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What is the purpose of your intranet?  Why does it exist, and what service does it provide to your company?

My former company pondered this question many years ago, and came up with a four-fold purpose that continues to endure:

1. Enhance employee productivity

In simpler terms, help people do their work.  We pursue this purpose by making the intranet accessible from work, home and from mobile devices; by designing pages and forms that load quickly and provide clear, consistent navigation. This respects our people’s time by offering online tools that support work-related tasks and by monitoring behaviour, both on the intranet and offline to seek opportunities for improvement.

2. Reinforce key corporate messages

Although this may seem self-serving, since our intranet is managed out of the Corporate Communications department, it has an important business angle: by reinforcing the company’s strategies and values, we ensure that our people are more productive on the right things (see purpose 1, above).  When deciding what to work on and how to allocate scarce resources, we prefer that the top strategies get attention first.

3. Provide a place for all to meet

Regardless of rank, function, location, or tenure.  We have many internal websites devoted to various business functions, projects, and subsidiaries, but the corporate intranet — particularly the front page – is the place where we all come together as one company and engage in a common, shared experience.  We encourage people to express themselves in their online profiles, to share their personal reactions to company developments and to connect with one another.

4. Have a personality

We don’t want our intranet to be viewed as a cold, impersonal computer system.  Instead, we inject a personality that is respectful, responsive, supportive, and somewhat whimsical.

Why your intranet purpose matters

Even the front page of the intranet has a special purpose: to offer fresh, relevant information daily.  Indeed, every section of the front page changes at least once a day, and many of the elements are real-time corporate performance indicators or alerts.

Establishing this four-fold purpose was not simply a philosophical exercise, though. We consult the purpose every day – it’s posted to the intranet, for all to see – to govern our activity and demonstrate the intranet’s value to the company.

For example, when constructing our annual corporate responsibility report we show how the intranet helped support our commitment to workplace values of dialogue, collaboration, and mutual respect.  We even quantify the value wherever possible, such as when our online ideas system delivered $18 million in hard cost savings over two months of use.

Furthermore, the intranet team itself can better prioritise its work based on the purpose.  When considering a new function or feature – often recommended by an employee – we first determine if it supports the purpose, and allocate our own resources accordingly.

Obviously, your purpose will not be the same as ours; it must match the unique nature of your company.

But, by all means, have a purpose!