By Maria Wasing, VP of Marketing, EPiServer

It’s often been said that a business is only as good as its employees, with the best companies often the ones that invest in their staff and have the processes in place to enable them to thrive.

Increasingly, in our information-fuelled world, this employee-centric approach requires efficiently capturing and sharing knowledge to enable better teamwork and decision-making. The technological solution that many businesses have implemented to facilitate this is an intranet and, for many, it is the primary medium for collaboration and knowledge sharing.

But the intranet as we know it is starting to show its age:

It remains a one-way medium for ‘broadcasting’ information

It is over-centralised, with too much control coming from the top

There is a lack of engagement

The user experience often pales in comparison to rich, interactive web 2.0 and social media sites

It inhibits access to knowledge instead of facilitating it

As a result, most intranets are under-valued, under-utilised and, frankly, underwhelming.

A new way of working

Imagine instead an intranet that employees really want to engage with and contribute to; a technology that actually helps them do their jobs and enjoy their work lives.

This is the concept of the social intranet, allowing businesses to harnesses the power of social media to:

Engage users in the mission of the enterprise

Encourage people to contribute their ideas

Make it easy to capture, share and discover information

Supporting fluid, spontaneous and structured collaboration

Importantly, social intranets support all forms of communication and collaboration, whether it’s one-to-one (instant messaging and email), one-to-many (through blogs, video-sharing and podcasting), one-to-all (in forums and discussion threads) and many-to-many (in wikis, communities, forums and groups).

In short, the social intranet provides a service that is integrated with all existing content resources, communication tools and knowledge assets, providing an incredibly powerful, enterprise-wide knowledge platform with a friendly, familiar face.

So why is the social intranet in today’s business environment so important?

1.Because knowledge gives a competitive advantage - in the global, always-on, always-connected world, the way companies capture, share and discover knowledge has a direct impact on efficiency, decision accuracy and time-to-market.

2.Because it’s a medium of cohesion, inclusion and engagement - getting organisations working together, sharing their ideas and giving honest feedback can be tricky. The social intranet has the power to fuel this new engaged workforce and connect employees with others that have the right knowledge.

3.Because Generation Y is hitting the workplace - younger employees are native to Facebook, YouTube and Flickr. If your intranet just sits there, so will your people.

4.Because collective intelligence beats gurus - the collective intelligence of your workforce beats the wisdom of even your most experienced experts, but only if you can tap into it. The social intranet is a natural medium for ‘crowdsourcing’.

5.Because traditional document management isn’t friendly enough - legacy document management systems are hard to use so fewer people use them, less often. And they are not designed for the web world. The social intranet is intuitive and familiar; users can jump in without a single training session, bringing Enterprise 2.0 closer.

6.Because it’s rapid to deploy - creating and deploying traditional knowledge management and collaboration tools can soak up serious time and resources. The social intranet can be as rapid to create and deploy as any other web page – if you’ve got a CMS platform designed for the job.

The future of company collaboration

As social networks continue to gain in popularity, employees are beginning to demand similar networks to become an everyday part of their working lives. This two-way communication and engagement across all levels is something businesses be looking to integrate into the workplace now.

We live in a democratic society where everybody has an opinion they want to share. The benefits of sharing over a controlled network, such as through a social intranet, means employees feel like they’ve contributed while, at the same time, companies can still retain some ownership – monitoring what is going on and stepping in if necessary.

By empowering employees in this way, using social technologies, businesses can make them the driving force of the business itself. An intranet should no longer be a static piece of equipment reliant on leaders and users; it must become a piece of technology that, when used efficiently, can bring out the best in its employees and help them – and the business - evolve and become a success.