Test out your intranet knowledge with our Christmas crossword. Download the PDF, print it out, complete the crossword and email it to [email protected] for your chance to win a bottle of Champagne! We will pick a winner from a hat on the 23rd December and announce it in our January newsletter. If you win you’ll hear about it before Christmas. Good luck!
Why intranet bots could catch on fast
Bots. Yet another technology buzzword that seems to be on peoples lips in recent months. The volume is getting louder and louder. Its tempting to ignore it, at least until the hype has passed and more sensible, grounded thinking starts to emerge. Think about Big Data – the hype around that was phenomenal and yet in reality it has still to make any difference to most businesses. However, with bots and in particular, intranet bots, I can think of three big reasons why intranet managers should sit up and pay attention now:
1) Intranet bots make work life easier and more productive
The first reason is the productivity gains offered by bots. At work we all waste time on tiresome tasks which have nothing to do with our reasons for being there. Booking meetings, travel, booking holiday, submitting expenses, etc. are things that can be fairly easily automated for bots to carry out. APIs and connectors to HR systems like Workday will make the job even easier and will offer a rich array of tasks to automate. If you want to see a list of ideas of of how bots can save time and money in the workplace I recommend Intranetizens post on 8 intranet bots that should exist. Also check out James Robertsons recent post containing crowdsourced ideas when he asked an audience the blue-sky question, imagine you can only talk to your digital workplace, what would you want to ask it?
2) Intranet bots will deliver a better user experience
Intranet managers understand that if you want to change habits and drive adoption of your intranet, you need to make life easier for employees. But as we all know building bulletproof user interfaces is difficult because users are an unpredictable bunch. They tend not to think in the same ordered way as intranet managers. Ive sat in intranet usability workshops and seen users demonstrate thought patterns that are really quite random if not totally chaotic, reducing the finest information architecture to an alien language. Bots give us a great opportunity to simplify interface design because they typically use just a straightforward chat interface. Most people are familiar with Facebook messenger, Skype or Whatsapp. The trick in good bot design will be anticipating the right terms and vocabularies that users will no doubt throw at the poor bot. Get me that deck I sent to Bill the other day.
3) Bot technology is accessible and cheap
The third reason why I believe intranet bots are likely to make a big and fairly quick impact in the digital workplace is because bot technology is not that complex to use and is really quite accessible. You can build your own bot in minutes by playing with some of the frameworks developed by the big software vendors. Whats more, some of these are free. If you have just half a head for code try using the Microsoft Bot Framework. If coding is not your thing then you can still play around at building a virtual agent using IBM’s Watson Bluemix demo. With many intranet technologies companies typically have to dig deep into their pockets not only to buy expensive software and hardware but also to fund big implementation projects. New technology projects are intimidating because they can feel rather like a big bang. The great thing about bots is that they lend themselves to be built in an iterative way. You dont have to boil the ocean. Once you have a bot framework set up you can start bot-ifying’ individual processes and tasks in the workplace one-by-one. This iterative approach feels inherently less risky to intranet managers and produces lots of quick wins to spur them on.
So whats the next step to accelerate your journey into bots? Based on my last paragraph it makes sense to just dip your toe in the water. Start with one of your organisation’s simpler processes or common tasks and try to bot-ify it. Dont get too bogged down in technology choice at this stage. Think of it more as a proof of concept. Were itching to work on a proper bot project so you could give us a call too 😉
Wizdom intranet in-a-box independently assessed
ClearBox Consulting, run by Sam Marshall, has included our Wizdom SharePoint intranet in their independent review of 26 products.
Webtops Wizdom product greatly extends the functionality of SharePoint as a publishing and collaboration tool. It is a relatively mature product with a good track record of medium and large-scale implementations”
“There is an extensive library of pre-existing apps, page designs, web parts and features which allow clients to effectively build their bespoke SharePoint intranet. Web tops description of ‘intranet lego’ is apt.”
“The design options available are extensive, based on a wide-range of templates ClearBox Consulting
.@wizdom_intranet offers impressive features, options, & apps. Community features and responsive design too https://t.co/XaBl647XeJ
â€” ClearBox Consulting (@ClearBoxTeam) January 11, 2017
This is the largest and most comprehensive review of the ready-to-go intranet market, and will help buyers understand the many ways SharePoint can be improved to provide a better intranet experience.
We know, from our years of developing custom SharePoint solutions and intranet designs, that SharePoint is powerful and massively configurable a fantastic platform for your digital workplace. But we also know that people can find SharePoint clunky to use. User research shows us time and time again that vanilla SharePoint does not deliver a modern intranet that meets peoples expectations expectations shaped by consumer-focused apps and the social web.
Wizdom fixes many of SharePoints UX problems. It quickly transforms SharePoint, giving people a pleasing look and feel and bringing a large set of communication and collaboration tools to them.
Wizdom is a Danish product and Webtop, its makers, are keen to point out that its clean, no-nonsense interface echoes the design style that Denmark is famous for.
Content Formula is the sole and exclusive reseller of Wizdom in the UK and have a close partnership with Weptop. While its a global market, we think digital teams in the UK will consider location a key criterion when thinking about culture, cost, and on-going support for their intranet. They will be pleased to see that Wizdom has a solid partner in the UK with a long-standing intranet heritage and SharePoint expertise.
