One good example is trying to use Microsoft SharePoint for reference and documentation instead of Atlassian Confluence.

Integration and APIs

In RfPs and requirement lists they do not rank high. But as you cannot have one software application to solve it all, you need to care about integrating the solutions.

We are pretty satisfied with our set of software. Fast communication is on HipChat. Tasks live on JIRA. Concepts, guidelines and project documentation live in Confluence. All public discussions happen in our microblog in Confluence. Important messaging and corporate news are delivered fully personalized via Linchpin (mobile). And I am desperately waiting for the mandatory news to be delivered via push messages in the Linchpin mobile app.

If I were asked where things could be improved, I’d say better support of mobile use cases with Confluence server. Just look at how well Google does it – it’s established a seamless experience when changing from desktop to mobile and back. This text is actually written in Google Docs. Links will be added for more info and further reading on our desktop computers, and it will be shared with other editors for review corrections and improvements. After that, we’ll pass it on to Clearvision by granting them access. So the whole editing will work within Google technology.

We would only move the content to Confluence if we wanted it to be available for everyone – for example, as an onboarding piece for new employees to understand our toolset. Generally Microsoft Word-like technology is weak for collaboration. As soon as ten people have made some edits, everyone will have lost track and control of the changes in the document. Confluence is much better at that. Also if we work at a desktop computer, we would never create a Google Doc, because discoverability and retrieval via search aren’t good with Google Drive in our experience. In fact, if a rock-solid viewing and editing experience for smartphones ever came to Confluence Server, that would probably kill a lot of our Google usage.

We are fully aware that most of our big customers use Microsoft Office and think that if they create a Word-like file, this should be in Office365 – if the cloud is an option at all. My experience with the Office365 stack in comparison to G Suite is somewhat daunting. I see heaps of our customers look at Office365 and not even take a glance at Google (but that’s another story).

Intranet use cases

There are heaps of intranet use cases that cannot be covered by cloud services today. If your CEO wants to send a message to all employees effectively, Linchpin is the best solution I can think of. It’s more elegant than email, it offers healthy feedback and discussion channels, and it’s really reaching all employees, which is even measurable.

Here are a few more use cases:

  • Everything around process creation and documentation works better in an intranet, as everyone will work on the same version and know the current status at all times.
  •  Everything around working on text content with more than five people in our experience only works in Confluence in the long run.
  • Word files with multiple people adding change suggestions and comments become a collaboration hell quickly.
  • Working on text and tables that will live for months or years is something that Atlassian Confluence is really good at.
  • Constantly editing and changing documents where people want to stay on top of changes easily works seamlessly with the email notifications that include the actual change for every contributor.
  • Pretty interfaces that look like the corporate design of your company are part of our Linchpin Theme Plugin.
  • A native mobile app that allows employees to invest five to ten minutes per day to fully catch up with everything that is relevant to them from the whole company, their department and their team helps to breed transparency and alignment in your company.

If your company operates like most of our customers, you are drowning in email work. Do not make the mistake of simply counting the number of emails you get. Both Atlassian JIRA and Atlassian Confluence can send out a lot of notifications if you do not configure them correctly. It’s the time you spend with email per day that matters. Do you know what happens if you delete all of your emails from Confluence and JIRA today? Nothing. You could retrieve them from the in-app workboxes. Confluence and JIRA mails can easily be batched in droves and processed whenever you want.

Atlassian tools drive work out of emails and into transparent systems, which groups and ultimately the whole company can work on. The result is that every employee can find relevant info about his work, his team, his processes and his company. It may not always be free of redundancy or ambiguity, but compared with what we see in companies that do not use wikis and intranets actively, the level of transparency is much higher.

I mainly attribute this open culture for real collaboration to Confluence with Linchpin and JIRA.

More about Linchpin

Linchpin is a fully personalizable social intranet platform unlike any other. It connects modern digital collaboration in a team to classic management requirements all in one system.

News
• Supports top-down and bottom-up communication
• Flexibility for individual news concepts
• Streamlined editorial process with integrated approval workflows

Atlassian Confluence
• Real team collaboration and knowledge management
• Create content using templates with just a click
• Easily definable permission and role concepts

Personalization
• Strong user profiles including an employee search
• Personalized news feeds and navigation based on profile features
• Multi-language support for international corporations and yet local relevance for all teams in all sites

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