Advantages of merging the internet, intranet and extranet WCM layers


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Recently I came across a very interesting discussion in the Intranet Professionals group on LinkedIn where Margaret Pinchen, intranet manager at AB SKF, investigated the advantages of moving web communications tools to a single platform instead of using different solutions for website management and intranet.

The conclusions would seem to be obvious. Surely there are a number of obvious advantages, which come with a single platform running the organization’s web applications. However, the main issue here is the choosing the proper platform, one that is capable of covering the whole range of requirements and natively designed for interlayer communications. Otherwise, the organization can face serious integration difficulties and reduce the chances of a successful platform implementation.

Intranet solutions currently on the market can be divided into two parts: the ones targeting solely intranets and the ones that are a part of a more comprehensive content management.

The latter solutions primarily originate from the CMS market. The vendors started their businesses delivering customers website management systems and have since expanded their portfolio with customized products for launching corporate intranets/extranets. These products are normally built on the same content management engine and generally are a ready-made solution with pre-set structures and services adjusted for internal use.

The intranet-specific products, on the other hand, were designed with a single purpose: to provide effective tools for internal collaboration and communications. They feature some integration capabilities like connectors with legacy software (ERP, CRM, PLM, etc.) and are powered with documented API’s for integration with other third-party applications. But unlike platform-based solutions, integration is more like an option, rather than a ready-to-go function. Most importantly, these products are not specifically tailored for website management systems. Organizations still needed to develop interaction pathways between these layers, which seems to be quite a difficult task.

When developing intranet solutions, the platform vendors were initially targeting tight integration between the layers. Integration was not just an add-on for customers but a major selling point, differentiating them in the field of competition. For example, some solutions allows launching of pervasive business processes encompassing the internet and intranet layers and enabling organizations to publish content automatically on their websites directly from their intranet after the content is approved by the parties involved. It also enables connection of remote offices and introduces an enterprise-wide content policy.

There are a number of additional benefits to be gained by use of a single platform solution as opposed to using niche intranet solution.

A platform introduces a single security policy that smoothes out the fabric of all web applications and brings more usability to the environment. Single sign-on, user access management, anti-* (anti-virus, anti-spam, anti-hacker) tools tremendously simplify and improve the protection and integrity level of the all-in-one solution. At the same time, even a tightly integrated intranet-specific product may experience certain security gaps like accidental content exposure and cross-application user permissions. These issues require the development of inter-layer security measures, which is a very challenging task with lots of rocks below the surface.

A centralized administration console and unified backend allows orchestration of internet, intranet and extranet layers from a single location. This significantly reduces the probability of errors, supplies more management options (like unified business processes) and avoids extra expenses in the product integration process.

While it is hard to estimate the exact numbers of the key financial indicators of both approaches, it’s quite obvious that with a platform the organization escapes a number of extra expenses associated with integration, management, maintenance and training. Without doubt a platform entails less risk and provides better business continuity and sustainability.

With various products responsible for website management and intranet, an organization may experience difficulties getting quality technical support. Custom integration will inevitably lead to certain incompatibility issues that will require assistance from the vendors. The platform-based approach provides a single support source with a greater chance for successful problem-solving.

Learning curve
A single platform provides the organization with common application management practices. Content editors, system administrators, security specialists and users no longer require specific knowledge to operate in internet, intranet and extranet layers. The unified interface features the same usability experience and requires no additional staff training.

The scope of advantages of the platform-based intranets make a convincing case that the future of the evolving Enterprise 2.0 market lies in the area of comprehensive content management solutions. Solutions capable of providing organizations with a comprehensive business communication system bridging them with customers, partners and employees. While a side-by-side comparison of product features between platforms and intranet-specific products may not reveal this very important point, implementation will reveal that platforms have the flexibility to create robust, all-in-one solutions, leading to better business results.

Denis Zenkin
Denis Zenkin has 15+ years' experience in high-tech marketing. He currently leads global marketing at Bitrix, Inc. – a multi-national developer of Enterprise 2. and website management solutions with a special focus on SMB. Denis is a frequent speaker at industry-specific events covering social-enabled intranet technologies, and regularly publishes articles on E2. adoption practices.


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