When will we be freed from the intranet?

1/9/2008 | Christian Kreutz

From a knowledge management perspective Intranets are vital but so far inefficient. On one side, it is the only place where organizational information can be decentralized access 24/7. On the other side, the web behind the firewall is mostly top-down driven and hierarchical structured. The results are that only a tiny little fraction of social networking potential is possible and **that most Intranets **literally hinder possibilities to share knowledge.

Failure of Intranet Well designed and managed Intranets cover most topics from an organization or company. However, if you look at the potential of social networking, knowledge sharing and learning, the internal web is in most cases failing terribly. Intranets represent top-down communication and no personal knowledge is offered, except for some neat yellow pages. Some companies already replaced their content management system with a wiki, where employees change things as they know better. Instead, the norm is content management system and useless work flows. So, person A writes a text, person B approves it, and person C publishes it. There is a higher chance to call some colleagues to get better information than finding it in the internal web. Thus, only a tiny fraction of what is really happening in an organization is offered. One consequence is that learning in an organization happens only outside the web.

The clash of cultures There is a clash of culture between the Intranet sympathizers and those for open horizontal knowledge sharing. At the one end, there is the belief that information needs to be authoritatively managed and has to be standardized. Intranets often represent the wish of all relevant knowledge could be codified. At the other end, there is the belief that IT knowledge management solutions have to change, and emphasis should be on social networking. The read-write or collaborative web finally offers to the employees to use what fits best their needs. This, of course, changes the picture of what is happening in an organization. Intranets are planed mostly by small teams and too little focused is on the real needs of employees. Why do not let employees create their internal web then?

It will come anyway I think the classical Intranet -- a neat little homepage with different topics, a representation of each department, some yellow pages and maybe a document management system -- is history in a few years. Having the three click blog installation, easy collaboration through wikis and web based office products, and be able to connect in own networks will completely burr the lines between the Intranet and Internet. For so many work related tasks, tools are already freely available in the internet and employees will sooner or later take use of that on a massive scale. It will come anyway and it surely might be a bit chaotic to some extent. But, which meeting is consistent, purely orientated on knowledge sharing and learning in your organization? Furthermore, it is a big chance in an organizational setting because it can deepen already existing work relations in an even more trusted environment.


  • Obviously, one danger is that all information, conversation and ideas are spread over the internet. How can you find out about what your colleague is doing? The internal search engines does not grasp it and again the possible transparency and exchange is lost because of too many tools in too many places.
  • In the beginning it does need a learning phase of how to use each tool best. The key is to bring the right mixture of tools together, which fits best to the organizational culture.
  • A holistic approach is important, otherwise social software leads to an information overload. Therefore filters, feeds and consistency are decisive.
  • Social software depends heavily on its employee's engagement, contrary to conventional Intranets. If there is no motivation, then better stick to the old Intranet.
  • Web knowledge sharing can be very efficient, but it does not replace direct face to face communication.