What Is an Intranet? Definition, Functions, and Purpose

Good communication is a valuable asset to any workplace. An intranet is just one of the many tools every organization needs to stay connected. Used predominantly for internal communications, they allow employees to seamlessly collaborate and engage with each other. In this article, we'll provide everything you need to know about intranet network systems, how they're used, and how to make the most of them.

What is an intranet?

An intranet is a private, secured network set by an organization to allow employees to communicate, collaborate and manage tasks effectively. Think of it as an internal network that shares information services, connecting different parts of a particular organization.

Intranets have changed the way companies operate, especially regarding employee engagement. Previously, intranets were complicated and obscure; today, modern intranets work as a portal for entities to share what looks like internal-only updates. They allow employees to access confidential information, forms, applications, links, and the database of company records.

Unlike the Internet, which is accessible to all, organizations privately own and operate these networks. That means it's only accessible to specific users, typically members of the company. Then, these recognized members are granted access via IP addresses, single sign-on (SSO), and other company credentials.

What is an intranet used for?

As their primary purpose, intranets promote better communication, collaboration, and employee engagement. They keep employees' priorities focused, which is especially important with the current shift towards remote work within companies.

Intranet software encompasses a lot of information and services, including:

  • File sharing and document management
  • Calendars, marketing assets, and policies
  • Blogs and news feeds
  • Corporate's key events and milestones
  • Quizzes and surveys
  • Project workspaces where workers collaborate
  • Automated business processes, including online forms
  • Staff directories

Having one in place helps build your workplace to foster efficiency and productivity. They also integrate well with other communication tools businesses use, like Microsoft Suite and Skype.

How does an intranet work? Setting up an intranet network system

Intranets are essential for a strong business. But how exactly do they work?

First, be mindful that intranets are handled in-house and managed by IT facets of a company. The company's private network is only accessible to permitted users. Depending on the organization, this network can manifest as a website, a collection of collaboration tools, internal communications, or even a knowledge-sharing platform.

Like every other process in the tech industry, setting up one of these private networks involves several phases: analysis, planning, development, implementation and maintenance. Additionally, there are four main components needed to properly complete the setup: a web server, networked PCs, firewalls, and general applications

Using a web server to host

To establish your company network, you need a web server to host it. A web server lies at the heart of every intranet system. The platform involves two things; hardware and software.

Hardware is the server on which data and software are contained. The hardware, the machine itself, depends on the number of users, the content, and the size of a system. For example, to make a network accessible to thousands of employees and host streaming videos, the machine running your server software must be powerful.

Investing in a large, dedicated server with larger bandwidth lets you handle an influx of users without any hassle. However, if you've installed a text-only Web page intranet used only by a few people, you don't need a cluster of servers.

Server software is responsible for finding and sending the files to the right device. IT professionals are tasked with configuring software due to its complexity.

Experts recommend you have a backup server. That way, if the system crashes, you won't risk losing any critical information.

Creating a network of PCs

Going forward, you need to install and configure the server into a network so that users can connect their PCs. To access the intranet, workers first need a connection to the local area network (LAN).

These computers must also have web browsers, such as Firefox, Chrome or Safari. Furthermore, figure out the need for having an intranet before setting up a network. This way, your private network use is optimized, allowing you to strengthen weak areas in your business.

Securing the system with firewalls

Keeping your intranet safe and secure is necessary. At its most basic, a firewall sits between your intranet and the public Internet, acting as a gatekeeper between external dangers and internal processes.

Firewalls monitor all incoming and outgoing network traffic based on your organization's security policies. A firewall prevents outsiders from accessing highly sensitive information. This way, you have full control over the data disseminated throughout the organization. Make sure you install and maintain a firewall for your intranet after it's been established.

Incorporating general software

You can load other application software onto the intranet web server as long as it's relevant to your business. Suitable applications allow users to work to the best of their ability. These may include web-based conferencing applications or computing and comprehensive CRM tools. Integrating these apps is just one way of creating a productive intranet system.

