An Intranet is the backbone of today's corporate environment. What makes intranets popular among large and medium size businesses is its ability to offer workers remote access to critical information. Because intranet architecture is similar to the internet, employees can easily access a company’s internal webpage by logging on to the local intranet using common browsing tools. Similar to browsing the internet, except employee browse the webpages and database of the company that are stored internally.
Additionally, many companies also authorize business partners to access their intranet. The collaboration allows partners to discuss and share important information by using document management functionality, combined with tools such as video conferencing, chat rooms and forums. Since these communications are conducted remotely, firewalls and network gateways protect unauthorized users to view vital information.
The single most effective feature of an intranet is the web-browser interface. Because most individuals are already familiar with using the web, the transition to an intranet is simple. As a result, employees are able to perform jobs efficiently. Familiar tools improve workforce productivity allowing projects to be completed on time. For companies the advantage lies in cost savings by providing instant support on critical issues and updating information in real time.
Mostly, the objective of a company planning to launch an intranet is to create an environment that will facilitate improved employees communication, thus increasing the overall efficiency of tasks.
Important: A common problem is when intranet designers and implementers forget that the end user of their network will be an average employee, who would naturally like to use a non-technical platform. Consequently, complex applications may be easier for tech savvy designers, but will be difficult for other users to understand. Thus, intranet designers should plan the intranet design after reviewing the basic needs of users. The best results will be achieved by gathering a team made of end users from different departments, or at the very least, interviewing different end users.
Aside from increasing productivity, the objective of the intranet is to distribute responsibility among team members. These responsibilities are enabled through a set hierarchy allowing senior members to access broader areas of the intranet, and enabling them to use tools to administer and control other members' under their supervision. Such a hierarchy is constructed by defining roles and access levels of members. For example, intranet designers can distinguish various members by categorizing them as administrators, publishers, authors, editors and webmasters, etc. A sample of such a hierarchy is evident in large public forums on the internet where anyone can view a post, but only registered users can create new topics. These guests and members are administered by various moderators who are themselves overseen by the owner of the website. Hence, creating a hierarchy will enable everyone to understand their position in a large multilevel network.
Adoption & Participation
Perhaps one of the most demanding factors contributing to the success of an intranet is the rapid adoption of the new platform. Participation of employees is not automatic. Instead, many companies fail to utilize an intranet effectively because their employees do not use the intranet as frequently as they should. Experts warn that even good intranets may not prove effective if employee participation is limited.
Therefore, it is mandatory for all intranet designers to accomplish an adoption process allowing employees to familiarize them with the new technology. Such adoption processes can include training sessions and workshops. Even more effective adoption process is to utilize familiar applications that potential users are already using on the internet. Designers can achieve their adoption targets by reviewing examples of other successful intranets. Functions such as a built-in search engine, extensive help directory, FAQs and live support can accelerate this transition.
After this adoption process, the challenge is to convince employees to participate on the intranet. In this regard, it is best to convince senior members to use the technology. Logically, if the hierarchy is well defined and members understand their roles, communication will automatically flow through the higher channels. Sometimes, corporate managers mistakenly try to convince every member to participate. This approach may not be effective because if a senior member does not participate then the flow of information may be very limited.
As such, good intranet implementation practices also involve a dedicated team who continuously monitor policies, rules and feedback from the users. Regular surveys and feedback are a part of the participation process ensuring that the intranet is continually upgraded to improve the existing quality.
Accountability & Identification
Accountability is an important factor in determining the success of an intranet. Since the intranet is a communication tool it is important to identify the individuals who will communicate through this network. For example, important actions such as document version control, file modifications, editing of messages and publishing should identify the person who undertakes these specific tasks. Such accountability and identification procedures will ensure that the management is able to identify and make staff accountable for those tasks. Nowadays, intranet applications are equipped with this technology. Therefore, the only thing that designers need to ensure is the availability of servers that can archive massive quantities of such information.
In order to manage costs, companies are trying to incorporate remote technology to administer to employees away from the office, from those working at home or travelling interstate, to others meeting at a client's office.
Designers should focus on deploying mobile tools, which not only help field workers but also allow managers to continuously monitor projects from home. In fact, mobile intranet is a revolutionary technology that will change how employees work. Nowadays, many large companies also provide dedicated 24 hour support to their workers by implementing remote support systems that can help resolve computer software issues. In fact, smaller companies with limited resources can also outsource these support tasks to outsourcing specialists and give them access to company's intranet.
