When it comes to software or technology in general, we’re used to change. We expect – and even demand – regular updates, fresh and exciting features, new releases. In order to remain relevant, it’s vital to stay ahead of the game: and our technology must do the same.
However, in business, it’s also important to keep sight of the original purpose of any given tool or platform.
When developers are constantly focusing on – and chasing – the ‘next Big Thing’, they can risk deviating from the original vision, objective, reason for existing in the first place. Developers can add as many bells and whistles as they like, but if the tool doesn’t perform its core job, it’s doomed to fail.
When it comes to our own platform, Interact takes an agile approach to regularly reviewing, updating and launching useful, exciting features that will serve our customers. But there’s a balancing act. When deciding what to update or introduce to Interact, we need to identify if these ‘nice to have’ or on-trend features will actually support the core goals and requirements of a company intranet.
Here, we explore 9 things a company intranet must do in order to provide value to a business – and the features and functionality that support those goals.
1. Help get work done NOW
In a recent customer survey, we looked at the reasons why people come to their company intranet. Reviewing feedback and data from the 1,000,000 users of Interact, we’ve found 3 top reasons why users visit their intranet:
The common theme? They are all user-centric, and functional.
The simple fact is, people come to their organization to perform their roles and get work done. Collaboration software should serve as a tool to make this process more efficient and help users complete their tasks.
When we look at this more closely, we can see that at the most basic level an intranet is there to solve problems. Whatever the problem – the need to get expenses paid, to deal with a certain customer, to understand return to work benefits or find somebody that speaks Spanish – users should be able to go to the intranet, and solve that problem.
Typically, these ‘problems’ or tasks tend to fall into one of 4 categories:
- Business processes: for example, booking a leave of absence or submitting expenses
- Information: for users seeking out a HR policy, company documentation, or perhaps policies and procedures required to fulfil their roles
- Collaboration: such as finding a colleague who can support on a particular task, or to team up with others on a project
- Communication: to both receive top-down communications about their organization, team, or perhaps particular projects, and to communicate with others.
To serve its core purpose, therefore, an intranet needs a blend of tools that answer each of these categories and will ultimately help intranet users, Content Authors and Intranet Administrators to solve problems as efficiently as possible.
Within Interact, these tools include:
- Workflow and Forms: this tool empowers organizations to streamline critical business processes, such as submitting expenses, with automated workflows. The tool allows even non-technical people to create simple, easy-to-build forms: keeping that principle of efficiency, by removing the need for IT or a specialized intranet administrator.
- Integration functionality: our platform is a communication and collaboration tool. It can’t do every job within a business; nor should it try to. There are a large range of specialized tools and platforms available for different processes and functions; a successful intranet must bring these together in a centralized, streamlined way, acting as a gateway to the digital workplace.
Integration functionality allows Interact to become the ‘go to’ location for staff, who can then access all their essential tools, applications and platforms from one place, using a single login.
(Interact serves as a portal to the rest of your business, offering integration and public API functionality to allow you to connect multiple tools and applications for a truly streamlined and centralized digital workplace.)
- People directory: at the heart of every business is its people. Bringing together employees and enabling them to find and connect with one another is essential; a comprehensive People Directory that has the option to pull data from multiple sources, and to add rich information such as hobbies, interests, languages or qualifications, provides the answer.
- Enterprise search functionality: putting the right content into the hands of employees by providing a powerful and comprehensive search across all your intranet content and cloud storage systems is key. If your users can’t find what they’re looking for, your intranet loses its relevance.
Take away: Does your intranet make it easier for your users to do their jobs? Consider their core needs, roles, and requirements, and whether your intranet helps – or hinders – these.
2. Focus on user needs and different communities
Organizations are, by nature, diverse. While your company is the collective, it is made up of individuals – each with unique roles, requirements, skillsets and objectives to achieve.
So, when it comes to your intranet strategy, it is critical to focus on user needs, rather than business needs alone. We also need to be conscious that what one user wants isn’t what another user wants: there are a range of different communities within any organization, each looking to get something different from their intranet experience. Identifying the key stakeholders for your intranet, and their needs, is fundamental to its success.
(The most common types of community are those of Purpose, Practice, Event or Interest. Each requires different tools to achieve their objectives. An intranet should cater for each unique group and their needs.)
Here at Interact, we work hard to create a social intranet with a variety of tools to target relevant, timely and useful content to users. This is why we have had such a high customer retention rate, and why our customers have such successful, award-winning intranets.
Our ethos is that ‘content should find people’. Content targeting and content personalization have both seen increased focus in business marketing and communications in recent years, and offer distinct approaches to getting the right content to the right people. There is a place for both approaches in internal communication tools: and this is what our intranet software seeks to do.
