Software alone is not enough: the role of professional services in creating a winning intranet
In a digital world of automation and updates, it’s easy to think a new intranet will take on the role of an internal communications and engagement version of the Terminator: rampaging through your organization, enforcing immediate engagement on all who stands in its path.
The bad news is, an intranet isn’t sent from the future. It can’t predict your future challenges and eliminate every risk. And much as we may want it to, it’s not going to annihilate every single internal communications challenge in its path.
We know that change is necessary for business. New tools, new processes, and new ideas are essential if we are to stay relevant and ahead of the competition. But simply buying a shiny new tool off-the-shelf and pressing the ‘on’ switch isn’t guaranteed to deliver results or create real change. If your staff hold reservations or prejudices, or there are invisible barriers standing in your way, even Arnie himself can’t guarantee success.
The trouble is, an intranet – or, in fact, any software project – represents a considerable investment. And your senior stakeholders aren’t going to be impressed by this glossy internal cyborg if in the long term it doesn’t engage, drive ROI for your business, or worse still……is left underused.
So, what’s the answer? How do we protect our investment, deliver results, and prevent our intranet project from becoming, well… a failed mission?
Planning an intranet: it takes a village
So, you’re getting a shiny new intranet. Whilst at Interact, we can promise this new tool will both work and be future-proofed (thanks, superb QA and product teams, as well as a Service Desk who come with a customer satisfaction level in the mid-90s), we’ll be the first to admit that the software alone just isn’t enough.
If your mission is to champion change and deliver real results from your project, first of all, you need to understand what success actually looks like when it comes to your intranet. The key to this is engaging major staff groups before designing and launching your new intranet: getting the information you need to make the right decisions to engage your users and, ultimately, deliver results.
While Arnie would just say “I need your clothes, your boots and your bike”, we’ve come to understand that’s not a winning approach for everyone. We just need you to be prepared to listen, challenge what you know, and make sure your new intranet meets the needs of the people who use it. At Interact, we do this by taking the ‘work’ out of workshops and equipping you with the questions you need to ask, in order to get the insight you require.
That’s the key difference between Interact and SkyNet. We’re not a fruitless journey to an unchangeable destiny of self-destruction. We can help you influence the future; we can get your users engaging; we can use the human touch.
Or put another way, we have the services and support you need to ensure your intranet is a success.
(Interact is NOT Skynet)
So, we’ve established that great software alone isn’t enough. Flicking the ‘on’ switch and crossing our fingers is a recipe for disaster, no matter how many bright, shiny features your new platform may have.
To get your intranet off to the best possible start, you need to consider:
- Governance and planning
- Launch and engagement
- Project management
Here at Interact, our suite of professional services is designed to cover every element of intranet design, launch, and ongoing support – supporting our customers in realizing their long-term objectives and delivering a tangible return on investment. Here, I’ll explore the main areas – and why they’re vital to your success.
Governance and planning
The decisions you make before adding that pesky out-of-date HR policy to your new intranet hold the key to making it work in the long term. For example, how will you and your business position the new intranet within the organization? How receptive will your users be, and how can you prepare for this? Are there detractors to listen to and manage? Indeed, are your users and stakeholders even ready for it?
As an example, I was asked just last week whether Interact had an automated content migration tool, so that content from a customers’ old intranet could be simply ‘dragged and dropped’ into the new Interact version. It’s a common question, and usually, one that indicates a customer wants to go live quickly.
My response wasn’t a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It was, ‘why on earth would you want this?’
Creating something like this saps the very lifeblood out of the work you are doing in preparation for a successful intranet. This lack of planning may be a shortcut to the go-live date, but it’s also a one-way-ticket to failure. Your intranet just becomes a digital apocalyptic wasteland, full of old content burnt and tinged, floating around with no attention from disinterested content owners, and generally no purpose in life. Quite depressing really.
(A Digital apocalyptic wasteland)
Gathering content can be a lengthy process, but investing the time will also be the making of your intranet. Take the time to take a look at the people who’ll ultimately be using it. Creating personas from user types, departments, and heavy content users can get you looking at your content anew and considering what you need for your new intranet.
Look at that existing content by all means, take a list (we’ll help you with that too), but freshen it up, out with the old, in with the new.
Of course, old doesn’t necessarily mean that it automatically doesn’t make the cut. Use any existing metrics you have to find whether people are using it. Get current content owners and department leads to let you know its purpose and you’ll soon find your own measurement scale to decide what makes the grade – you’ll probably find that a lot of older content just needs a bit of elbow grease.