Purchase the latest 2016 report from ClearBox Consulting or get version 1 of the report from 2015 which is still free, but bear in mind that Wizdom has been updated loads since then!
You can also contact us directly to arrange a demo of Wizdom.
Announcing Microsoft Teams (and the end of Yammer?)
Microsoft has just announced a major addition to the Office 365 digital workplace. Its called Microsoft Teams. In a nutshell it provides a single place where teams can connect, chat, share and collaborate. Single place is the operative phrase here because to date team collaboration has often meant clicking from one tool to another in the Office 365 ecosystem. For example, your teams conversation might be scattered across Outlook, Yammer and Skype whilst your files and calendar are held in a teamsite. Teams brings everything together in once place. Except for, ahem, Yammer. Once again, ominous by its absence. The rumours of Yammer’s demise will continue.
Yammer is dead! Long live Yammer!
Microsoft have not explicitly said that Yammer is going. But this is yet another signal that Yammer, acquired in 2012 for $1.2bn, is being sidelined. It has proven extremely difficult to drive serious adoption of Yammer as an ESN. Some companies seem to take to it like a duck to water and use it as a key way of team working and get great productivity benefits from it. But most struggle to get any serious usage bar one or two teams who use it religiously. However, there are a lot of companies out there who use Yammer for CEO and leadership comms. And I think this is how Microsoft is now positioning Yammer: it is for your broader, company-wide informal comms and YamJams. So no, I dont think Yammer is going to get killed off. Just repositioned somewhat. And people like me will probably now stop asking the awkward question, when is Microsoft going to integrate Yammer into the rest of Office 365?
But lets not focus on the bad news for Yammer. Microsoft Teams looks seriously cool. Here are some of the headlines:
Chat is a core feature
Within the Team workspace the core feature is persistent chat – a Yammer-like conversation that is searchable and means that new team members and people returning from holiday can catch up easily. It should help reduce email. Chats are threaded and can also be organised into channels. This means a team can have different topics of conversations – a channel is like a topic. You can see from the screenshot below that channels are clicked from the left hand nav.
To make chats more fun and more like the real world outside the workspace, chatters can add Emojis, GIFs and memes to their conversations. For companies that consider themselves too grown up and serious for this there is the possibility to switch this off.
Bring in any content, data or tools with Tabs
Another core feature is the tabs that run across the top of the workspace. A tab can contain all sorts of different things. For example, as a team you might have an excel spreadsheet that is core to tracking your activity. You can set up this spreadsheet as a tab so you can all access it super-quick without having to leave the team workspace and faff around looking for the document, open it etc. As well as a specific Office document a tab could contain a calendar, a PowerBI dashboard, OneNote, a document library and more. Microsoft is also allowing you to create a tab that contains a view of data from a third-party tool (via an API connector). It probably get a little technical here but provided the connector exists (or you build it) you could for example show your sales pipeline from your CRM.
Teams also integrates seamlessly with Skype. If you want to set up a video call with your team you can do it quickly and easily without leaving the workspace.
Another feature I really like is the ability to have chat running alongside a document. This is a great way of collaborating on the creation of a document without the need to plaster it with comments and marked-up changes. Having said that, Microsoft have some serious work to do on real-time editing of a document. Team members need to be able to edit documents concurrently in real time from anywhere the world whilst seeing changes from other members appear instantly. If youve ever tried to use the browser-based view of a document in Office 365 youll know that its a pretty crappy experience and that Google Docs is way ahead on this. Come on Microsoft!
Integration with Groups
Membership of Teams is managed through Groups – what is now becoming the backbone of the Office 365 collaboration suite. Anyone can set up a group by simply going to the People directory in Office 365 (on the waffle menu). If you have a group, you can have a Team workspace.
Its good to see that Microsoft has thought carefully about security and compliance when creating this new tool set. Data security on Office 365 is a major concern for companies. Microsoft Teams complies with all sorts of global and regional standards on data security.
When is Teams going live?
Microsoft Teams is available now to companies that have opted to preview new Office 365 tools and updates before their official release. Your Office 365 Admin can switch on Teams in the Office 365 admin centre > Settings > Services & Add Ins > Microsoft Teams. Otherwise it will be available to the rest of the world in Q1 2017. Once your admin has enabled Teams on your Office 365 tenant just point your browser to http://teams.microsoft.com. It will ‘connect’ with your O365 profile in the background. There are comprehensive training videos for admins and digital workplace professionals in the Microsoft Virtual Academy.
Whilst I kicked off this piece by talking about the demise of Yammer as a result of Microsoft Teams I think perhaps the real victim of all this could be Teamsites (which have themselves only recently been revamped). Its hard to see why youd opt for a Teamsite over a Team. But this raises another point. Whilst I love Teams I cant help feeling that things on Office 365 are starting to get really bloated, messy and complicated. There are so many moving parts, so many overlaps in functionality. Your average user is going to be hard pushed to know which tool to use when, where to find stuff and where to put stuff. Companies need to think hard about what features and tools to implement in their digital workplace so that tools designed for productivity dont end up having the exact opposite effect: at best people are going to be completely confused and frustrated about where stuff is or at worst they will reject these tools completely and fall back on good old email. That wouldnt be productive at all. IT will need to do their homework when it comes to adoption planning for Microsoft Teams. And migration. Ouch!
