Honestly, when was the last time you logged onto your company’s Intranet? For most companies, the Intranet is a necessity for HR and knowledge management but it isn’t something that excites employees or is considered a priority. Instead, employees are using other tools such as Slack, Evernote, Dropbox, Asana and Google Docs and the Intranets are not achieving the intended results. But Intranets have huge potential to improve productivity and employee satisfaction.
Intranets began to appear in a range of larger organizations from 1994. Sun was one of the first companies in the world to design an Intranet. Some of the early players in this space were Netscape, Frontier Technologies and Lotus Notes. Since then Microsoft SharePoint (launched in 2001) has become the dominant software used for creating Intranets with about 50% of the market. In 2005 Tim O’Riley introduced the terminology Web 2.0 whereafter everyone introduced interactive capabilities to their software and Intranets including ability to add pages, comment and give feedback.
So what was the typical purpose of Intranets?
Here are a few of the use cases that Intranets were originally created for:
- Looking up and connecting with colleagues
- News updates
- Document repository
- Looking up information / Knowledge Management
- Training / eLearning
- Case studies
- Company policies, benefits and guidelines
These are still great use cases but despite the early Web 2.0 initiatives most organizations end up with a 1-way information website that employees visit once per month or when they need specific information. And most of the time this results in a growing amount of information that is out of date.
What problem is it solving?
As with any product you should start by solving one or a couple of user problems that apply to the majority of employees in the company. If it doesn’t do this it will most likely fail. The most important success factor for an Intranet today is active user involvement from people throughout the organization during the design and development process.
So what are the problems?
Axero lists 17 common reasons to why Intranets fail and I could summarize it in four:
- Lack of user insights and involvement
- Focus on features rather than solving one or a few problems for the users to start with. According to Nielsen Norman Group, it took an average of 17.3 months to create the leading Intranets evaluated in 2014.
- Intranets are seen as a project rather than a living organism where the first launch is only the starting point
- Replacing rather than aggregating existing tools
It’s a mobile world
The majority of Internet usage is now happening through mobile devices and internal company tools and content are no exception as people are on the move. The mobile use case is usually different from desktop. Typical use cases are for example:
- Calling a colleague while on the move
- Finding information about the travel policy and submitting an expense report
- Downloading the latest company presentation and giving feedback on it
Despite this, most Intranets are still created for the desktop world and the most common method of mobile support is to make the Intranet a responsive website which doesn’t focus on the core use cases for the mobile user. To achieve the full potential of an Intranet it should be a product that solves these user needs.
Top tips for a successful Intranet
So what do you need to do to develop a successful Intranet?
- Organization Buy-In – Make sure you have buy-in for the objectives, success criteria and plan from the CEO and the rest of the executive management team
- User Centric Design – Include the end users at every step of the process with iterative feedback and changes to the scope. Read more on user centric design processes in this post.
- Build vs Buy – Build what you have to build and use external, existing services where you can. More on this here.
- Product Manager – Make sure you have a strong product manager with mobile service development experience running the show with product thinking as the basis
- Plan, Deliver and Optimize – Plan based on your initial hypothesis, develop with iterative changes to the scope and keep on optimizing after launch as this is a never ending process
- Make it a bit of fun – Gamify the Intranet experience, let employees include their personal hobbies, offer a place to organize outside work activities, etc.
Finally, make it a target that the Intranet is a place that employees should interact with every day whether it’s for information, to access productivity tools or to find who likes tennis in the office. And once you’ve made it successful keep on improving it!
What do you think is the key success criteria for Intranets? What did we miss and what was useful for you? What are your top advise for a successful Intranet? Keep those tips coming!