Intranet, extranet, portals and the digital workplace? Explain please!

What is the difference between a portal and an intra/extranet and how can it provide value for the digital workplace?

Some of us already have an intranet or customer portal in use for many years. I’m sure that not every story is a success. Over time, technology has changed, enterprises see the value in work tools and employees believe in the power of online collaboration systems.

But as work methods change and people use great tools at home, we see a shift happening to a real digital workplace. In this article I explain the differences between various components of the digital workplace and add some interesting thoughts.

Definition of a portal

A portal is an entry into a certain web-based technology. You have general portals but you also have vertical portals. In a vertical portal you have access to information about one specific topic. You can see it as the cyber door to interesting content. 

A portal has the following options: 

  • Personalized content, on the condition that you identify yourself;
  • Search engine, to find information on the portal;
  • Links to other sites, articles or portals.

In the digital workplace context, a portal oftens functions as a gateway to all the tools and information employees need in their daily life. 

Definition of an intra-, extranet

Another term that is often used is intranet. An intranet is an environment that exists within the private network of the enterprise. It is an overarching system where all the departments within your company can share different types of information.

A role-based security model takes care of the access granted to individuals and decides which actions they can take within the platform. This is where the internal collaboration starts.

In this case external people have no access to any data on the intranet. You need to share information with external parties? Build an extranet! An extranet is a place where external people can access data and/or up-, download files. An extranet should be highly secured to avoid hackers taking a look at the data that you share with externa people. The advice I can give you is that an intranet and extranet should always stay two different instances to avoid mistakes and security issues.

Examples of an intranet are HR portals to communicate HR-related items to all employees or a project portal to follow-up internal projects and keep track of related documents.

An example of an extranet are webpages that are used to exchange information like project plans or budget documents between a number of employees and external people like business partners.

Definition of the digital workplace

Defining the digital workplace is not easy, if you search the internet you will find a lot of different definitions. For me the digital workplace, embedded into one sentence, should be: "The digital workplace is an environment that enterprises provide to their users that gives them acces to all technologies within the company, supported by a single sign-on."

So, it is not just the intranet and some additional systems. It is the complete package of enterprise software, social tools, collaboration tools and so much more!

I believe that the following drawing can give you an insight on the digital workplace and the related technologies.

What is the difference between intra-, extranet, portals and a digital workplace?

As you can see in the different definitions, each of the described technologies have their own focus and cover a certain domain to support employees in their quest for information and effective collaboration. I see it more as a logical growth path of technology and the way technology is used and implemented. The growing maturity of enterprise enables them to understand that new technologies can support the growth of the company and their employees.

The digital workplace is the place where we all work independent of location or device. The digital workplace brings it all together.

What choice to make and how to grow?

Well, it all depends on the demands of employees, customers, departments and the company itself. 

Next to that, the company’s maturity level in the area plays a significant role. If you start from scratch I would suggest working out a detailed plan so you can start with little (successful) projects. This gives your employees the time to get experienced and adapt to the digital workplace.

Step 1 - Start with a basic intranet

  • Develop a Q&A-site related to topics like HR or administration;
  • Provide access to basic applications;
  • Give employees the possibility to have their own private and secure site where they can easily access their personal data.
  • Provide a section with internal news like, changes, new hire, birthday calendar,…

Step 2 - Extend the existing intranet

  • Introduce processes to automate basic questions like for example a holiday request;
  • Integrate and provide single sign-on to your enterprise applications like CRM or ERP;
  • Provide a role-based system so users can only see what they need to see;
  • Embrace collaboration and provide internal social feeds.

Step 3 - Introduce the basic digital workplace

  • Integrate applications like ERP and CRM into the document management component;
  • Provide search capabilities;
  • Provide a 'bot' to replace basic Q&A, move into interactivity;
  • Implement automated processes and digital approval;
  • Incorporate the social aspect into applications.

Step 4 - Move into the real digital workplace

  • Integrate the metadata functionalities on a higher level and make them searchable and link metadata with ERP and CRM;
  • Improve search into advanced search, use views;
  • Work with project-based email boxes, integrated in the digital workplace;
  • Foresee a top layer where people can manage and organise their workplace to their own preferences;
  • Make sure there are user adoption programs in place;
  • Communicate the change into a real digital organisation because this is a business transformation.

And don't forget to have fun while architecting your digital workplace. Need some help? You can always contact us contact us for a chat on the matter.