Whether you’re building a business case or looking to measure that all-important ROI, knowing the (many) potential advantages of an intranet will ensure you’re getting the most out of your platform. So, just what are the benefits of using an intranet?
An intranet is, undeniably, a significant investment.
Fortunately, it can also be worth its weight in gold. Executed correctly, an intranet has the potential to accelerate business performance and transform how you work, delivering unexpected benefits in places you may not even have thought of.
At a first glance, we probably think we know the main goals: communication, accessing information, finding colleagues. The classics.
But the truth is that intranets offer a broad range of features and functionality, which can be applied in a variety of ways. As the age-old proverb tells us, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’: and in our years partnering organizations from around the globe and every industry, we’ve seen that come into play. Turns out, there are many creative ways to find value in what may, at a first glance, be seen as ‘just another piece of business software’.
The advantages of an intranet depend on who you ask
How you do define success in a business? It depends on the person you’re asking. Every different role and function in an organization has its own priorities and ways of judging what success looks like. Let’s consider some typical departmental objectives:
In the same way, the benefits of having an intranet will vary according the unique needs of each area – or even individual – within an organization. Some advantages will overlap; others will only cater to very specific objectives.
This can be both a benefit and a curse. If you’re planning an intranet project, those numerous competing priorities can make for a strategy nightmare. If you’re trying to satisfy everyone, you can end up pleasing no-one at all. On the other hand, you may have focused on the achievement of a handful of specific objectives: and later find that there are unexpected returns that go beyond the original brief.
However, one thing is clear: if benefits are based on the person asking, it pays to understand the ‘what’s in it for me?’ factor for the different areas and individuals in a business.
Here, we’ll explore the (many) advantages of an intranet in a business.
Starting at the top: intranet benefits for senior management
They’re the ones holding the purse strings and controlling budgetary decisions; so, showing your C-suite level stakeholders that your intranet is worth it has to rank as a top priority.
With a focus on business outcomes and growth, these decision-makers are going to be interested in company-wide performance indicators that will drive long-term success. How can an intranet help?
- Align staff behind business mission: employees who feel a sense of purpose demonstrate higher levels of motivation, productivity, morale and overall job satisfaction. Communicating your mission, values, direction and successes through your intranet can instil that purpose.
(Interact customer NYRA prominently displays its mission and shares updates, news and successes on its intranet homepage to help all staff buy-in to the organizational purpose and drive engagement.)
- Increase productivity/time savings and save associated costs: perhaps the strongest bottom-line and measurable benefit is the productivity gains offered from connecting staff to the tools, information and people they need to do their jobs. Less time spent searching or gathering information, disrupting peers to ask questions, or logging into multiple platforms all create operational cost savings that amalgamate over time.
- Improve innovation: staying ahead of the competition and tapping into employee ideas are a priority for any business leader. Staff are able to innovate and put ideas forward when they have the right channels available. An intranet enables them to connect with one another outside of organizational siloes; to engage in discussion, vote or feedback on ideas, and have their voices heard by feeding that up the chain to senior management. That feedback loop also promotes faster time-to-market, helping the organization be more competitive.
(Interact customer Mattress Firm uses the forums functionality on its intranet, Bedpost, to tap into staff ideas on the ‘Gr8 ideas’ forum. 252 ideas were put forward within six months of launching.)
- Reduced incidences and errors: the financial and reputational risk posed by a workplace accident, incident or error is significant: and something all senior leaders will do anything to avoid. Centralized policies, procedures, and compliance, along with sharing of best practice and quick access to information all promote safer work environments with empowered staff.
Needless to say, those sitting at the top table have a stake in the performance of every part of the organization. While these benefits listed may rank higher on their priority list, ultimately, every advantage is going to be an added bonus for this stakeholder group.
Intranet advantages for Communications and Operations
The modern-day intranet is primarily designed as an internal communications tool, taking a decided step away from its legacy as a document dumping ground. Top-ranked features focus on social interactions and connecting staff with peers, information and tools. Gains for those in internal communications, therefore, may seem obvious. However, it’s worth digging a little deeper.
- Centralized access to information: information management is critical in today’s knowledge economy. It’s time to move on from scattered shared drives, multiple versions of essential documents stashed on desktops, or the company SharePoint that has exploded on such an atomic scale nowhere knows where to look anymore. With a centralized CMS and connections to your cloud-based storage, underpinned by a powerful enterprise search, an intranet can give your staff everything they need at their fingertips.
(Global financial services provider, Travelex, makes all critical policies and information readily available to all staff from its intranet, The Lounge.)
- Brand consistency: Ensuring all staff are using the same materials and are united behind the same message has a significant impact on your brand. It may be as simple as ensuring everyone has access to a high-resolution version of your latest logo, or that the newest marketing materials are readily available: an intranet CMS is the perfect solution.