What should an intranet include?

A successful intranet includes several essential features. Though these features may differ depending on the needs of your digital workplace, the following is a general list for consideration in all intranets:

  • Key resources or a handbook. Apart from being a home for high-level information, an intranet should keep key resources together.
  • Announcements and top-down updates. Your intranet should be a place where workers can easily share job-related information like updates, announcements and newsletters.
  • Company goals and KPIs. The right platform offers a place to document and centralize key goals, KPIs, and strategy for everyone to see.
  • Calendar and events. It's wise to host a company calendar to showcase important events. These include company meetings, holidays, important employee dates, and more. Create the events on Google or Outlook calendars and sync the information into the intranet.
  • Team directory. You need to find a way for employees to learn how an organization is structured. Team directories allow them to navigate across the organization and learn everything they need to know.
  • Interactive design. Ensure that the software is user-friendly.

The goal is to host a network that streamlines your organization process. It's a conduit for a range of business functions, including internal communication, content creation and sharing, and document management.

Chart showing featured uses of an intranet network system

Advantages of an intranet

Despite the adoption of digital technology in the field of communications, there are key benefits to having a modern intranet managed by a skilled in-house team. Intranets offer the following benefits to companies that incorporate them into their businesses:

  • Boosted employee engagement and recognition. The software helps employees stay up-to-date by providing necessary information and instantaneous feedback.
  • Improved internal communications. These networks enhance top-down communications, bottom-up communications, and team conversation.
  • Easy storage of information and files. Intranets provide easy file transfer to centralize all necessary information and documents.
  • Financial savings. All necessary information - contact lists, requisition forms, documents, and more - exist in the same place, saving on distribution and printing costs.

Disadvantages of an intranet

Without a doubt, the benefits of a company intranet outweigh the disadvantages. However, it's important to be aware of the following potential disadvantages before setting up a network for your company:

  • Steep learning curve. Some intranet network systems are complex; others use dozens of features that the average employee may be unfamiliar with. For beginners, their file repositories are hard to navigate. Even though most organizations rely on their IT department to configure the software, employees need to learn; if the design isn't intuitive, many users will struggle.
  • Remote workers may struggle with access. Though these networks help unite remote and in-person workers, in some cases, intranet network systems are only accessible on the desktop. Remote workers may need to use a VPN for access.

Application of intranets

Intranets are helpful for large companies, but they aren't limited to a certain type of organization. They are widely used in companies that prioritize:

  • database management activities
  • supply chain management
  • employee data management
  • time and reports management
  • payroll and leave management
  • skill enhancement
  • cohesive company culture
  • employee performance assessment

They work well for communication centers, like companies that reply on video conferencing, email communication, push messaging, and the like. However, these private network systems also function applicably in marketing-based companies, as they use and help manage multimedia applications, customer care and feedback management, social networking, and promotional advertisements. They even benefit academic institutions; intranets allow students to learn online, share notes, and interact with each other without the need to report in their respective institutions.

Frequently asked questions

Who can access the intranet network?

Companies privately manage intranets. Therefore, only the staff of that organization have access to the network. Only those explicitly given access to the network can get into it.

What is an intranet site?

It's a portal or staff-only website that keeps employees updated about the activities taking place in the company. It manifests as a website, collaboration tool, or communication channel.

What is an extranet?

An extranet is accessible to more than just certain members of an organization. It's available to third-party groups like contractors, partners, vendors, and influencers.

Can an intranet work without the Internet?

No. The Internet enables necessary connectivity. Therefore, your PC device must connect to your company's LAN in order to access an intranet network system.

What is the difference between Internet and intranet?

Though many use the terms interchangeably, these are two separate things. An intranet is a private network only accessible to specific users. On the other hand, the Internet is a globally-connected network available to everybody.

What are examples of intranets?

You can get intranet platforms from smaller startups and large vendors. Take, for example, Microsoft SharePoint Axero, Happeo, Facebook Workplace, and Jostle; they come from both small companies and large organizations.