But what’s the difference, and how do they work in an intranet? As digital consumers, we now increasingly expect content to be pushed to us based on our unique browsing habits, individual demographic, our tastes and interests. Amazon, Google, Twitter, and LinkedIn all do this – and so should your intranet.
Content targeting places audiences into defined segments, placed on a common attribute. For example, all employees from a particular regional office would be a segment; or perhaps all your new starters. Content can be targeted to that segment’s unique needs.
Personalization, by contrast, focuses on the individual end-user. Using algorithms and machine learning, it sets out to understand real-time intent and respond by pushing content accordingly.
Interact intelligence offers a powerful way to personalize and push content. Through learning and analysis of user behaviors and interactions with the intranet, it can learn and promote relevant content.
(Interact personalizes content suggestions based on previous interactions, as well as offering an explanation as to why particular information has been suggested.)
Interact also empowers content authors or intranet managers to segment and tailor content to specific demographics. For example, @mentioning a particular team, project group or region can alert those users to relevant content.
Tailored homepages with relevant information, widgets and content for specific groups can also ensure those users have a personalized user experience from their intranet. For example, having new starters log into a purpose-built homepage for the initial weeks of employment will ensure they receive vital information relevant to them, and deliver greater value from the intranet.
Targeting content serves two purposes:
- It signposts content users may need to get work done based on previous habits. For example, if a user searches for a particular policy and someone else adds a related document to the intranet at a later date, the original user would be promoted that content through Interact Suggests.
- It helps to uncover content that the user may not know existed. Interact Recommends is a tool built to recommend content such as blogs, events, news and people that somebody wouldn’t necessary go searching for – but would find useful.
Take away: Have you considered the unique, individual needs of your users and the communities they form? Do you offer the right features, functionality and capacity to tailor their intranet experience?
3. Align with your business objectives
We’ve talked about the need to focus on the end users of your intranet. However, it is equally important to ensure your intranet serves a strategic purpose within your organization.
It’s amazing how often we talk to business leaders in a company and discover that the objectives of their intranet aren’t aligned to the objectives of the business. Without this direction and alignment to your goals, your intranet won’t deliver value.
It’s something we explore at length in guide on building a business case, but for now ask yourself these simple questions. If you can’t answer them, it’s likely your intranet won’t benefit your company:
- What are your long-term, strategic objectives as a business, and what role could – or does – your intranet play in achieving those?
- Is your intranet aligned to the objectives of each individual business unit?
- How do you measure the success of your intranet? Do you have benchmarks in place to gauge ongoing performance?
- Do you have the buy-in of senior management for your intranet?
- Do you regularly review your objectives?
For example, if your strategic goal is for international expansion, does your intranet support a globalized workforce? Does it enable remote access, facilitate collaboration across different timezones, and offer the correct features and tools for different offices?
Or perhaps you are set to undergo a significant change. How can your intranet ease this transition for both management and employees? Will it enable you to communicate change effectively, to maintain engagement and ensure the culture and vision of your organization is upheld?
Whether you’re at the start of your intranet project or already have a legacy system in place, invest time in drawing that connection between wider business goals and the objectives for your intranet. This will ensure it delivers a return on investment and continues to be a valuable tool for your business.
Take away: Your intranet is a business tool. Ensure it has defined objectives that align to your overall business goals and direction.
4. Focus on – and cater for – mobile and remote workforces
Mobile technology and the concept of telecommuting, flexible working or remote working are now established (and growing) in the business market. We can no longer argue that 20xx is the year of mobile working or Bring Your Own Device (BYOD): that time is now.
People need to be able to work on whatever device they are on, wherever they are. Think about the needs of your company. What will people want to do on their mobile? How can we support them with completing work and tasks on-the-go? Will they be able to access vital information or applications without restriction, regardless of their location, device or form of connection?
Then consider the tools they will need and provide those tools in a ‘mobile-first’ platform that works for them.
Interact is built to meet the needs and demands of all employees, regardless of location or device. A responsive design alongside native mobile apps for iOS and Android ensure critical tools, contacts and information are available without any compromise on functionality or user experience. Push notifications from the native app ensure users never miss an important update and continue to be connected to the business, no matter where they are.
Take away: workforces are becoming increasingly mobile. Ensure you are able to meet their needs and provide access to the essential tools and information they require to do their roles effectively.
5. Work at speed and deliver a great user experience
Your intranet is there to provide value to your employees; they are the consumer, the customer of your intranet. As such, they will expect the same level of performance from their intranet as any other web-based technologies they use, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and national news sites.
