I recently read an article in CMSWire titled “Are Intranets Becoming Irrelevant?” (see article link below) that brought about some strong beliefs surrounding the use of social networking tools in the enterprise.

I have to first admit that I am not privy to the author, Tom Petrocelli’s research data and can only speak to the subject based on my own experience with our more than 1,600 customers, as a provider of intranet software for over 14 years which consists of both business tools and social utilities, as well as a dash of my own opinion, to which everyone is entitled.

The statement of debate is that enterprise social networking tools such as Yammer have taken the place of business intranets. The article states that “Ultimately, the goals and usefulness of an intranet can be achieved by the enterprise social network but not the other way around”.

I disagree. Intranets are far from obsolete and I’ll tell you why.

Resistance to Social Tools

I haven’t done a lot of data analysis on Yammer and Facebook functionality in the enterprise other than reading articles and blog posts like everyone else, but I have had my share of conversations with other experts in the field of intranets, and like us they are experiencing the same resistance and confusion of using social tools by real-life businesses facing real-life business problems.

How is a twitter-like feed of activity updates going to streamline and automate the intake of patient data within a hospital? Or help to organize vacation and leave requests for HR? How will it manage course registrations for the Maternity Ward nurses to learn how the new digital mammogram machine uses direct capture and HTC grid technologies? Or assist with the bare basics of publishing the new workplace injury policy as a mandatory read for everyone in the company?

Social networking tools help to facilitate communication surrounding the somewhat static but extremely relevant resources of documents, forms and applications full of functionality that are available on an intranet. Rather than replacing the intranet, the goals and usefulness of enterprise social networks should support the intranet’s relevance and effectiveness.

Social: An (Optional) Intranet Sidekick

Tom Petrocelli was kind enough to respond to my comment on his post but in doing so made a reference to SharePoint and the emergence of Yammer. SharePoint, like every other intranet vendor is attempting to capitalize on the power that social networking has in our personal lives. But make no mistake SharePoint has its customer base firmly rooted in Document Management and other business related tasks. SharePoint is an intranet, not a social networking tool. Yammer is a subset of SharePoint just as social networking tools are a subset of the intranet, not the other way around.

The emergence of social tools and the intranet today is a mandatory function of marketing to be quite honest and while I am hearing the collective gasp of that statement the reason I am bringing this to light is that small to medium size businesses in the United States and Canada (our market) seem to still be struggling with not only how to use social tools within their organizations, but if they even need to use them in order to drive better business. Our customers are far more interested in the ROI of Form Builder and eLearning, finding ways to bring manual paper processes online and creating shortcuts to better productivity.

The Future of Social

Personally I would love to see social tools take hold in the enterprise as I have a passion to show how the use of those tools can foster leadership, mentoring and connections. Two-way communication is a must for employee participation and engagement in any workplace. I see a huge leap forward in facilitating on-boarding tasks through the use of social networking on the intranet, but this is in conjunction with the resources, documents, forms, courses, tests, surveys and task related functions that are the very heart and center of a business intranet.

So are intranets irrelevant in the face of enterprise social networking tools? There are compelling arguments toward the opposite and that intranets are really just breaking stride in the potential productivity they can offer to employees.

Check out the article “Are Intranet’s Becoming Irrelevant?” on CMSWire and share your thoughts in the comments section below, as I welcome input into the ever-ending debate on this topic.


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