Our team work to three clear principles when it comes to structure and content. Keep these front of mind during the planning and governance process.
A recent customer described this process to me as intranet therapy: the ability to both annihilate old content, and more importantly get those content owners to understand WHY you are annihilating it, is liberating. Ultimately, we discover that the content on our customers’ intranets hardly ever ends up being what initial stakeholders thought it would be.
Planning & Governance Top Tip
Redundant, offline processes can often be replaced with online form functions on a new intranet. Overflowing in-trays of forms awaiting sign off can be a thing of the past – saving time, resource, and gaining you valuable brownie ROI points with your senior stakeholders in the process. Got lots of these scenarios in your workplace? Pick one or two heavy hitters that are going to make an immediate, notable difference. Take some weight off the shoulders of those at the top, and they will pay back with engagement eyeballs and a keen interest in supporting the long-term success of your intranet.
(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, all HR information is grouped and clearly categorized for intuitive navigation. Icons provide a simple and accessible way to pick out what users need. Employees can access benefit and payroll information, read vital company policies, submit travel expenses, complete appraisals and much more.)
With a content plan in place, and everything audited, rewritten and ready to go, we’ll suggest a structure and effective information architecture (IA) for you. This deals with how information is grouped and mapped out on your intranet, how easily it can be found or navigated to, and the language or terminology used throughout your platform.
By this time, we’ll know a lot more about you and your business, so we’ll be able to suggest best practice from customers from similar sectors, of similar size, similar goals, personas and content quantities. You should also consider whether your priorities for content discovery are around search, or structural finding: both are important, but this weighting will dictate where time and effort are spent on testing your structure with user base samples. Again, it’s a great way of continuous engagement with some of your key stakeholders.
The result is a better digital experience for your employees: the ability to find what they’re looking for quickly and easily, which ultimately supports them to do their jobs and better support your customers.
“With our intranet, we can find people and information quickly and respond to customer queries faster.
“There are also tools such as online HR forms that save on admin time so we can focus on what really matters: delivering a consistently excellent experience for every one of our customers and supporting them through their journey with us.”
- Laura Talbot, Internal Communications Manager, AO.com
Once you’ve got your content and structure ready, you’ll no doubt be itching to get your hands on your new software. However, as anyone who’s ever enjoyed a new software roll-out will testify, even the most user-friendly tools – like Interact – require a bit of getting used to. Ensuring your users, content authors and intranet managers alike are confident about how to use their intranet is essential for its adoption. If your users are confused, overwhelmed or suspicious of this new invader, they’ll resist – and the project quickly derails.
We’ll have early sighters of the product for you, but this will be the first time you’ll get some training so that you can build on those decisions you’ve made. Our training sessions are practical, instructor-led sessions, with agendas adapted over the years to bring you the knowledge you need. We’ll use your own intranet, rather than a template, to ensure you get to grips with your own unique architecture, content, and processes. Our trainers have helped thousands of site administrators and content managers gain the knowledge to build out their intranets: and we’ll do the same for you.
“The success of our intranet project ultimately depended on our staff adopting and using the site.
“Interact’s trainers took the time to understand what we were looking to accomplish and gave hands-on support to ensure our users were confident and excited about their new intranet, right from the start.”
- Joel Turner – Sky Betting & Gaming
Continuing your content build post-training is a fluid process. All your settings and permissions will have been set up, your administrators know the ropes: and now, it’s time to populate.
Naturally, your content owners will need prompts and have queries as you go. We find that one of the best sources of support is fellow intranet admins and content owners: your peers, those who have been there before you.
Our Interact Community in an online resource available to all our customers to ask questions, seek support, and tap into all that expertise. It also hosts numerous ‘How to…’ tips and answers, and of course, we’ll be on hand. We also host ‘Build Parties’ to come back in and work with you as you build your sites out. This tends to work well for identifying and addressing gaps in build from your content owners.
(The Interact Community is an invaluable resource that can be tapped into by anyone utilizing our product. Alongside ideas and top tips, we also host regular events to bring together customers and users to network, share best practice, and learn from one another.)