Championing the intranet user – how to run intranet user research
Giving your users what they want need
Watch John Scott, one of our SharePoint and intranet experts, delivering his keynote at the Intranet Now conference, or read through the narrative. The slides are shared at the bottom.
There are two rules when conducting user research:
Rule number one: Listen to your users
Rule number two: Dont listen to your users
Let me explainâ€¦
Its 1898 and we are in New York City. The Empire State Building doesnt exist there are skyscrapers, but they are only about nine stories high. The Brooklyn bridge has already been open for 15 years and there are around 1.5 million inhabitants. But there are also a lot of something else: Horses! About 150,000 of them, in fact – practically filling the streets, ferrying people from A to B, transporting various goods up and down.
But not everyones happy with the way things are, and complaints have been coming from a few quarters. So the town planner starts doing some research.
He begins by asking a local businessman who owns a transport company.
Whats the problem? he asks
I want faster horses, says the business man
Right, right – faster horses
Next he speaks to a milkman.
I want bigger horses, to pull more milk, says the milkman
Ok, bigger horsesâ€¦
Then he asks a road cleaner.
I want horses that dont shit, says the road cleaner
Hmmm, noâ€¦ defecationâ€¦ ok
Next the planner speaks to a shopkeeper
I want cows
Cows? Ok, well we have cows available, but horses are kindaâ€¦ better? â€¦ well ok, cows
Finally, he had to wait a couple of months for an appointment, but he visits the Mayors office
I want higher taxes on horses, exclaims the mayor
Great suggestion, My Mayor!
So, the planner went away and prepared his recommendations. And this is what he came up with…
So, what did the planner learn from this research exercise:
- Everyone wants something different
- Everyone focuses on what they have already
- Some people make nonsensical suggestions
- The boss focuses on the bottom line
- Im going to have to do this again.
And the next time the planner remembered not to ask people what they want but to ask them about what what they do and the issues they face and then understand these things in detail!
Get to know them
What we really want to do during user research is get to know them. Of course, I dont mean their dogs name and their favourite colour, but what they do and how they do it.
There are a lot of ways to conduct user research. Each have their own merits and are more or less useful in different scenarios. But, Im going to focus on the ones that we really must do and do well. These are the three techniques you should pick that will get you the most useful info for your average corporate intranet project. By average I mean the kind of intranet that covers a broad range of content and functionality. If you are looking at more specific scenarios, like a just-in-time buying portal for manufacturers, then other research techniques may be more important.
Interviews are good because they are efficient. You get an opportunity to really interrogate someone for around an hour and get all sorts of useful info. But its important to follow the correct line of enquiry, otherwise you end up with insights like I want horses that dont shit.
Whats the point?
The point of interviews is to understand how different people in the business work. What are their common tasks, who do they interact with and how, what are the barriers that they come across? One of the things that you get from interviews is visibility of tasks or processes that are imperfect, and could be improved by an intranet. Another thing is a gradual build up of knowledge about the way the company works behind the scenes a general sense/awareness that is almost subconscious. Thirdly, a by-product of doing interviews is that you can make people feel involved and consulted this can have a powerful effect on adoption. Especially if you can bring the interviewees back in on the project at a later point.
Who should we interview?
Its tempting to select people who you know are interested or already heavily engaged with the intranet or other digital tools. You can select one or two or these people, but the main priority should be to:
- Get a good cross section of staff.
Make sure youve got: Some who are junior, some who are middle management, some who are senior; Administrators, line of business workers; office based, field based, shop floor based; UK, France; Region role, country role etc. But that might still only be 10-20 users.
- Interview people who are cynical about digital workplace tools or intranets (especially ones who are known to have influence).
You wont prove them wrong on the interview, but you can do it in the longer term by really listening to their problems and finding a way to fix them. Its a win win to interview these detractors. At worst you wont fix their problems, but will at least make them feel consulted. At best, you will turn them in to a believer
What to do and what to avoid
When interviewing people, here are some things you should do, and things you should avoid:
- Give them some context. Start off by explaining what you are working on and how this interview fits in to the general scheme of work. Make it clear that its really vital to the process and be thankful for their contribution
- Have a list of topics / questions. Just reading the questions out like a survey should be avoided its important to naturally explore parts of the conversation more deeply and occasionally go off piste. You should ask open questions. However, its important to cover the same angles of inquiry with each of the users, so a list of topics will help
- Try to hone in on frequent tasks they complete, or interactions that they have. Really interrogate them about the detail be persistent because some people wont see the detail as important. Get a sense for how long things take and how often they occur
- Before you thank them for their time and hang up always ask whether they would be happy to help further along the road as part of usability testing, for example.