Page Layout & Navigation
While developing intranets, designers can forget that the end users may not be tech savvy and create page layouts which are difficult to browse. Therefore, it is important that page layout and navigation are kept simple so that even a novice can easily locate the required information. Generally, modern enterprise content management systems provide sample templates to keep a consistent layout. Nevertheless, designers can also get a feel of layout by reviewing the websites of prominent technology companies. All of these companies have simple layouts.
Communication tools such as Blogs, chat rooms and forums are not exclusive to the web. These types of social tools are also an inherent part of a good intranet. Logically, the purpose of the intranet is to close the communication gap, and chat rooms and forums provide the most cost effective solution of communication. As mentioned, if employees are provided remote access than it will allow them to post messages from their homes and client sites without interfering with their normal work routines. Its increases participation and allows employees to communicate after normal working hours.
As an example, in a call center environment where the central control continuously strives to communicate with several team leaders, a dedicated chat room can easily solve this problem. The chat room will include all the team leaders of various teams who could not only communicate with the central control, but also relay messages to other team leaders. This communication platform can be extended by simply giving access to other departments located outside the main headquarters. If there is a technical problem, the technical department, located in a remote location, can warn various call centers located in different geographical locations.
Almost all new intranet management software comes equipped with the built-in functionality to incorporate various forums and chat rooms. While chat rooms provide real time access to the flow of communication, blogs and forums also play a passive, but equally important role during communication. According to a Nielsen Norman Group Report, the design and usability of best intranet practices, CEO blogging on the intranet is considered among the top qualities of a good intranet. It may seem trivial, but such executive level blogs play an important role in boosting employee morale. Additionally, if such a blog allows employees to post comments then an average employee in a large company of thousands of workers can feel empowered by posting a comment to relay the message to CEO.
Developing an intranet architecture is similar to creating a website, but often without complicated graphics and videos. Simplicity is the key to success of the intranet. Industry specialists agree that intranet websites are different from traditional web because the sole purpose of the intranet is to distribute and share information quickly, thus increasing the ROI. Therefore, it is important that designers limit the page design to 64KB. For example the Microsoft intranet website is designed to correlate with their internet page. It has very few graphics and no animation. The custom color theme matches the Microsoft logo and contains only white and light blue colors. This simple concept enables designers to integrate more features and add additional space.
Likewise Cisco, which is a competitor of Microsoft, also utilizes a simple color theme without heavy graphics. The use of limited graphics has allowed designers to integrate empathetic ideas. These include a journalistic post that any employee can post on the main website. Such endeavors help to increase employee involvement while allowing them to introduce themselves in an organization of thousands of workers. It will not be an overstatement to claim that these and similar tactics will be more beneficial to employees of small and medium size companies. Similarly, it is also important to plan intranet architecture that is able to integrate new applications in the future. Such architecture would allow designers to add new functionality whenever needed.
Before initiating an intranet strategy, an intranet designer may follow these steps:
- Conduct a survey of employees and management to gain a better perspective on the top priorities of the workers.
- Based on the survey, develop a project plan that should include the objective of the intranet and its potential usage.
- Evaluate different software vendors to gain a better understanding. It is better to address only the critical issues and call the vendor help desk to see who may provide a better solution to your most demanding needs.
- Review other intranets and websites to get ideas on the best aspects of intranet design. It may also help to talk to intranet administrators of other companies.
- Engage the IT department because IT is the backbone of the new intranet. Discuss your plans with the technicians and get their feedback as well.
- Designating content ownership is an important aspect of intranet design. Designers should know the roles of users and their authorities which will help them provide the needed access to various individuals in the hierarchy.
- Create a layout of the basic architecture. The design of the intranet should be flexible to integrate future changes to the original architecture.
- Conduct a post project evaluation to get feedback and continue to update the intranet, as needed.
Remember: the main challenge of building a successful intranet is to convince users to utilize the technology. Use an internal mini-marketing campaign for a successful launch. Develop an internal campaign directed towards the workers enticing them to use the intranet. Training, seminars and workshops can help employees gain a better perspective of the benefits.