Corporate intranets have long been the backbone of internal corporate computing. Once the domain of large-scale enterprises, they’ve made their way to companies of all sizes, and are nearly ubiquitous in one form or another.
But many modern companies are moving away from legacy intranet systems and choosing something a little different. Learning management systems (LMSs) have many of the benefits of corporate intranets but few of the drawbacks.
If you’re looking for the best corporate intranet system for your company, you may be surprised to find that it’s not an intranet at all, but an LMS. Let’s take a look at the difference between the two and the benefits of going with an LMS.
Corporate Intranet vs. Learning Management System
An intranet is a network that’s only available to a specific group of people. A corporate intranet, then, is a network only available to the employees of a particular company.
Over the years, though, “corporate intranet” has come to mean something rather specific. Corporate intranets are usually communication and collaboration systems. They often serve as a central repository for information at the company and provide project management and reporting features, as well.
Many enterprise intranets also offer flexibility in features. For example, some intranets let companies distribute training materials in the form of videos or text. Others support tests and quizzes to make sure employees learn materials effectively. Still others include features like video conferencing, content management, sales enablement, help desk ticketing, and issue tracking.
With all these possibilities, it’s difficult to nail down what defines a corporate intranet. But in the end, all of the options are central locations for storing and distributing information.
And that’s exactly what an LMS is—a hub for information creation, storage, and distribution.
But there are some crucial differences. Learning management systems tend to have more focused feature sets. Few, for example, enable collaboration on document editing (though they do allow collaboration in other ways).
Instead, they offer social information sharing that helps keep employees updated and connected. LMSes also emphasize reporting and data-driven decision-making. As platforms for learning, information-sharing, and analysis, they’ve taken over many of the functions of intranets.
And with more focused features and nicer interfaces, they make managers’ jobs easier. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits that are convincing companies to replace their intranets with learning management systems:
1. Single Source of Truth
This is a common phrase in corporate intranet marketing. The idea of single source of truth comes from information design: it’s a system where every piece of data is stored only once.
Every other reference to that data is exactly that: a reference. Let’s look at an example.
Let’s say our company has a document about the sales enablement workflow. If there’s no single source of truth, the marketing and sales teams could both have a copy of that document.
If the marketing team makes an update to the document, but forgets to tell the sales team about it, they’re going to have conflicting documents, and that’s going to result in a mess.
With a single source of truth, there’s only one copy, and both teams reference it. If one team makes a change, the other team sees it. It’s much more efficient, and prevents conflicting versions.
Both corporate intranets and learning management systems are designed to function as a single source of truth. Documents are stored in highly organized hierarchies, and properly version-controlled. The collaboration tools we’ll discuss in a moment further expand this functionality.
And while you could use something as simple as Google Drive or Dropbox as a single source of truth, there are numerous drawbacks. Versioning, permissions, and a focus on collaboration make LMSes better suited to store this kind of information.
The reporting function of many learning platforms, which we’ll address shortly, make it easy to see if your single source of truth is working. Reports tell managers when documents are used, how well employees have retained information in them, and which pieces of content are being shared with customers.
This additional information helps you not only manage your single source of truth, but improve its efficacy.
2. Communication and Collaboration
Corporate communication tools like Slack, HipChat, Stride, Redkix, and many more have become ubiquitous. The biggest disadvantage to tools like these is that they’re not directly connected to your company’s other systems.
Many of them connect to Google Drive or other common apps, which makes them more valuable. But LMS communication tools take it to the next level. They’re directly connected to your cloud storage, issue tracking, and file sharing (our own solution also integrates seamlessly with Slack). Whether you use the system’s tools or integrate it with third-party options, these tools enable lightning-fast interactions with your data.
Enterprise-level intranets often include additional methods of communication. In addition to real-time messaging, you may get access to video conferencing, audio calling, file commenting, and more.
File commenting also dovetails with other collaboration features. Most corporate intranets let multiple people work on the same file at one time, enabling real-time collaboration even when employees aren’t in the same room—or country.
Change tracking, review workflows, permissions, and dynamic content embedding are included in some intranet packages, and add even more functionality to your teamwork software.
While learning management systems don’t usually offer file-editing collaboration, they do facilitate close communication (and sometimes file sharing). Social communication tools like blogs, content commenting, and live workshop broadcasting keep employees closely connected.
And when those are combined with third-party collaboration tools, employees are able to keep in close contact when they’re working on a project together.
When you're managing a large group of people, it’s tough to stay on top of what everyone's doing. You might not realize that one person or team has gotten behind on their tasks or run into difficulty until the issue has derailed the larger project.
LMS reporting solutions let managers and executives see at a glance what's going on in their team.
Many corporate intranets have project-management-focused reporting. These systems focus on task completion, resource allocation, and workload. Other intranet systems may emphasize different types of reporting. For example, an intranet with learning and development features might tell executives how many employees have gone through a training module and how many passed the follow-up quiz.
High-end intranets even allow custom scripting and API access to create custom reports on the fly.
Learning management systems are usually less project-focused. Instead, they give managers information on how people are interacting with the content stored in the system. Are people watching your videos? Reading your newsletters? Taking follow-up quizzes?
These reports give managers a detailed view of the efficacy of the content stored in the system. Instead of micro-managing individual tasks, LMSes enable leaders to monitor how employees are growing and developing the skills necessary to become more self-sufficient and productive.In the end, these reporting capabilities give a more complete picture of a company’s employees. There are plenty of tools available to make company-wide task management possible, but few take a more holistic view of company productivity.