This means that both the speed of your intranet and the user experience (UX) should be something your users take for granted.
Often, intranet owners have the perception of ‘speed’ or ‘user experience’ as being about the time it takes to load a single page of your intranet.
Yes, loading speed is important. However, user experience goes much, much further than this. For example, does the structure of your information architecture and navigation allow users to quickly identify where they need to go? Is the taxonomy of content areas unwieldy, are there too many unnecessary clicks or is it difficult to get to the information they need?
One of the primary goals of any intranet is collaboration: giving your intranet to your users, and getting them to engage and contribute. How easy is it for even non-technical users to create content? Is the interface intuitive and simple to use? Does it allow for different file formats – for example, enabling authors to upload Word, Excel, PDF files, and add images, videos or links to their content?
At Interact, the end-user experience is a primary focus in all development. We are committed to creating a fast, intuitive, easy to use platform that delivers a first-rate experience across all environments and browsers.
By combining a user-orientated platform with comprehensive professional services, we ensure every intranet is designed with the end user in mind. We include recognizable features and functionality that are intuitive to users – for example, social tools such as @mentioning, #tagging, or timelines.
Our CMS uses a simple ‘WYSIWYG’ editor with the ability to embed images or rich media, alongside the ability to upload existing file types or integrate with cloud storage providers to provide a centralized and streamlined digital workplace experience for users.
Our Intranet Strategists also partner with customers to build an Information Architecture aligned to the needs and user journeys for that unique business. We take the time to understand what your users will need and look for, the journey they will take, and how to make that process both accessible and intuitive for them. This process ultimately delivers greater value for both user and business.
Take away: put yourself into your users’ shoes. What is their experience of your intranet – its speed, accessibility, ease of use? Is it easy for them to find what they need or complete tasks? Place user experience at the top of your priority list and invest in intranet strategy services to ensure you deliver.
6. Embrace enterprise social networking – according to your business needs and culture
Enterprise social tools are here to stay and offer many advantages for most companies. However, they aren’t appropriate in all cases. Don’t push social features onto your company – at least, not until you are ready and it aligns with your culture.
In our experience, the most successful enterprise social networks have a clear purpose within the company, engage people over different disciplines, and are embraced as part of the overall business culture. If you’ve not had a social collaboration platform before, launching all social features from day one, without addressing cultural barriers, will probably fail.
Understand that not everyone in your company will contribute. People have different roles in a social intranet and you need to find ways to encourage these people. They roughly fall into:
Read content and view conversations, perhaps through pull factors such as alert emails. They may read previous questions and answers to see if they can solve their problems, but don’t feel confident enough – or don’t want to change from tried and tested methods, such as asking the person next to them – to ask on the intranet.
You can evolve this group into Askers and beyond by addressing their fears (technical, emotional or perceptual) and giving a simple overview of how an intranet can be easier and more effective than their current methods.
This group uses the intranet when they have a need, such as a problem solve or a business process to complete. However, they don’t want to proactively contribute or reply to others seeking help.
To get them more engaged, encourage them to add their skills to their profiles. Actively @mention this group into conversations online asking their opinion. This will erode any lack of confidence or feeling that answers and sharing isn’t for them.
Only answer questions they have expert knowledge in. Less inclined to join in conversations with an opinion if they aren’t the expert in the business on it. These users play a critical role but often don’t see the value in their professional connections. Often if this group can be encouraged to interact more, they could introduce other experts into conversations or give another way of looking at an issue.
This group tends to be distinct so you may gain more value speaking to them one-to-one than mass communication. Each is likely to have different needs and reservations or limitations e.g. time or not understanding the benefit.
This group revels in helping others, sharing their thoughts and driving collaboration. They’re likely to be the group who say, “I want to do this, what tools do I need?” or “I’ve tried to do this, can you take a look”.
The challenge with this group is ensuring they are being social with a purpose. Their contribution should drive conversation, but not create hosts of content which has no value to anyone else.
Here are 5 top tips and ideas to get started with a social intranet.
Tip 1. Show the benefits
What do you hope enhanced collaboration will achieve? What are the business benefits for you? Have them clear in your mind and whenever these benefits are achieved, show everyone, advertise it, and tell people that this is what they are aiming for. Showcase good collaboration; explain why the outcome was a business benefit. For example: “We want to help you improve your win rate against competitor X. Can you share reasons for your losses on in the sales team area?”
