By students, for students.

As we may continue to think

In Informatics, Management on October 3, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Internet to intranet: communication has changed, but the ideals remain the same.

Vannevar Bush’s 1945 article “As We May Think” is remarkable in many respects. It reflects the thinking of a scientist dedicated to war but looking forward to peace, represents a new idea of managing human knowledge and is renowned as the theoretical beginning of the Internet.

Bush looked to create a machine that would make collective memory and experience accessible to all. He headed the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), created in 1958 by Eisenhower in response to Soviet success  in the space race. 54 years later, we live in a world marked by his legacy.

The cumulative invention of the Web in the last three decades of the twentieth century forms one of the most important turning points in human history. From the turn of the 21st century, businesses have taken Bush’s legacy forward: applying the new technologies to the problems of intra-organisational connectivity. The result was the intranet – a network built for an employee audience.

Today, many organisations use internal networks to deliver tools and applications, contain complex corporate  directories and steer culture-change (i.e. take inspiration from the ideas employees post on forum conversations). The intranet has proved one of the most empowering and cost-effective technologies since the telephone. When used well it’s been found to:

  1. Increase productivity by making information immediately available
  2. Facilitate communication vertically and horizontally
  3. Make time: employees can link directly and swiftly to data
  4. Preserve knowledge: many corporate internets hold a central bank of up-to-date advice and learning
  5. Save money: IBM saves more than US$ 500 million a year performing HR services over the intranet*
  6. Create a common culture: the same information is available throughout the corporate structure
  7. Enhance personal branding: users consistently find authentic input increases their internal reputation
  8. Address the individual: intranet applications can be tailored to the user
  9. Empower employees: conversations are opened to the collective experience of the organisation
  10. Make you happy: 52% are more satisfied to be an IBM employee because of information obtained on the intranet*

*[Source: http://www.prescientdigital.com/articles/intranet-articles/the-intranet-as-an-employee-retention-tool/]

Employees themselves have adapted to use their intranet to receive corporate news, access customer information and share successes. Despite its integration into many modern workers’ lives, predictions of the death of internal networks linger on the lips of many tech analysts. According to these doomsday prophets, intranets are set to be replaced by social media. Cooler heads observe that, as long as companies continue to want the ability to address and hold conversations within a purely internal audience, intranets are not at risk.

Yet, social media has its place. Toby Ward (CEO, Prescient Digital Media) explains, “Social media merely represents another channel, another technology, to augment, or enhance the corporate intranet.” Ward argues that social media platforms – SocialText, SocialCast, ThoughtFarmer – are likely to become the main technology platforms powering the intranet. Yammer is a powerful example of this. Social media is the future, not the end, of internal networks.

After all, while technology has much changed from 1945, the principles remain the same. Intranet and its forefathers have always been about information sharing, knowledge gathering and collaboration. These are principles no organisation can do without and now fall firmly within the remit of IC. Embrace your role and ensure your intranet is used to forge a more collaborative, communicative, efficient and happy organisation.

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