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Don’t use the same platform for your intranet and website

Don’t use the same platform for your intranet and website

Apple and orangeFew vendors dare suggest that their Content Management System (CMS) is ideal for both an external website and an employee intranet.

While all publishing platforms can present content, and perhaps manage the review and approval workflow, the different focuses of website platform developers and intranet platform developer has created a welcome gap between web CMS and intranet CMS objectives. All based on decades of diverging business needs.

Clients have asked us, ‘Why aren’t we planning to use the same CMS for our website and intranet? Can one CMS cope with vall the requirements?’ Clients recognise the different needs the website and the intranet address, but wonder if they can make savings in time, resources, and hard cash.

It may be that the marketing department can set out a very clear business case – about commerce, reputation, and customer experience – and have the budget and enthusiasm for a new website platform. Stakeholders might then wonder if the intranet could be refreshed at the same time, using the same platform.

While many websites include transactional functionality, managing a website is mostly about content. Content, and document, management may be vital to the intranet, but an intranet is not an ‘internal website’ – intranets have to welcome and support people as well as content.

The stark differences between customer and employee requirements

It’s true that customers interact with websites, but the activities are very narrow – often designed around a limited set of goals – to register, to search, to purchase. Sites like Facebook offer rich interactivity – but community management systems often don’t manage published content very well.

I don’t mean to claim that web management systems are lacking in people-centred features or in workflow functionality, but many websites are flat brochures. For added features, such as community management, customer log-ins, and commercial transactions, further platforms and systems are built-in to the web management system. The , the design, makes everything appear seamless but actually ‘the website’ is not one single website at all.

Intranet platforms, on the other hand, tend to have been developed to specifically suit employee needs, document / knowledge management, collaboration activities, and the business tools needed to get things done. What website platform focuses on collaboration? Dedicated intranet vendors also know their use cases well, and will build widgets specifically for internal scenarios, such as room booking and org charts.


The admin model differs between intranets and websites too. Often websites have a small set of expert administrators. Web CMS pricing models reflect this, with a £30k licence buying 5 or fewer ‘author’ seats. By contrast, a good intranet encourages as many people as possible to own, edit, and publish content. You don’t want a pricing model that works against that.  Part of the difference is that web CMSs are the pro-level tool; intranet page owners don’t need this, it would be like giving Photoshop to somebody who just wants to crop an image.

If anything, there may well be value in using the intranet platform for your website (as a separate deployment). While internally it can be used by your 4000 employees, for collaboration, online communication, community and engagement, externally it can be used to manage content and publishing. Further transactional systems can be bolted on, just as you would any website that must be more than a pretty brochure. Would any vendor suggest this?

Multiple platforms, inside and out

Very large enterprises can do amazing things with multiple platforms, and may well create one holistic ‘intranet / extranet / website’ that services employees, partners, and customers. Such large companies would never expect to use one technology for everything – they integrate multiple platforms and systems to create what they need.

But IT people within smaller companies, with a thousand or several thousand employees, might imagine that one single platform is the holy grail – especially if it’s cloud hosted. Research shows that organisations are deploying multiple systems to create a digital workplace – the intranet CMS can be the hub or the glue between platforms and apps, but is rarely the only tech an employee deals with.

Intranets are for getting work done

It is the lack of employee focus that, arguably, is the most relevant reason to avoid using a web CMS for your intranet. Intranet platforms have been developed to meet common business needs. A vital part of any intranet is the People Directory, and few web CMSs manage people as well as they manage content.

As more companies work to define their digital strategy, collaboration and employee (social) communication tend to be cornerstones of the digital workplace, and an intranet that has been designed with employees in mind is likely to be big part of that.

Wedge Black

I support ClearBox in everything we do online, and I assist clients that are considering redeveloping or replacing their intranet platform. I worked in global and regional organisations as the intranet manager as part of the comms team, before becoming an intranet consultant. I'm the founder of the Intranet Now annual conference. I’ve tweeted about intranets and comms for fifteen years now.

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