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Intranet vs digital workplace solutions

22 September 2021
  

What exactly is the difference between an intranet and a digital workplace? Which is the best solution?

During this pandemic era, businesses have heavily invested into technologies that help employees to continue to do their work and communicate with each other. A lot of companies have invested heavily into intranet and digital workplace solutions to combat communication breakdowns and to keep the wheels of business turning.

Intranets and digital workplaces are different however, some of the terminology used to describe them is interchangeable. This has led to a lot of people being confused about what they are and how they are different.

This blog covers:

 

What does an intranet mean to you?

If you’ve clicked onto this blog then I’m assuming that you are already familiar with the concept of an intranet and you’re wondering how the concept of a digital workplace is different? Let’s start with your perception of an intranet. If like me, you started in the working world many years ago you will probably remember the archaic intranet: a clunky, outdated dumping ground that if we had gifs for tumble weeds back then, they should have definitely owned a spot on the home page!

Thankfully there have been a lot of advancements within the intranet space since then. Today’s intranets can be used as powerful communication platforms. Modern intranets often host a number of features including: notice boards, data dashboards, social media feeds such as Yammer, and so on.

 

So how is a digital workplace solution different to an intranet?

Let’s start with Microsoft’s definition of a digital workplace:

“The digital workplace encompasses all the technologies people use to get work done in today's workplace… It ranges from your HR applications and core business applications to e-mail, instant messaging and enterprise social media tools and virtual meeting tools.”

Notice here how it states “all technologies people use to get work done”. Think about ‘macro’ and ‘micro’. The digital workplace is the macro environment in which all of your digital tools sit. The intranet is a micro environment that sits within the digital workplace. It may include some of an organisation’s communication and document storing tools. Check out the diagram below:

A diagram showing how an intranet sits within a digital workspace. The intranet sits alongside all productivity apps within the digital workspace.

 

SaaS productivity apps

Most of the other technologies that people use to get work done within a digital workplace can be defined as SaaS (applications delivered over the Internet) productivity apps (software used for producing information).

Examples of SaaS productivity apps: 

  • HubSpot - Offers a full platform of marketing, sales, customer service, and CRM software
  • tyGraph - A suite of reporting and analytics tools for Microsoft 365
  • harmon.ie - A suite of tools makes it easy to share and find information across SharePoint, Microsoft Teams, and OneDrive, directly from Outlook.

Interchangeable descriptions of intranet and digital workspace solutions

There can be a lot of confusion around the descriptions of digital workplace solutions and intranets. Similar language gets used to describe both. It is often said that purpose of each platform is to share and store knowledge. They are both often also described as a place where collaboration and communication happens. But there are differences, and the below section aims to set some of these differences apart.

 

Intranet purpose

Think of an intranet as a final destination (not like the film lol). It’s a place to put finalised content and services that are ready for use and to be showcased to the rest of the organisation:

  • Marketing material
  • Policies and procedures
  • Services from HR, Finance, IT etc
  • An information hub that showcases news, events, updates about company strategy etc
  • Provides access to applications and business processes
  • Launch new company led initiatives.

Let’s now apply some of these examples:

Marketing material

The intranet can be a useful place for the marketing team to put their latest and finalised materials. Sales and customer service staff know they can always come to the same place to get the marketing material they need for clients. They trust it’s the latest, up-to-date version and they can quickly find it. This relieves pressure, especially if they are dealing with a customer requiring something urgent on the phone.

Policies and procedures

Think about all of the important policies and procedures the HR department within your organisation has to manage and inform employees on? Having the latest versions on the internet means that managers can onboard new starters a lot easier. They know where to go to get all of the latest information. This also reduces queries for the HR Team because employees know specifically what they need to do.

Internal self-service

You can log helpdesk queries for IT problems, holidays, fill out expense forms etc. By making these processes self-service it relieves the burden of the department that processes these requests. This can reduce departmental costs and/or allow a department to focus resources on other objectives. In an ideal world they could focus more on innovation and creative tasks. Self-service can reduce the number of cumbersome tasks a department may have to deal with. They are also not having to deal with as many backlogs due to increased activity of employee demand during peak times.

Company led initiatives

Showcasing company led initiatives on the intranet is a great way to receive feedback. Putting it out there to the whole organisation can generate insight and ideas from individuals that may never have had a chance to voice their opinion before and so some brilliant ideas may have never come to fruition.

Intranet from the business point of view

From the businesses perspective an intranet can inform and provide insight into what it needs employees to do culturally. It can select the preferred delivery of communication:

  • One way push communication for important messages and authoritative knowledge
  • Two-way communication for rolling out initiatives and gaining valuable feedback.

By structuring communication in this way employees know clearly what is expected of them.

This can strengthen the company culture. Implementing social elements means staff can get to know each other on a more human level. This is not only helpful for staff working from home and hybrid working but also for geographically dispersed employees.

 

Digital workplace solution purpose

Remember earlier how we said that that the digital workplace is where “all technologies people use to get work done” resides and that it’s the macro environment in which the intranet sits? If the intranet is the place where all content and services that are ready to be showcased to the rest of the organisation are held, then the digital workplace is the place where all of the content and services within an organisation are developed and created. The tools within a digital workplace can be used to:

  • Group knowledge, people and expertise
  • Provide business intelligence analytics and data.