UK retailer Waterstones uses its intranet ‘Watson’ to centralize the storage of crucial marketing materials, ensuring not only brand consistency throughout its 300 stores, but huge operational savings.
We now use pages on Watson to host PDFs of marketing materials for important titles. Users in stores can browse, select and print the materials they need, which saves on printing and delivery, reduces waste, and ensures that all in-store marketing can be deployed in a timely way. This has reduced the cost of a high-quality print from £300 before to just £15. That represents total cost savings of tens of thousands of pounds a year.
- Improve efficiency: With a single source of truth comes increased efficiency for staff, who currently spend an average of 8 hours per week searching and gathering information. Improve that by even just 5% with an intranet, and for a 5,000-strong workforce? You can save 2,000 hours a week. That’s before you even factor in efficiencies gained from going paperless, using digitalized workflows and forms, and empowering staff to self-serve rather than picking up the phone to a colleague.
- Cross-team collaboration: the rigid, traditional departmental structure of organizations is fast dying out. The world’s most forward-thinking and successful workplaces understand that agility of staff to go where their skills are needed – rather than where their job title dictates they should ‘live’ within the business – is critical.
An intranet helps staff break out those siloes. Assigning searchable skills and interests on profiles allows staff to find peers more easily. The social nature of a successful intranet also means staff are building connections and relationships with one another, outside of their departmental structures.
Global non-profit War Child has successfully broken down barriers between staff with its intranet Phileas. By combing central areas for organizational news with features such as Google Translate and the use of forums, the global teams can communicate and connect to share ideas and stories, regardless of location or language.
Phileas is now the place where all staff can go to not only find the resources they need for their day-to-day jobs, but to connect with colleagues in different offices and find out more about the people they work with. If we’re learning good techniques in one country, Phileas empowers those staff to share what they’re doing with other countries and help us improve the quality of our work quicker. As an example, we create child-friendly spaces for children who are very young and not yet verbal. Staff can share ideas between countries about how to make those work for the children.
- Crisis communication: a crisis, whether internally-based or external, now has the capacity to escalate rapidly thanks to connectivity of social media. Mobilising a workforce when it matters is critical. However, it can also be tremendously difficult to get the message out to every employee, particularly those working on the front-line, out on the road, or remotely.
Broadcasting crisis communication through your intranet is an effective multi-channel approach that utilizes not only traditional methods, such as email or a homepage banner, but also push notifications and SMS messages to alert every individual – before the rumour mill starts.
- Personalization and tailored communication: in an age of digital noise, capturing and retaining attention is difficult. The company-wide email for every internal announcement is dead: it simply won’t be read. Intranet functionality tailors the internal comms experience, ensuring messages as read.
This may be through the use of individual homepages for different areas of the business; team areas to provide focus for a particular department; or using ‘persona groups’, which empower comms to drill down highly specific audience groups using a variety of filters. Staff get only communication that is relevant to them and their job.
- Enhanced customer experience: what do you get when you combine all of the above? When customers receive consistent, accurate information in a timely manner, from staff who are confident and empowered to answer their questions, customer satisfaction soars. When things work well on the inside, it shows on the outside.
Avon and Somerset Police
Interact Excellence Award Winners, Avon and Somerset Police, utilize their intranet ‘Pocketbook’ to enhance the call handling process for emergency 999 and 101 calls. The large team answering these uses many different pieces of software at any one time while taking calls.
Pocketbook allows them to search for more of what they need in one place, saving time while on important calls and helping the team get the right response for callers. A team room was created to house information for call handlers, call scripts, process diagrams and details on how to deal with persistent 999 callers.
Thanks to Pocketbook I now only have 4 tabs open in Internet Explorer, including Pocketbook itself. This is compared to the 6 or 7 that I used to have open and that didn’t even include the old intranet, because none of us ever used it. I honestly don’t know how we’ve managed without this for so long!
HR intranet benefits
While traditional perceptions of the intranet may place it in the hands of Comms, IT, or even Marketing, those in HR actually stand to be one of the greatest beneficiaries of a well-executed intranet.
- Build company culture: the concept of corporate culture has been challenged in recent years. Dispersed workforces and the growth of technology make it harder than ever to establish a company-wide culture.
An intranet can be used to build, communicate and embed a virtual culture, outside the physical walls of head office. This can be as simple as hosting the company mission and values; sharing the business vision and successes; posting blogs about social and CSR initiatives; or fostering peer relationships beyond departmental siloes with shared interest teams, company-wide news areas, and a searchable employee directory.
- Drive employee engagement: Connecting staff to a sense of purpose, building a positive culture, rewarding and recognizing efforts, and providing them with the necessary tools and information required to excel all contribute to a better employee experience of work. This drives engagement: a top-ranking concern in today’s workplace, where 87% of employees are not engaged – but those companies with highly engaged employees outperform peers by 147% in earnings per share (Gallup).
