People who have spoken to us know that we very often rail against ‘old fashioned’ intranets. These were very often ‘owned’ by the Communications team and fall firmly under the description “a website for staff”.
Although we have been fairly frank about our view of the (minimal) value of these, they generally originated from the days of old when that was the state of the art; the technologies of the time didn’t allow much more of the intranet than for it to be a corporate messaging tool, perhaps with the ability to publish a few documents.
Today the art of the possible delivered by available technologies is very different. A modern, valuable intranet can do an awful lot more and any strategy & investment in an intranet should aim to embrace a much greater vision.
A modern intranet should be a major strategic business platform, supplanting disparate other systems and introducing better ways of working. There are 4 core capabilities such an intranet provides which should be attended to in the strategy, the requirements and adoption.
The 4 core needs of an intranet are: Content, Communication, Collaboration and Business Process.
Documents, frequently asked questions, staff directories, lists of key information etc. all form part of the Content managed by a great intranet.
There should be a lot of emphasis on Content in intranet development, since users in knowledge rich organisations have significant challenges with finding, storing and managing their documents etc. This leads to general efficiency losses (some studies show users spending up to 30 minutes per day looking for documents), delays around document driven processes, risks associated with governance, staff frustration and gaps in knowledge used in decision making.
Successful intranets replace local storage and file servers with sophisticated metadata driven libraries, supported by version control, approvals etc. as needed. In almost every case folders arenotused – hierarchical taxonomies (nested folders to users) are a deeply broken model. Critical, important and long tail content should be migrated into the intranet to ensure as much as possible benefits from the approach. Personal libraries, team and department libraries and a corporate document centre replace the diverse and poorly managed clusters of content spread across many systems.
Get this right and you should be able to find any document using search in a handful of seconds, using the metadata (such as the fact that it’s a Policy, with an Author, owned by a Department, regarding Absence with a status of ‘Published’, updated in the last 6 months) to filter the search results.
You can be certain that the document found is the only current version. If it has been revised then previous versions can be checked.
News, Announcements, Alerts, Newsletters, branding and status information (related to the organisation as a whole, teams and departments, projects etc.) along with the mechanisms by which these are disseminated and feedback is captured are the cornerstones of the Communications role of a successful intranet.
Placing key messages in prominent positions (often the home page and department pages) forms part of a push communication strategy, while other information is delivered in context when users wish to delve into it (pull strategy).
With so much information flowing around modern organisations clutter and overload are serious challenges. Tools, such as personalisation and audience targeting reduce the noise to ensure the valuable messages make it through. Return channels that allow such information to be commented on, revised and improved are vital too, as are alerting tools so users can be informed if they have a specific interest and want to stay up to date. This may include embedding RSS feeds for showing news from 3rd party sources (such as updates from the MHRA) or even personal emails.
Working with colleagues on tasks and information, whether simultaneously or at different times, is the lifeblood of any organisation, and should be one of the main focuses for a strategic intranet.
More sophisticated intranets let multiple authors work on the same document at the same time – massively speeding up document review and creation.
Because even the best intranets can only capture a small proportion of all the knowledge an organisation has, they should also help put people in touch with people. Staff directories and personal profiles that include contact details, interests and skills etc. help this. Linking to real-time technologies that indicate presence (I’m online, I’m in a meeting etc.) and allow users to share their screens during calls extend this productivity to teams even when they aren’t sat at adjacent desks or clustered in meeting rooms.
Collaboration like this reduces travel time and cost, improves responsiveness and organisational agility and removes barriers to getting things done quickly and completely.
All organisations rely on processes that define and structure what they do, whether completing a review, booking leave, creating a letter, creating a project or a myriad other functions.
Modern intranets provide tools for defining and embedding business processes; effectively the intranet creates new business applications to drive and monitor these processes. Such processes are often transparent to the users – perhaps they just fill in the Leave form, unaware that this then creates an alert for their line manager to review it whilst simultaneously showing the time in the team calendar. Or perhaps they update a procedure which has been flagged as needing to be reviewed, which in turn ensures the organisations remains compliant with governance and legal obligations which are picked up by the corporate affairs manager, with the document metadata serving to flag information for retention policies and against FOI requests – multiple processes driven out of a single platform.
Intranet based processes are often simple and very quick to develop, avoiding months of coding by a developer thus allowing hundreds of minor processes to be subtly improved. Sometimes they are highly sophisticated, requiring custom workflow and interacting with Line of Business systems.
As a powerful intranet becomes more widely used other systems can be decommissioned; power users can build more solutions to their needs and processes can become agile enough to keep up with the needs of the business.
People at the heart of every business and almost every process. It’s not enough to simply collaborate with the people you already know about, a good intranet also identifies people you don’t know based on their skills and interests, lets you connect with them professionally, socially and for tasks and needs and more. Is important that individuals can be recognised, photographs of them not only improves recognition but also increases engagement when working remotely using technologies such as Skype for Business. Individual profiles provide context about a person, identify shared interests or desirable skills that can support business needs and objectives. Clarifying someone’s position and role within an organisational hierarchy, i.e. the reporting lines and areas of responsibility is also essential when building teams to solve problems; and effective organisations in the 21st-century need to be under do this in an agile fashion on demand. Good intranets make it easy to find the people you need, engage with them, support them and value the skills they offer while clarifying where they are both in the organisation and in the world.
The 5 pillars
By designing a strategy around the 5 pillars an intranet can emerge that is truly a strategic asset, one that revolutionises and improves the way a knowledge rich organisation can function, which overcomes barriers based on location, organisation boundaries and outmoded approaches. The return on investment can be large and tangible. The subtle effects can be larger, in terms of flexible and agile processes, better ways working and staff who are enabled to get their jobs done.
Simon Hudson is an entrepreneur and health sector specialist. He formed Cloud2 in 2008 following a rich career in the international medical device industry and the IT industry. Simon’s background encompasses quality assurance, medical device development, international training, business intelligence and international marketing and health related information and technology. Simon created Cloud2, with colleague and co-director, Taran Sohal, in response to an evident need the NHS has for a partner committed to helping them deliver successful projects based on Microsoft SharePoint. Simon has had a rich career spanning both the UK and the international health industry, with roles that have included quality system auditing, medical device development, international training (advanced wound management) and international marketing. Upon joining ioko in 2004 he created the Carelink division and, as General Manager, drove it to become a multi million pound business in its own right.
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