Intranet vs Enterprise 2.0 vs Social Software: an obvious case of terminological controversy

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Barb Mosher from CMSwire announced the results of their latest poll regarding the usage of collaboration tools in intranets.

Frankly speaking, I wasnt impressed about the whole idea of this poll as I thought the results would be very predictable. However, the actual findings were absolutely surprising. It turned to be that 16,3% of the respondents dont have intranet in place, which is far more surprising taking into consideration that the CMSwire audience is extremely advanced in leveraging the advantages of Enterprise 2.0. At the same time approx. 17% said they do have intranets but they dont include any collaboration features and they dont have any third-party collaboration solutions in place. Finally, 13,2% said they rely on separate collaboration tools not linked to their intranets.

I can admit the poll results may not be reflecting the reality on the ground. The statistical base was only 1000 respondents and more research should be done on the audience to understand who actually responded to the question.

Anyway, this quick poll got my attention for a different reason. When summarizing the poll results, Barb questioned the readership: Do you hear the term intranet used when looking at social software solutions? It made me think of a common perception leading to a misunderstanding of the meaning and distinguishing of the terms intranet, Enterprise 2.0 and social media.

With much respect to Wikipedia contributors I would like to depart somewhat from the common definitions and share my view on what is what based on my market experience.

Intranet is basically a practical tool that creates a unified workplace for an organization supplying a number of benefits. In my opinion, the list of must-have features include collaboration, communications and knowledge base.

The intranet lets organizations put the employees experience into a single database to ensure knowledge continuity. There should be a number of additional features in place to avoid knowledge from turning into a useless silo and converting it into highly-available database that allows employees to easily locate relevant data. The CMSwire poll shows that 30,2% of respondents are content to use this single benefit, ignoring the others.

Intranet collaboration is tightly associated with the knowledge base. Data in a centralized repository brings little benefits in the absence of proper collaboration tools which act as a superstructure, enabling employees to effectively work with this data. In fact the connection between data and collaboration tools can be made with third-party applications. However, is there any sense in extra software investments when modern intranets are full of such tools? The only reason to work with third-party collaboration tools is legacy software. But in this case, the organization will inevitably meet with integration difficulties.

Finally, communications. Along with instant messaging, web e-mail, and video conferencing, modern intranets now contain powerful social networking features to let organizations harness the social dimension of creative communities and convert alienated employees into a solid well-wired body.

This is where the terminological controversy happens. People tend to mix up social software, Enterprise 2.0 and socially-enabled intranets while social networking is just a single intranet feature! Well, there are pure social-oriented software products like Yammer, but again is there any reason for extra software investments in niche products when modern intranets normally contain these features?

And now we have just one step left: to define what Enterprise 2.0 is. At Bitrix, we understand E2.0 to be, actually, an organization that has implemented a socially-enabled intranet! Dont blame me for contradicting E2.0 gurus. I just see there is a significant misunderstanding in terms that misleads people and confuses the organizations that are willing to Two-Point-0 their enterprise.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Great post, Denis. This is something I keep running into time and time again – explaining the different between social collaboration and process-oriented collaboration. I think both have their place, but for a collaboration solution that truly manages teams through to consensus and helps achieve structured goals sometimes gets outglitzed by collaboration tools with a lot of social media buzzwords.

    I encourage everyone to check out http://www.kavi.com/resources for resources, best practices around structured collaboration, and some case studies about organizations using our tool, Kavi Workspace to accomplish this.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Mitchell. I won’t be far from the truth if I say that the everything connected with social features is overhyped nowadays misleading people in what business tolls do they actually need. As a result social tools gain a self-sufficient meaning in the software market, which does not reflect the reality and doesn’t fit the actual business needs. Many organizations are carelessly switching to pure social software without taking into consideration they could implemented a more sophisticated intranet solution with all social networking features in place and many other important features that address crucial collaboration and communication requirements of the organization.

  3. Terms like “Web 2.0” and “Enterprise 2.0” are useful in the early stages of a market to describe new ways of thinking. The challenge comes when broader audiences start adopting terms they don’t quite understand. The pure play social vendors would like us to believe that they represent “the new way” of doing business, promoting the “2.0” concept as a way of positioning themselves vs. the status quo. “2.0” is almost used as a scare tactic- who wants an Intranet when you can have Enterprise 2.0! But I think it’s dangerous to ignore traditional business processes like corporate communication and information delivery. Ultimately I think companies will realize that the Intranet is the enabler for business process, regardless if its collaboration or communication.

  4. Thanks for the article. We’re definitely seeing an ongoing debate among customers as to need for point solutions when modern intranet solutions contain these features. As concerns become enterprise-class (single profile; governance; globalization, among others), the move back to a single intranet stack is picking up steam.

    However I do think ‘intranet’ as a term needs rethinking. I agree with all of your characteristics of the modern intranet except perhaps one — I don’t think any url will be the ‘workplace’ going forward. Instead we’re finding that work will be accessed from a multiplicity of devices and applications for those devices (geolocation sensitive CRM for the iPad as an example), where the intranet’s role is as a backbone for serving out the relevant real time contacts, content and context to you, wherever you are, whatever work you need to do. On whatever device… From the cloud or behind the firewall….

    But you’ll never think that you were accessing the ‘intranet’ as your workplace in that example….

  5. Thanks for you comment.

    Intranets will inevitable absorb a number of functionality to provide businesses a unified platform for running most critical business tasks. I don’t see a sense to maintain scattered applications like to cover CRM, PLM, ECM or whatsoever. Especially for small and medium sized businesses. Instead organizations will stick to a comprehensive intranet solution that will act as backbone for business applications.
    Of course there will always be exceptions. A dedicated CRM beats CRM-functionality in intranet. Organizations who need the best CRM will sacrifice integration and manageability.

  6. Great post, Denis. Thanks for sharing. I just start to learn about intranet software and I’ve been wondering what’s the different between social collaboration and process-oriented collaboration, and the terms “Web 2.0” and “Enterprise 2.0”. Your post does help widen my point of view.

  7. I dont see it as a “versus” problem. Increasingly, there is a debate around “social intranets”, and it makes sense. Traditional intranets with inbuilt collaboration and social features. But it is surprising how many intranets are still just static pages!

    HyperOffice Intranet Software

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