- Recruitment and retention improvements: Hand-in-hand with improvements in engagement and workplace experience comes better staff retention. Happier employees are not only more likely to stay with your business, they are more likely to advocate for the business to others: building a stronger employer brand and helping to attract top talent.
- Faster onboarding of new recruits: new starter homepages which push relevant onboarding information and tasks can take a chunk of the headache out of getting new staff up to speed.
- Cut down administration: digital workflows and process on an intranet can produce huge time and resource savings for HR. This could be in the form of digitalized forms to submit expenses or performance reviews, centralized compliance processes, or simply hosting all HR policies and procedures in one place.(UK healthcare provider, Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust, use their intranet ‘Flo’ to centralize all vital business and HR processes. In the ‘Worklife’ section, employees can access benefit and payroll information, read vital company policies, submit travel expenses, complete appraisals and much more.)
- Creates a feedback loop: with two-way communication, intranets empower our staff with a voice. Tools include pulse surveys, polls, forums, social features such as commenting or liking, or even simply timeline posts and blogs posted by staff.
- Connect remote staff: reducing isolation, risk, and high turnover of remotely based or front-line staff is growing in importance as our workforces become more dispersed. A cloud-based and mobile intranet – particularly those with a purpose-built app – connects non-desk-based staff to the organization, its information and staff on-the-go.
- Manage training and development initiatives: while not a purpose-built L&D platform, we’ve seen some highly effective uses of an intranet to facilitate in-house training and development, saving associated cost of investing in another piece of software. The workflow and forms feature is also effective as a way of streamlining and automating the performance review process.
Global tourism and photography company Magic Memories manages its leadership development program through its intranet, ‘Click’.
Though being creative and using the different options available, we can drive our learning through Click, which we’ve developed into a virtual learning college (VLC). We’ve been able to execute a global leadership programme with really high user engagement and results.
We have essentially saved 50 percent by switching to Interact, because previously we had around half the number of staff and were spending the same amount of money on a L&D platform. We also use click for our performance review process, representing another cost saving for us.
Intranet advantages for your IT department
An intranet should sit at the heart of the digital workplace, playing a crucial role alongside existing tools and platforms within your technology stack. It needs to align with long-term strategy and the organizational roadmap. While off-the-shelf intranet software is designed for communicators, buy-in from IT can make or break an intranet project. Here’s how it can benefit those with a technical stake in your business.
- Free up valuable IT time and resource: an off-the-shelf intranet may free up valuable and expensive resource by relieving a burden on the IT department, particularly if your organization has a legacy system built or managed internally, such as a SharePoint deployment.
Affinity Sutton saved $95,500 a year in manpower by introducing an off-the-shelf, easy to use solution: allowing three full-time members of staff previously devoted to the intranet to be redeployed to other IT duties.
- Single Sign-On: with the average enterprise juggling 500 different applications as part of its technology stack, password and security risk on hot on every IT decision-makers’ list. Your intranet can be configured as an identity provider, supporting ADFS, SAML and LDAP: essentially enabling staff to login just once to their intranet, and securely access critical applications without the need for multiple logins.SkyBet uses their intranet as the launchpad for every application within their business:
Our people can access all the other business applications they need to manage their daily working life at SBG. SAML single sign on means that users are forced to go through our intranet, SBG & Me, in order to view pay slips, book holidays, manage benefits, raise IT service desk requests – pretty much everything! This is one of our key drivers of engagement and usage.
- Integration: streamlining a complex digital workplace to make for a user-friendly, seamless and intuitive experience is no small feat. Integration functionality within an intranet can provide the answer. An employee-focused intranet gives staff a centralized user interface for a variety of business applications, from productivity tools to documents management systems and Office 365.
- Reduction in email traffic and server burden: management of internal communications through an intranet reduces the volume of emails sent within a business, along with associated server burden. A cloud-based solution, hosted by the provider, further lightens the internal server load, internal resource requirements for maintenance/management and reduces the risk of associated downtime.
Interact customer March of Dimes achieved annual cost savings of $10,000 by eliminating outdated content and moving to a more streamlined intranet platform, reducing hardware costs by more than 60%.
- Risk and compliance: 43% of businesses report experiencing a cyber security breach in the last 12 months (ONS) and the protection of privileged data is now ranked as one of the top considerations for business leaders in 2019. Ensuring staff are compliant and understand their responsibilities when it comes to security and data protection is critical. Centralizing policies, using mandatory read and quizzes to check understanding, and integration with ticket systems such as ZenDesk to alert IT of any breaches or concerns can all reduce risk.
The perfect intranet?
Although – as the list shows – the benefits of having an intranet arguably span the entire business, it’s important to remember that success depends on a number of factors. It isn’t a silver bullet: not every intranet will deliver every return.
To truly deliver value, an intranet requires ongoing investment and development. As our organizations evolve and change, our intranets have to change with us. Underpinning it with a defined strategy, clear objectives that are measured and revisited, and getting input from across the organization are all key to maximizing the benefits of an intranet.