- Dont ask them what they want. Its not their job to invent solutions to the problems that exist. BUT if they do suggest something, do note it down. Sometimes it is a well thought out solution
- Get trapped into talking about politics. Some context is good, but change the subject before going into too much detail
- Ask leading questions deliberately ask open questions. Do you agree that the intranet is an effective communications tool? is a bad question. Its vague and its a leading question
And, just to emphasise, the most important part of all of this:
Identify the tasks they complete frequently, or interactions that they have regularly.
And ask them to quantify these actions. How many times a day, how long does it take. And what value does it represent to the business?
In the interviews, we asked people about regular tasks and interactions. Task analysis is about going into the detail of those tasks. Mapping them out and hopefully identifying parts that can be made more efficient or easier.
To begin, we need to make a list of the tasks and interactions that came up across all of the interviews.
Then prioritise them based on which ones have a high frequency but also take a long time and what level of impact it has on the business. Theres no formula that I have for this. Just a general judgement on where it would have the biggest impact if the process was improved. You can also get a better sense of this by talking to managers and department heads Well talk about that more later.
Once you have that list, you can contact the interviewees again and set up a session with them to go through the tasks in more detail.
Ideally, you should organize a time when you can actually sit with the person as they perform the task essentially shadowing them. Just as if you were being trained to do the same job.
As you are doing this, make notes about what they do and the decisions they are making as they do it. Ask them to think out loud as much as possible. You want to understand the process, but also what they are thinking. You dont want to end up just documenting what the existing system does.
Heres an example process this is real, but the company name isnt:
Pipe Dreams is an engineering company that dig up roads and fix gas and water pipes all over the country
- At each site, a number of forms need to be filled out by the head engineer
- A guy in a van drives round the country collecting these forms from each site
- The van man drops off the completed forms to central office
- Central office scan the forms and upload them to a document management system
- The document management system outputs an inventory sheet
- The inventory sheet is printed, circulated and signed by various supervisors
- The signed inventory sheet is re-scanned and stored
After youve gathered this info, turn your notes into a flow diagram. Like this diagram, below.
Sometimes a task or interaction wont happen within one continuous time frame. The user might start the task on one day and complete the next step a week later say, after input from another party if this is the case then just arrange to attend each step in the process, including the ones that involve someone else. If you cant be there physically then just jump on a call and use screen share software.
What you will end up with is a series of flow diagrams that show the process users go through to complete tasks or interactions. You also have an idea of how long each task and sub tasks take and the business impact of inefficiencies.
From this you can accurately identify problems that the user faces, or inefficiencies in the process. This is the basis for being able to come up with solutions that actually address real business issues.
What weve focused on so far is individual users and their tasks. But, we also want to get the bigger picture the view from the management level and above. This is important for a few reasons:
- Getting managers and senior people, like department heads, involved makes them feel invested in the project. Theyll be more likely to make their staff available for other research like interviews and task analysis and later testing and content work. If a department head is disengaged, then this can derail things.
- Managers can provide you with the helicopter view. They constantly get feedback from their staff about processes, systems, culture. They can relay this information to you in aggregated, high-level form. This is an efficient way for you to become informed on these matters.
- Managers will have their own tasks and processes that they will identify as part of the sessions. But, also, they may help you to understand the business importance of other tasks and interactions that users talk to you about.
However, with these groups its not just about conducting user research. This is an opportunity to give them visibility of what other organisations do, what best practice looks like and the kind of things that are possible. Doing this will also help with their buy-in something that will be important throughout your research as well as the implementation phases.
A good structure for a stakeholder workshop is:
- Ask the magic wand question. Ask them what they would fix in the business if they had a magic wand. Dont constrain this to the intranet. Invite them to talk about frustrations that are seemingly unconnected to the digital workplace, such as the lack of parking spaces at head office. Make a big list.
- Show them some case studies / examples from other intranets (there are plenty of case studies online and in reports like the Nielsen Intranet report). With each of these first highlight the problems that were identified in the research, then show how the intranet design addressed those problems.
- Come back to the list of things to fix that the group came up with. Ask them if they think an intranet could help fix the problems and if so, how?
- Next, go back over the list and, as a group, condense the problems into themes. For example, collaboration between different offices is a theme that could cover a number of the issues that were raised.
Depending on the size and make up of the business, and the scope of the intranet, it might be necessary to run several stakeholder workshop sessions. For example, one might be with heads of department, another might be with sales managers etc. Ideally you want to get good coverage across your research methods in terms of the functions, seniority, location etc of the roles.
Its never too late take action tomorrow
Theres a problem with a lot of organisations in the way they approach intranets. The big bang cycle of intranet projects and launches. Do some research, build an intranet, wait 5 years, do it again.
The ideal way to break this cycle is to do user research continually. This is always the first step, so just make a start and get things moving. As an intranet manager, you are the person best equipped to start the ball rolling. There are always new people to talk to and changes to process or legislation to understand and optimize for The organisation will continue to evolve.
Continually having outputs and recommendations from user research is like a giant cattle prod for continuous development and evolution of intranets.
Its true that time or budget constraints may limit what can be done. However, a small amount of the right research is better than none. And also, think of it this way, investing in research leads to improvements being made in areas that actually matter where most can be gained. So, it really is a wise investment of an intranet teams time and budget.
But its easy to fall into the trap of simply evaluating the current intranet. Thats worthwhile too, but dont just ask people how they feel about the existing intranet. Pretend it doesnt exist and ask them about what they do.
