The idea of converging the company intranet with the corporate website has been kicking around for years. But few companies have taken the leap.
Enter Cisco Systems. The networking giant recently made Cisco.com a hub for all of its web properties. Its customers, partners and employees now seek what they need from the company via one site.
Cisco was an early adopter of the intranet and internal social networks. If they’re unifying the web experience for their key stakeholders, we have to wonder: is this an idea whose time has come?
Let’s look at the arguments.
Pro: it reduces costs
Most enterprises employ separate teams, platforms, apps and content for their website and intranet. Yet they’re using the same or similar infrastructure, IP technology and software. Siloing your web properties and IT resources this way comes with monetary and productivity costs.
“Consolidating onto one platform means you can eliminate redundant roles,” says Tony Bradley, principal analyst with Bradley Strategy Group, an enterprise IT consultancy. “It also reduces the excess cost associated with implementing and maintaining separate servers and platforms.”
Pro: it increases efficiency
Scaling back naturally leads to more efficient operations. One team managing a single platform or CMS can post relevant content more quickly and respond to customer or employee inquiries faster as well.
“A few years ago it wasn’t really feasible, but the CMS platforms now offer the ability to segment the audiences more while still using one platform,” Bradley says. “Things you publish on the intranet aren’t generally meant to be seen by the public, so it’s good to be able to keep them separate. On those occasions where content is relevant to both audiences, though, it’s faster and easier to post to both because it’s as easy as checking a box.”
Pro: it ensures consistent messaging
Maintaining one site limits the chance of deploying contradictory brand messaging on different platforms. This allows your employees to communicate the same brand attributes you’ve promised your customers and provide a seamless brand experience from the inside out.
“It’s important for one group to be responsible for developing and maintaining brand messaging, and other groups to simply disseminate it,” Bradley says. “If everyone is doing [their own] brand messaging, things get screwy.”
Converging actually brings more harmony across the whole user experience, according to Toby Ward, president of Prescient Digital Media, a company that designs and builds intranets and websites.
“The user experience by-and-large becomes consistent, though not exact, for each audience,” says Ward. “Of course this approach reduces confusion and increases information findability and reduces the cost of publishing content.”
Con: potential security risks
The main obstacle to converging your website and intranet is security. Bradley notes a traditional intranet could be managed completely behind a firewall, with no direct access from the public internet. Merging the two adds some risk, including the possibility of customers getting access to sensitive company communications.
There is the potential for leaks in the other direction, as well. If your company website processes payments or stores personal customer information, comingling the two could expose that data to unauthorized employees. Hello, regulatory nightmare.
These risks are manageable, though.
“Any company choosing to merge the audiences needs to understand the risks and have the right controls in place to keep the audiences segregated where necessary and merged where it makes sense,” Bradley says. “Admins just need to be aware of the potential issues and vigilant about making sure that the information that isn’t supposed to cross audiences is secured.”
Ward suggests few companies have tried to converge their intranets and websites because “it requires a certain level of cooperation between internal and external teams that haven’t had to cooperate in the past.”
Still, he and Bradley believe it’s time the idea gains momentum. Says Bradley: “The cost and efficiency savings far outweigh the risks.”