Tip 2. Reward good collaboration
One of the fastest ways to foster company-wide collaboration is to encourage those who embrace it. Look at your stats, who contributes the most? Rewards could be given on an individual or departmental basis, based on the number of forum posts, comments or questions answered or more meaningfully, based on the quality of the comments or posts.
Tip 3. Shout about your successes
Sell your intranet, make it synonymous with ‘getting work done more efficiently’ by advertising your successes, however small these may be to begin with. Who had their questions answered successfully? Which collaborative discussions lead to money saving, customer service improvements or better practice? Make this quantitative by setting up a homepage widget that promotes this – 5 problems solved, 3 new apps.
Tip 4. Share problems
This could be a straight forward question. For example: Can anyone suggest a better way of working out the office parking problems? Whatever it is, empower your staff by asking them for solutions and ideas, perhaps by setting up a forum, or maybe adding the problem as a document and encouraging comments.
Tip 5. Embrace questions
No matter how difficult to answer, honestly asked questions are an important part of good collaboration. Don’t stifle or delete them; this will cripple the trust people have in their intranet and cause resentment. Instead, have the question answered by the most appropriately placed senior member of staff.
7. Allow people to self-serve – decentralize your intranet
Employees are more confident with technology than ever before, and capable of using tools in a more advanced way. As a collaborative platform, an intranet is also ultimately for, and about, your employees. Give it to them by allowing them to build their own areas to collaborate, create forms, add events and more. Ultimately, enabling your people to self-serve is essential for intranet success.
Interact Teams has transformed the way many of our customers use their intranet and collaborate, by allowing people to create their own project spaces quickly and with no IT involvement.
Alongside this, our workflow and forms tools and integration functionality has enabled many business-critical processes to be automated, reducing the burden on internal resource by empowering staff to complete daily tasks, such as submitting expenses or booking a leave of absence, for themselves.
The important thing to remember is that ‘teams’ in the modern-day workplace are, by nature, agile and diverse. They are also always unique to each company. Organizational design has seen a shift away from ‘hierarchy’ structures to more collaborative, interlinked networks where roles, interests and skills are moved to where they are needed.
This calls for a multitude of different spaces where groups can collaborate, communicate and complete business tasks – and can’t be defined by traditional role-specific teams. For example, you may have a team space linked to a particular project, or around a common interest or area of expertise.
Take away: Encourage your users to take ownership of your intranet. Ensure you have a platform that is easy to use and allow employees to create their own collaborative spaces – whether for certain projects, team structures or even common interests.
8. Use the cloud to your advantage
The rise of cloud computing over the past decade has transformed how organizations operate. Hand-in-hand with the growth of remote working and telecommuting, providing cloud access to vital business applications and information is now established practice across all industry sectors and geographies.
Providing cloud-based access to your intranet can play a vital role in increasing employee engagement and uniting dispersed or mobile workforces. When considering your intranet strategy, ask yourself:
- Do you have a remote workforce?
- Do your users want / need to log-in from home?
- Do you have the buy-in of the IT team or do you need to launch it without their help?
- Do you have the infrastructure internally?
- Do you have any plans to move other systems into the cloud?
Many of our customers have historically had reservations about cost or security, but continual investment into cloud technologies has paved the way for growth and innovation in this field. In the digital workplace, an accessible, flexible and connected technology stack is now a must.
As an example, Interact customer Waterstones, who operate 275 stores across different locations within the UK, have utilized cloud access for their intranet Watson. This form of hosting and ease of access helps bring together their dispersed workforce.
9. Be proud to be an intranet
Investment and developments in workplace tools and technologies has exploded in recent years. In particular, the collaboration and communications market has grown massively.
In turn, intranets have been the focus of substantial innovation and growth. In an age of enterprise social networking, cloud storage and instant messaging, we’ve been asked whether intranets are still relevant and what role they can – or should – play in business communications.
Let’s consider what, at its most basic level, an intranet is.
An intranet is a powerful enabler to solve an employee’s need, offering timely and relevant information and support. It helps connect individuals, regardless of timezone, location, or device. It empowers employees with a voice and offers a means to tap into the knowledge of an organization. What’s more, in an increasingly challenging and dispersed workplace, it helps build and support a successful business culture.
Given the trend towards greater digital collaboration and the value placed on employee engagement, we would argue intranets are now more relevant than ever.
Is the intranet here to stay? Should we call it something different? We believe there is no better way to describe a collection of tools that allow communication, business processes and collaboration than an intranet. So be proud of it – call it an intranet.
Take away: there are a huge variety of tools and applications available to facilitate communication and collaboration. The intranet is a collective, a facilitator, a portal that brings together all these different tools, features and applications. In today’s marketplace, it is more relevant and valuable than ever before.