Gain support from the HiPPOs
Before you can start giving users what they need, you have to convince other people to back you. This is especially true of the HiPPO.
The HiPPO is The Highest Paid Persons Opinion.
The HiPPO can derail you if you let it.
There can be very strong views about what the intranet should and shouldnt do, and worse HOW it should do it (like, down to the level of what the buttons should look like). But, as clever as they may be, you have done the research and, on this subject at least, you know more! You are in a better position to advise on which decisions should be made and why. I dont suggest that you point that out, but I do suggest that you emit this message in the way that you present your ideas.
Getting the HiPPO onboard with your recommendations as well as other key stakeholders – is absolutely vital. The intranet will rely on their support for funding, but also promotion and culture shift.
When its time to approach the senior stakeholders, cap in hand, you should insist on a face to face meeting / presentation.
If you really cant get face time and have to submit a report, consider doing it as a set of presentation slides. Not a rambling word doc. Include the lengthy notes and analysis as appendices only.
The key thing is to present the findings from the user research in a way that tells a story take them on a journey through the research, but give them the highlights only.
If you can have a prep session with stakeholders individually and sound them out on some of the information you will present. This will allow you to prepare for any challenges. Just one stakeholder challenging you on one small part of your report, and having no response, can change everyone elses perspective on your credibility.
And, remember the Mayor of New York City? He was focused on the bottom line. So make an effort to include projections on money saved or earned. This can be difficult. However, it doesnt have to be a water tight forecast. For example, you can highlight some common processes uncovered during the research. Identify how long they take on average, and how many people do them. Assign a cost to that. Then give an estimate for how long the process will take with the improvements you are recommending. Viola a monetary figure that may convince them. And, also, a KPI measure how long it does take people as part of the testing and you know if you are achieving the target.
Things to remember
- Listen to your users
Listen to what they do, how they do it and what their frustrations are. Listen to as many people as possible
- Dont listen to your users
Dont listen to what people say they want they often dont really know
- Just do it
Pick 2-3 techniques and get going, start the ball rolling dont wait for the next big bang
- Win support
Put your case forward in a succinct and convincing way that leaves no room for whimsical decisions
Championing the user – presentation
What piqued our interest at #IntranetNow
The annual Intranet Now conference took place on Friday 30th September 2016 in London. Run by our very own Wedge Black (@Wedge) and Brian Lamb (@blamb) and sponsored by Content Formula, Intranet Now is in its third year. It’s a great show with some really inspirational speakers and a down-to-earth but passionate crowd. Here are some tweets by us and by others that we thought you might find interesting.
The user experience changes dramatically when you come to work @IntranetNow#intranetpic.twitter.com/KxhnG39xR8
â€” ContentFormula (@ContentFormula) September 30, 2016
We were very glad to have @JohnRobertScott do the opening keynote for #IntranetNow. pic.twitter.com/uPldN2PkbJ
â€” IntranetNow (@IntranetNow) October 3, 2016
Hallelujah! The Long WOW. A lovely way of saying it. Don’t “launch your #intranet” in a Big Bang. Roll it out iteratively #IntranetNow
â€” Andrew Hesselden (@andrewhesselden) September 30, 2016
I once saw a company who made their collaboration tool so secure it cost more to train users than it saved in productivity #IntranetNow
â€” James Dellow (@chieftech) September 30, 2016
Giving employees access to intranet for 30 days before they start. Good idea. #IntranetNow
â€” Jonathan Phillips (@DigitalJonathan) September 30, 2016
CEO uses #Yammer and so everyone uses Yammer @ed_garcez on @CityWestminster #intranetnow #esn #ChangeManagement
â€” ContentFormula (@ContentFormula) September 30, 2016
BTW there is a great series of blog posts from @SWOOPAnalytics about the role of a CEO in a successful #yammer network #IntranetNow
â€” James Dellow (@chieftech) September 30, 2016
‘I am sorry but I am too busy to use people finder’ -title of CEO’s blog post helps drive adoption of new #intranet tool #IntranetNow
â€” ContentFormula (@ContentFormula) September 30, 2016
who uses #sharepoint at #IntranetNow ? 80% of the room raises hand @AGilleran #intranet
â€” ContentFormula (@ContentFormula) September 30, 2016
Our users don’t want news at the top @ernstdecsey @UNICEF #intranet #IntranetNow
â€” ContentFormula (@ContentFormula) September 30, 2016
We are listening intently to a screen reader. #accessibility #IntranetNow pic.twitter.com/iRu9DlSPHs
â€” Wedge (@Wedge) September 30, 2016
It’s easy to tick the #accessibility compliance box but have you tried your #intranet on a screen reader? @paulzimmerman #intranetnow
â€” ContentFormula (@ContentFormula) September 30, 2016
We want a $1bn product – how’s that for a #Yammer objective? @Shell @kevinaustin1980 #IntranetNow #intranet #internalcomms
â€” ContentFormula (@ContentFormula) September 30, 2016
What’s the value of communications? New CEOs can ask tough questions @jenniwheller #intranet @IntranetNow
â€” ContentFormula (@ContentFormula) September 30, 2016
Think of #internalcomms as efficiency not engagement…that’s how you put a value on it @jenniwheller @IntranetNow #intranet
â€” ContentFormula (@ContentFormula) September 30, 2016
I don’t like the new #intranet but will get used 2 it and then you’ll change it again – life as an intranet user @hannakarppi @IntranetNow
â€” ContentFormula (@ContentFormula) September 30, 2016
Superb #intranetnow event. It’s become a ‘must attend’ for the intranet community. Met a lot of new people and came away with two lightbulbs
â€” Martin White (@IntranetFocus) September 30, 2016
What are the big intranet trends?
