Intranets in a (half-empty) Box

An Intranet is defined as, “a private secured online network where employees can create content, communicate, collaborate, manage tasks and events and develop the company culture.”

Not the worst definition in the world – actually, even in the era of digital transformation and the advent of digital workplaces this definition still fundamentally holds water.

Over the last several years a litany of companies have created a software/service segment in the Intranet space.  The products are fondly referred to as ‘Intranets-in-a-box’.  The idea behind this concept is that unlike an enterprises public facing website, intranets can be more cookie-cutter.  As such (and in theory) there are functions and features that every intranet needs. As a result of this, a vendor can deliver a product to the market that does ‘all of the things you would expect an intranet to do’.

The problem that exists here is that (just like your public facing website) the devil is always in the detail.  The success or failure of a modern Intranet project cannot and should not be judged by the 80% of functionality that every provider offers.  Does this sound familiar?

Earlier this year I wrote a sidebar in O’Reilly’s “Web Content Management” book by Deane Barker.  The sidebar discusses the importance of the “20%”. The 20% is defined as the unique features, functions & strategies that are specific to your organization and determine the success of failure of a technology selection and implementation.


In many ways, the new-world Intranet faces the same problems that the web content management market did (and still does) when trying to align technology to business outcomes and creating solutions that drive metrics up and to the right – regardless of what those metrics are.

The vast majority of these Intranet-in-a-box solutions have very hard walls.  The plus-side is that you can do most things inside the box (the 80%) – but once you approach the edges of the box you quickly (and sometimes surprisingly) find that those edges are made of solid steel.  What this means for your enterprise is yet another intranet platform that doesn’t provide exceptional value because it doesn’t (and can’t) attack ALL of the core problems that are specific to each individual enterprise (the 20%).

Let me give you an example.  Many Intranet-in-a-box solutions are built on top of the Microsoft stack (although not all) – they allow you to bring together content you have in different sub systems in the Microsoft ecosystem.  These solutions are marketed as the be-all-end-all solution for your needs – “Finally a solution the combines all of your Microsoft content in one portal view”.  Sounds good…. right?

The problem here is that this is not reality.  I talk a lot about the different elements that make up an enterprises ‘digital intelligence’ ecosystem.  It is my opinion that a true digital workplace or modern Intranet experience cannot be complete unless it actually returns value on 4 core pillars.  Those pillars are “user adoption”, “employee engagement”, “worker productivity” and “corporate collaboration”. If your Intranet strategy, or technology selection, cannot touch all of the different ‘digital intelligence’ elements – how can it possibly drive success across those four pillars? Newsflash: it can’t.

Unily for example, an Intranet-in-the-box solution provider, has a good reputation and an impressive customer list.  They are exclusively implemented for customers by their parent company Brightstarr.  They deliver a ‘modern experience’ to connect SharePoint, Yammer, Skype, OneDrive, Office 365, Azure and …… well …… not really anything else.  The capabilities of these six systems are vast and while impressive – however, guess what?  That’s the 80%.

If an organization is going to create an actual digital workplace for its employees – specifically to focus on the pillars above – then the 80% just isn’t good enough.

What is so glaringly missing from the list above is the rest of the pieces that makes up a specific company’s ‘digital intelligence’. I liken this to trying to play cards without any of the diamond suit; it just doesn’t work.

Where is the seamless integration with that enterprises CRM system (i.e. Dynamics &, with their BI system (i.e. Cognos & Tableau), with their public-facing CXM system (i.e. Sitecore & Drupal), their financial system (i.e. SAP & Oracle), their social systems (i.e. Twitter & Instagram) – I could go on and on (and on), but I think you get the point.  No diamonds – no card game.

An enterprises digital intelligence is a combination of the data that sits inside their Microsoft stack (or Google stack), and ALL of the data that sites outside of it.  The data in the different technology system examples that I list above and their strategic value to the business represents the 20% – and that 20% (just like in the WCM world) is the difference between delivering a solution that stands on those 4 pillars and one that simply knocks them over. No diamonds; no card game.

The number one thing I get when I ask “what is your Intranet strategy” is a customer who shrugs their shoulders and depressingly explains to me how they have a site (typically built on SharePoint), but that no one uses it because it’s too hard to use, has too much stale content and really doesn’t provide value to warrant them coming back even as infrequently as once-a-month. They then go on to tell me how IT is so overwhelmed because there are dozens of different enterprise technologies and 75% of the company can’t figure out how to use ninety-percent of the systems.

If you want to engage your employees and strive to deliver value across the 4 pillars, you have to reimagine what a successful Intranet strategy really is and how your enterprises digital intelligence is created and, more importantly, consumed. Akumina and our partners are helping customers do just that.

According to CMS Wire, businesses lose an estimated $11 billion annually due to employee turnover, in large part due to a disengaged workforce.

Don’t be a statistic; play with a full deck.

Check out InterChange. InterChange is the only fully-extendable digital workplace software platform built for channel partners.


David Maffei is the Chief Revenue Officer at Akumina.

Read More