[Updated: 3rd January 2019]
Here at Elcom, we've been designing and developing intranets for over 20 years across all industries. Below are some insights from what we've learnt.
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.
Here are key intranet best practices you should follow.
Plan for the End User
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.
In the planning phase, think about everyone using the new intranet and their needs.
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.
For more detailed insights, read the related blog post 'Best Practices for Planning a Corporate intranet'.
Create an Administration Hierarchy
Not everyone will (or should) have equal access to the intranet. Decide how 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.
Implement an Adoption Process
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 undertake 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.
For more detailed insights on increasing intranet adoption and participation, read 'The Ultimate Guide to Measuring & Improving Intranet Success'.
Make Users Accountable
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.
Think about Mobility
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.
Make Communication a Priority
Communication tools such as Blogs, team workspaces 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 team workspaces 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.
For example, workspaces can be created for specific projects, topics and locations.
Almost all new intranet management software comes equipped with the built-in functionality to incorporate various forums and team workspaces. While workspaces 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.
Follow a Well-Thought Out Plan
Implementing a new intranet is a time and resource intensive task. In order to give it the best possible chance for success, you need to create and follow a well-thought out strategy and plan for choosing and launching your intranet.
This includes (but is not limited to):
- 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.
- Designate 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.