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The five pillars of enterprise intranets

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People who have spoken to us know that we very often rail against ‘old fashioned’ intranets. These were very often ‘owned’ by the communications team and fall firmly under the description “a website for staff”.

Although we have been fairly frank about our view of the (minimal) value of these, they generally originated from the days of old when that was the state of the art; the technologies of the time didn’t allow much more of the intranet than for it to be a corporate messaging tool, perhaps with the ability to publish a few documents.

Today the art of the possible delivered by available technologies is very different. A modern, valuable intranet can do an awful lot more and any strategy & investment in an intranet should aim to embrace a much greater vision.

A modern intranet should be a major strategic business platform, supplanting disparate other systems and introducing better ways of working. There are five core capabilities such an intranet provides which should be attended to in the strategy, the requirements and adoption.

The five core needs of an intranet are: Content, communication, collaboration and business process and people.

Content

Documents, frequently asked questions, staff directories, lists of key information etc. all form part of the Content managed by a great intranet.

There should be a lot of emphasis on content in intranet development, since users in knowledge rich organisations have significant challenges with finding, storing and managing their documents etc. This leads to general efficiency losses (some studies show users spending up to 30 minutes per day looking for documents), delays around document driven processes, risks associated with governance, staff frustration and gaps in knowledge used in decision making.

Successful intranets replace local storage and file servers with sophisticated metadata driven libraries, supported by version control, approvals etc as needed. In almost every case folders are not used – hierarchical taxonomies (nested folders to users) are a deeply broken model. critical, important and long tail content should be migrated into the intranet to ensure as much as possible benefits from the approach. Personal libraries, team and department libraries and a corporate document centre replace the diverse and poorly managed clusters of content spread across many systems.

Get this right and you should be able to find any document using search in a handful of seconds, using the metadata (such as the fact that it’s a Policy, with an Author, owned by a department, regarding absence with a status of ‘Published’, updated in the last 6 months) to filter the search results.

You can be certain that the document found is the only current version. If it has been revised then previous versions can be checked.

Communication

News, announcements, alerts, newsletters, branding and status information (related to the organisation as a whole, teams and departments, projects etc.) along with the mechanisms by which these are disseminated and feedback is captured are the cornerstones of the communications role of a successful intranet.

Placing key messages in prominent positions (often the home page and department pages) forms part of a push communication strategy, while other information is delivered in context when users wish to delve into it (pull strategy).

With so much information flowing around modern organisations clutter and overload are serious challenges. Tools, such as personalisation and audience targeting reduce the noise to ensure the valuable messages make it through. Return channels that allow such information to be commented on, revised and improved are vital too, as are alerting tools so users can be informed if they have a specific interest and want to stay up to date. This may include embedding RSS feeds for showing news from 3rd party sources (such as updates from the MHRA) or even personal emails.

Collaboration

Working with colleagues on tasks and information, whether simultaneously or at different times, is the lifeblood of any organisation, and should be one of the main focuses for a strategic intranet.

Once you have you documents and other content available on demand it makes sense to use the same platform to do the actual work rather than undermining the assurance and speed of the approach by reverting to offline documents, email and face to face meetings to get the job done. Great intranets allow the round-robin of document creation or other tasks to happen seamlessly, often using status metadata (‘awaiting review’, ‘for final sign off’) and views (display only documents awaiting review where I am the editor).

More sophisticated intranets let multiple authors work on the same document at the same time – massively speeding up document review and creation.

Because even the best intranets can only capture a small proportion of all the knowledge an organisation has, they should also help put people in touch with people. Staff directories and personal profiles that include contact details, interests and skills etc. help this. Linking to real-time technologies that indicate presence (I’m online, I’m in a meeting etc.) and allow users to share their screens during calls extend this productivity to teams even when they aren’t sat at adjacent desks or clustered in meeting rooms.

Collaboration like this reduces travel time and cost, improves responsiveness and organisational agility and removes barriers to getting things done quickly and completely.

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