Sometimes customers ask simple but great questions: “What are the big intranet trends I need to be aware of as I consider rebuilding our corporate intranet?. As intranet and sharepoint consultants its very easy to become immersed in detail and forget the bigger picture. Whilst I hadnt thought of this obvious question myself I certainly had lots of opinions in answering it. I thought Id share them in a blog post. Some of these trends have been around for a long time but are gathering momentum and importance. Others are new but clearly more than just fads. If you have any to add please send me an email and I will add them to the post. For context, the person who posed this question works as a comms professional in a multi-national with 100,000 employees. Shes working on a project to build an enterprise-wide site serving all employees. Having said that, most of these trends are relevant for small companies too.
Consolidation, harmonisation & decomplexity
We are seeing a lot of large companies looking to consolidate their intranet. Many enterprise intranets have grown organically and in a decentralised manner. Rather than a single company intranet it is in fact a collection of many – sometimes dozens of intranets owned by business units, brands, regions and countries, and departments. Large companies have come to the realisation that the employees user experience is very poor on these sites. Theres no consistency of structure and design across sites. Theres not consistency of standards. And a large, sprawling collection of sites is near impossible to govern if you want to address this consistency not to mention the resource requirement to run them professionally. It makes sense to have a clear out and harmonise the user experience – create like information architectures across like entities (e.g. countries, departments etc.).
Grown up intranet governance
Intranet governance is all about defining the rules, processes and people involved with managing and improving the intranet, and ensuring it supports business goals.
Governance has always been a buzz word when talking about intranets. But the reality is that its often been non-existent. Or rather, it starts off with good intentions but rapidly falls away to nothing. Lack of governance causes many of the problems that lead to the sprawl and complexity mentioned above. Many companies are starting to grab the governance bull by the horns and look to not only develop sensible and realistic governance frameworks but are really making this a core part of their intranet operations. Theres a mature realisation that intranets do not run themselves and are not successful just because of superior technology and good design. Theres clearly more resource going into building proper intranet teams to manage the day-to-day processes to keep an intranet healthy and we are even meeting people with job titles like intranet governance manager.
Intranet user adoption
This intranet trend is very much part of intranet governance but is worthy as a standalone due to its importance. There are graveyards littered with intranets that died because they had too few users. Intranet user adoption is all about putting in place plans and tactics to not only drive usage of new intranets but to do it on an ongoing basis. Its not just about promotion. Why should I (an employee of XYZ Corp) use the intranet? How will it make my working life better, easier, quicker etc.? If you can answer that question in a compelling way then you are on your way to cracking user adoption for your intranet. Companies with successful intranets have recognised that user adoption needs serious thought and its built into intranet project objectives and is a key component of intranet governance frameworks.
The intranet in the cloud
“The Cloud” has become such a buzzword that it risks sounding like a massive fad. However, when an intranet is built into the cloud all sorts of benefits and efficiencies come to the fore. The major one is ease-of-access. Employees can access their intranet on any device from anywhere in the world. They no longer need to be connected to the corporate network or VPN. Thats excellent for adoption. Another major benefit of a cloud intranet is ease of collaboration. People can work on documents simultaneously. No more version control issues caused by email. Sure, there are security implications with the cloud intranet but there are many clever ways that security risks can be mitigated and reduced. Even the most conservative companies are moving their intranets to the cloud. If there is some data that they just dont want to trust to the likes of Microsofts Office 365 datacenters then they can host this data themselves and have a hybrid intranet setup with non-sensitive data in the cloud and sensitive data on-premise.
Many intranets reflect organisational structures. Employees looks for information and tools according to the silos in which they belong. For example, youll find the expenses form in the finance department pages and the leave request form in HR. However, for some time now weve seen this organisational centric view of the world shift towards one which is more employee centric. Information is structured in a way which is far more intuitive for an individual. All policies & procedures are to be found in a single searchable library. All forms and commons processes are found in a single place, irrespective of who their owner is. This approach makes life easier for employees as they are able to find information and tools faster. This is good for user adoption. It goes without saying that productivity wins like this are good for companies too.
Business Process Automation (BPM)
We hear a lot about intranets being used to drive soft benefits like communications and employee engagement. I strongly believe that intranets are entering a second age whereby they will also drive hard productivity and efficiency benefits. This will happen through business process automation, online forms and transactions. This is another intranet trend that has been with us for some time. However, improvements in cloud technologies – especially the ease with which business processes can be brought online – is accelerating this curve. BPM is now much more mainstream even for smaller companies. Common business processes like onboarding, appraisals, booking leave etc. will all be managed online. Smarter companies are using the same tools to automate complex operational processes.
