Key Differences Between Enterprise Social Networks and Intranets

The dominance of traditional intranets is under siege by a newer, more social technology based in the cloud: Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs).

In today’s hyper-connected world companies have an even greater need to find the most efficient technologies to help them collaborate internally and get work done in real time. Over the past decade or so, many companies have implemented intranets. However, the dominance of intranets has been recently threatened by a newer, more social technology based in the cloud: Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs).

As companies decide between the platforms for their collaboration needs, let’s take a look at two major differences between Intranets and Enterprise Social Networks.

1) The technology itself: Bulky and rigid vs. light and flexible

Intranets: Intranets are a collection of private computers with custom software within an organization. They are used as a repository for company documents and as a way to communicate between employees. Intranets are usually firewalled, meaning they are blocked from external access and can only be used with office computers. They are bulky and complex products, which require high installation costs as well as training and maintenance costs. They are usually controlled by IT departments, which regulate what type of information is appropriate and what is not. SharePoint is an example of an intranet.

Enterprise Social Networks: ESNs on the other hand, are lightweight SaaS (Software as a Service) technologies based in the Cloud. They are focused less on storage and more on dynamic interaction between employees i.e. Social and Mobile. The interface resembles other widespread social media platforms, such as Facebook, and makes collaboration across departments, teams, and geographic boundaries easy. With their applications for mobile devices, all work information can be accessed securely from any smartphone or tablet: anytime, anywhere.

In addition, because ESNs are lightweight products and usually based in the Cloud, they are much less costly to install and maintain and can more easily incorporate new users, implement new applications, and adapt to address user needs.

ESN’s minimize training costs since employees intuitively know how to use the software from prior experiences using Facebook, Twitter, etc.

And the social aspect and dynamic communication of a network allows employees to easily self organize to tackle big projects. Intranets are a bulkier product. Their flexibility and ability to adapt is limited.

2) Same goals, fundamentally different approaches

Both Intranets and ESNs are tools aimed at increasing productivity via innovation and collaboration between employees. However, the way they approach this goal is very different. The way information is communicated is the best example of this difference.

Intranets: With intranets, communication is one way. It is a top-down approach where the company speaks TO employees. Managers control the discussions and the kind of information that is available.

Enterprise Social Networks: ESNs are different. The platform is set up to give everyone a voice, which creates a very different philosophy within a company. With intranets the work culture is a controlled and hierarchical one, where employees follow orders from the top. The social aspects and openness of the ESN platform create a culture that empowers each worker and allows different departments to easily work together. Great ideas do not only come from the top.

The philosophy of ESNs is that the collective knowledge and experience of the entire company is more powerful than the ideas of a select few.

This is truly the fundamental difference between intranets and ESNs; a difference that can have massive effects on the way we work.

If the goal of modern businesses is to promote innovation and collaboration, we have to change the way we think about work. With ESNs we finally have a tool that paves the way for this change.

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