Working backwards, your homepage build will be the part that puts the ‘finishing touch’ to your site. The homepage is the window into your intranet, the powerful first touchpoint where a great deal of focus – both during design, and once your intranet goes live – is placed. Our strategists will help you plan these out, taking you right back to the start to review your objectives, the content you have, and the needs of your users before mapping out the real estate, look, and feel of your homepages.
Produce homepages relevant for your personas, and mix it up with cross location, globally relevant material. Personalize and tailor content according to their unique needs. Ensure your homepage is dynamic and has something that changes, in order to keep those all-important users coming back: a frequency plan for your homepage news rotations, for example, or using widgets to feed in third-party content that changes on a regular basis, such as your company Twitter feed.
In the same way the T1000 evolved, your intranet has to be aesthetically pleasing. A great design will engage your users, create a sense of pride and ownership, communicate your culture and brand and much, much more.
You’ve got to work with your stakeholders to make an impactful, engaging site on first view. This can be tricky; design is, by nature, subjective. What appeals to one stakeholder almost certainly won’t appeal to another: and you need to balance the appearance and design with what they homepage actually needs to do. Looks shouldn’t trump functionality.
We can’t promise that we can melt your intranet down and solidify it into any form(!), but we will work with you for to get something visually fantastic that communicates who you are, and what you’re looking to achieve with your intranet. We can help align it with any business rebrands you might be having. We’ll help you polish up your homepages later on too. Check out some of our engaging intranet design examples.
(Acorn’s intranet, named ‘Intranut’.)
(Acorn’s external website)
(Interact customer Acorns, a children’s hospice non-profit organization, aligned their new intranet design with their external brand, using the same colour palette and incorporating their logo. However, they also made certain elements distinct – such as the font, typography, and children’s drawings for icons which are more fun, informal, and child-like in their tone. The result is a focus on the purpose and mission of the organization – the children it helps.)
It’s a great opportunity to freshen up the old look and feel of an outdated system, or if you’ve never had a previous system before, you might want to consider a new dynamic to your existing brand. Naming competitions go down a treat and can freshen up perceptions of internal communications (though you might need to veto ‘Intranety McIntranetFace’, if it crops up).
Bring internal comms into the present and make sure it’s prepared for the future: make it relevant.
Launch and Engagement
On top of this great work, you’ve also got to find a balance between in-depth analytics and ‘getting it right’ with an engagement tone that will satisfy – there’s no point spending an age surveying your workforce population (and harnessing a little excitement from those being engaged with at the same time) if you don launch the thing until 2021.
If you think about it, you’ve been talking about engagement to your stakeholders from the first day you asked about content gathering. Keep the messaging around engagement constant enough to keep it fresh in people’s minds, but fluid enough to help you adjust what your day 1 launch looks like.
To maximize engagement from day 1, you may want to consider a soft or staggered launch to particular user bases or departments, or a cross sample of multiple departments, locations, or user types (such as remote workers vs. desktop workers). Approaching it this way can help gather support in an accumulative fashion. Alternatively, a soft rollout of software features available to you may help get your users onboard and adopting your new intranet (you might not be ready for all of them straight away).
On the other hand, some of our customers choose to do a large-scale launch event across the whole business: complete with branded collateral, talks from senior stakeholders, a live tour and more. We’ve seen teaser campaigns where the IC team start to drop hints in the weeks before going live, through to projects that are announced as soon as the contract is signed.
There’s no right or wrong, black and white answer here. Every business is different. We’ll guide you on the right answer for your organization as we get to know you and your users’ needs.
A key ingredient holding all these different elements and services together is the Project Management services you’ll receive from Interact. Our project managers will keep you on track, make you sure you do things in the right order, are realistic about your goals, and ultimately support you in achieving a future-proofed Intranet that will be governed successfully…and never try to take over the world.
And that’s the crux of it: Professional Services is about getting to know you, supporting you, and empowering you to make the decisions that matter using the very best information available. Ultimately, we’re here to guide you along the right pathways to impact the future of your intranet.
This is our commitment to you. You’re important, you’re our customer, and we will never simply plug and let you play. We’ll help you get all the surrounding parts of the jigsaw in place too, and even guide you on what order to put them in. You’ll reap the benefits further down the line.
A great man once said (different film….), “Your future hasn’t been written yet. No-ones has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one.”
Once Judgement – sorry, Launch – Day does arrive, all the hard work will be worth it.
Want to learn more about our professional services offering? Why not get in touch and discover what support we can offer when it comes to helping you build, and maintain, a world-class intranet.