The intranet as a collection of apps
In intranet circles its fashionable to talk about the digital workplace. Modern cloud intranets – especially those built on SharePoint – come as part of a suite of tools that make up the digital workplace. A company on Office 365 will have tools like Skype for Business, One Drive, Yammer etc. running alongside their SharePoint intranet. Were seeing a trend to integrate these tools closely into the intranet so that for example a user can find a colleague on their intranet and start a web chat with them there and then, right off the page. Similarly other cloud-based third party apps designed to address particular business challenges are becoming part of the intranet. If for example your company has a need to gather digital signatures from employees as part of a business process, theres an app for that. As more apps come onto the market businesses can pick and choose those they want integrated into their intranet.
Enterprise social networks (ESNs)
Personal social media tools like Facebook and Twitter now have their workplace equivalents. Enterprise Social Network (ESN) tools like Yammer, Chatter and Jive are bringing some companies valuable productivity and engagement benefits. ESNs make it easier for employees to collaborate and share efficiently without email. Famously in 2011, Atos, a large global technology firm, announced it would ban internal email and replace it with an ESN. Interestingly, in 2013 as the email ban was gathering pace, Atoss operating margin increased from 6.5% to 7.5%. Earnings per share rose by more than 50%, and administrative costs fell from 13% to 10%. Employees also reported that they had more focus time and were happier without the constant interruption of email at work and at home. This is a great case study but must be viewed alongside those where companies have tried and failed to build successful social networks. Once again, the technology is not the only thing you have to get right. Those that succeed do so because they pay attention to a whole host of factors when introducing ESNs. Most importantly they focus on implementing ESNs in those parts of their operations where there is a clear and specific reason to use social. We want to be more collaborative is not such a use case. As ESNs grow in popularity we are seeing them being integrated deeply into the intranet so that social conversations can happen alongside the tools, pages and documents that make up the intranet.
The smart intranet
Not being able to find anything on the intranet is perhaps the commonest complaint we hear from end users. Its likely to become one we hear less and less as modern intranets become more intelligent. Search engines on intranets are improving dramatically both in terms of the relevance of search results that they present to end users and also in terms of the way they can be fine-tuned and tweaked by intranet administrators.
But on modern intranets intelligence goes much further than search. For example, theres ‘Information discovery’ whereby the intranet suggests relevant content to you based on what your colleagues are looking at, whats being discussed and whats being presented at meetings. In simple terms the modern intranet has a brain (called a social graph) which knows which of your colleagues you work closely with. It analyses their online actions around document creation, viewing, sharing etc. Based on these connections the intranet can suggest content that is relevant to you right now. This could be as simple as a personalised list of trending documents on the homepage. Or it could be something more sophisticated such as search results which are not only based on the keyword you used but also what your close colleagues are finding relevant. Artificial intelligence and personal assistants like Siri will find their way onto intranets too.
This last one really goes without saying. If you want to reach sales reps, factory floor workers, field workers and other employees who are not desk-bound you have to be available on mobile. This means not only having an intranet which can be accessed from a mobile phone but one that has been optimised so that the user experience is adapted for mobile. This means a big, thumb-friendly navigation, swipe gestures, fast loading etc. Whilst this is a really obvious and growing trend there are still many, many intranets out there that are not mobile accessible.
Conclusion: productivity is the major intranet trend
As mentioned, many of these trends have been gathering pace for some time but others are new and upcoming. Hopefully youll also have noticed that many of them overlap and build on one another. This makes them all the more likely to last. This overlap in trends is also going to lead to much more integration between the tools that make up the digital workplace and the intranet. This will drive adoption, usage and ultimately productivity. Take a step backwards and look at the economic climate that were in. Developed economies are maturing, growth is slowing and consumers are stretched. If companies want to deliver shareholder value they’ll need to focus on productivity. Rising trends in intranets and the digital workplace chime well with this drive for productivity in the workplace.
SharePoint intranet search: planning refiners for faceted navigation
Faceted navigation is part of every major intranet search engine. In SharePoint, this feature is called Refiners, and the navigation panels name is Refinement Panel. It is responsible for allowing the users to access the search results filtered and organised according to a pre-defined classification system.
To create refiners on a SharePoint intranet (on-premises or online), there are several steps to follow. In this blog post, Im summarising these practical steps and also provide best practices.
Search refiners are always discrete properties of the content presented as search results. First, they can be metadata in the source system, which can be used as is. For example, the author of a document, project ID, etc.
In other cases, we have to prepare the metadata, by using an auto-classification system, for example. In this case, the metadata we need in search is not available in the source system, we have to extract it from the content. The extraction of the metadata can be done by a specific dictionary, or according to pre-defined rules. For example, location info, the topic of a document, etc. Which is not available as metadata in the source system but implicit included in the content.
Once the metadata is available (either as is, or generated automatically), we have to consider if any normalisation is needed. Normalisation might be required in the following cases:
- We have multiple source systems, and the metadata is available (or has been prepared in the previous step), but the different systems use different names for the same property. For example, author, creator, authored by, writer, created by, etc. can be used for the same thing, but with different names. The end users dont mind the propertys name in the source systems, what they want is to be able to refine the search results by the property. In this case, what we have to do is to create one property in the index and map it to each of these various instances, then use it on the user interface.