Group knowledge, people and expertise

A digital workplace solution can enable you to centralise all of the knowledge, people and expertise you need for a specific project, case or account in one place. Let’s say you’re working on a specific project, named project Danube (actual true story, I once worked at an organisation that used famous rivers to name each project).

When you visit the project Danube workspace you can see:

  • All of the project members
  • You can collaborate with the project group members/individuals on a number of different communication platforms, Teams, Yammer, SharePoint etc
  • All of the project documentation is there, product specs, business requirement documents etc

Each project members has everything they need to complete their tasks. They can also see where everyone else is up to with their tasks. This set up makes collaborating with people to complete tasks a lot easier.

Different levels of collaboration

Whatever your role, if you work in a large organisation you will collaborate with different individuals, groups and departments to get tasks done. These can include:

  • Team level: teams are typically a small set of individuals (somewhere between 2 and 10) who work together on a daily basis to process a workflow, solve a problem or create something together. They typically know each other well and understand each other’s roles and how their role relates to each other.
  • Community level: this involves a number of teams who typically work together to process or develop something on a bigger level. For example: Sales, Marketing and Compliance may work together to create customer facing material within a financial institution. The different teams still understand what the other teams do, but the detail in their level of understanding on a specific individuals role(s) within the larger community level may decline. This can cause ‘things to be missed’.
  • Network level: think macro. This typically involves 3rd parties who don’t work for the organisation but they work with people within the organisation. Using the same example as above think about intermediaries or partners who may act as distribution channels for the financial institution. The level of detailed understanding who does what further decreases.

When you think about your organisation and how many of these different levels of collaboration that are taking place at any one time it can be mind blowing! And it can be so for employees who have to operate on a number of these different levels, on different tasks often simultaneously. This is why having everyone and everything you need to complete a task in one place is so important. A digital workplace solution allows you to cut through these levels and noise and get exactly what you need.

Digital workplace and asynchronous working

Put simply this is a way of working that doesn’t require everyone working towards a common goal to be working on it at the same time. A digital workplace is the perfect platform to foster this kind of working style. See our How to make hybrid working successful For further reading on this topic.

Provide business intelligence analytics and data

If business tasks, projects and workflows are carried out within a digital workplace environment, these processes and interactions happening across an organisation can be measured. Analytics and data can be harvested and used to justify performance and make business critical decisions. It enables a business to gain deep insights and measure the results of its activities. This data can even be visualised to bring about a deeper understanding.

 

Intranet versus digital workplace solutions - collaboration and communication differences

You can now see how collaboration and communication both take place within an intranet and a digital workplace solution. They are equally important in both.

In my mind I like to think about it as it’s like a theatre production. The intranet is the final show to be showcased. It can be both interactive and non-interactive with its audience and the audience sees exactly what the producers and actors want them to see. The digital workplace not only hosts the final show but it’s the place where all the people are working together to create and bring together the final show.

 

Functionality of a good digital workplace solution

Simple to use

A digital platform can have all the digital capabilities in the world but if it’s overly complicated then the functionality will get lost on the average user. The interface needs to be straightforward enough to be used by everyone, even less technically capable employees.

Close up of a lot of law reports in library

Single source of truth 

For any digital workplace solution to look beautiful and be a dream to use, it must organise it’s content effectively. Content must be easy to find for the user and easy to update and maintain for the owner.

 

 

Sunset view of the Golden Gate Bridge and fog from Battery Spencer,  Golden Gate National Recreation Area, in San Francisco, California.

It’s structurally sound

A digital workplace creates a lot of data. In order to function properly and process this data, it needs to be built on an infrastructure that can support the users’ needs and any ongoing maintenance efficiently. You may have heard the term Information Architecture? We won’t go into detail here but put simply, it is the structural design of a digital workplace. It encompasses how the digital workplace organises and labels the data within it.

Closeup young woman with worried stressed face expression eyes closed trying to concentrate with brain melting into lines question marks deep thinking.

Mundane tasks are reduced

Machines are getting clever. The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now being applied to many settings within the digital realm and the digital workspace is no different. Think about the amount of simple, mundane, repetitive tasks you do throughout your day. AI is now being developed to elevate the burden of some of these tasks. Take for example the task of extracting key information from important documents such as legal contracts, invoices, memorandums’ etc. A machine can be programmed to extract specific data from thousands of these sources, within seconds and at a highly accurate rate.

 

Why choosing a digital workplace (or digital workspace) makes sense?

It's never been more important to review your digital experience. The current state of creaking intranets and outdated technology has placed a heavy burden on businesses, but it doesn't have to stay this way.

 

Introduction to Atlas Digital Workspace

Atlas brings knowledge, communication and collaboration beautifully together in one digital space, enabling people to easily find and share information as well as vastly increasing collaboration and knowledge sharing. Atlas, by ClearPeople, is the only all-in-one people-first platform for Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Viva.

         Intranet vs Digital Workspace

 

Learn more about Atlas       Try Atlas Now

 

Author bio

Celine Broughton

Celine Broughton

My work hasn’t typically followed the traditional marketing pathway over the last 15 years. I’ve been involved in a wide range of projects including: bringing new products to market, implementing regulatory changes, acquisitions, data migration, strategic alignment, staff training and much more. This has given me valuable insight into the ways in which different businesses operate enabling me to build a strong analytical skill set.

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