- We want to transform the data. For example, instead of displaying ZIP numbers on the refinement panels, we need the names of the cities instead. Another typical example is transforming e-mail addresses to person names, for example displaying Agnes Molnar on the refinement panel instead of the e-mail address of [email protected]
- The properties have to be combined. For example, if we have two separate properties for Last Name and First Name, a good practice to combine them into one refiner value in [FirstName LastName] (Agnes Molnar) or [LastName, FirstName] (Molnar, Agnes) format.
Of course, these transformations might be combined as well. In SharePoint though, the capabilities are limited. Although we have a feature called entity extraction, this has a very limited functionality. In the majority of use cases, we need additional, third party solutions.
Content Metadata is the set of properties, which the content has in the Source System (implicit or explicit). In most cases, different systems (and subsystems) have different set of properties, therefore normalising and unifying them is a critical step in every Enterprise Search implementation.
Search Metadata is defined in the Search Schema, and consists of Crawled Properties and Managed Properties (see below). Search Metadata is essential for every Search Application, as it describes the results, can be used for filtering and sorting the results, refiners, and also display on the Result Set or Hover Panel.
Crawled Properties are the representations of the Content Metadata in SharePoint and Office 365 Search Schema.
Managed Properties are the Search Properties which can be used on the User Interface, and in Search Applications. To define where to get their values from, they have to be mapped to the proper Crawled Properties.
User Experience Considerations
Once the metadata is prepared and added to the search index, we can start using it on the user interface. In SharePoint, Refinement Panel is a Web Part available out-of-the-box, which can be customised in an easy way.
The Refinement Panel We Part has various data types to display as refiners (facets): numbers, text values as well as dates. Some configuration can be done in Display Templates, which describes how the refiners have to be displayed. For example, whether to display the item counts or not (see https://searchexplained.com/refiners-in-sharepoint-2013-search/).
We can also create (or purchase) custom developed refiners for advanced scenarios. For example, when we need charts or maps to be used as refiners, but also to create refiner hierarchies (for example, based on a taxonomy).
When planning refiners for faceted navigation, the primary thing to keep an eye on has to be the user needs and requirements. Driven by them, we have to plan the properties accordingly, as well as the user experience. In several cases, we have to use the out-of-the-box capabilities, which are powerful although limited. In other cases, its possible to extend these capabilities with custom and/or 3rd party tools, therefore, we have more freedom during the planning phase.
Whatever your situation is, planning refiners has to be a thorough process, as it is a major part of the overall user experience.
Our SharePoint and Yammer integrations
I am a SharePoint developer who works in a SharePoint consultancy so you won’t be surprised to hear that I think SharePoint is the best document collaboration application out there. I also feel Yammer is the best enterprise social network. When well integrated and used in conjunction, productive collaboration gets a real boost.
Yammer is not just like Facebook, its more than that, it provides a platform for conversation and activity streams around your documents and across your projects.
While Yammer can be used for one-to-one chat, the biggest benefits come from open conversations around a document. While email hides information and decisions, Yammer surfaces exactly whats going on during a document review or after a meeting. Everyone in your team can benefit, and participate.
Beyond connecting colleagues and sharing documents and updates, Yammer empowers communities as project groups can be created, or communities of practice (CoPs) can be created to cover the whole organisation.
Yammer is always available on any computer, and can be accessed from any device such as iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Phone, and Blackberry. Some people (like field workers) may never really use Yammer in the office, but they can love Yammer on their smartphone as it keeps them in touch with their colleagues.
Yammer and SharePoint integration solution
Integration between Yammer and SharePoint is not so good by default; people have to copy and paste document URLs into Yammer to start conversation, and not everyone is confident in grabbing the documents web address.
In our SharePoint work, we often create Yammer like and share buttons for clients, to help people share content from SharePoint with their colleagues.
In the upcoming Office 365 Group feature there will be some integration improvement, but not everything on our wish list will be improved. Good news is that we have the great Yammer API (Application Programming Interface) to do whatever we want; it will help to increase productivity and help to achieve the best integration with SharePoint, as follows:
- We can create a Group in SharePoint and Yammer at the same time, and can enable people to start a Yammer conversation in SharePoint.
- Any SharePoint content can be liked or shared in Yammer.
- Single platform for both social and collaboration, in SharePoint by default we have Message Attachment, Post, Reply, Like/Unlink, Mention, Tag, Search, Profile, Follow/Unfollow and Relationships. The features that can integrate with Yammer are Groups, Open Graph, Invitation, Real Time, Networks, Suggestions, Notifications, and Auto Complete.
- We can track users, groups, documents or any other SharePoint content from Yammer.
- We can provide fully managed document collaboration and Yammer conversation for each document in one place. Its what everyone expects Microsoft to provide, but we end up creating this integrated experience.
- When Yammer is available directly next to a document, its easy for a reviewer (or anyone) to open up a chat window and check some detail with the document author. This sort of instant messaging cuts down on time wasted in email.
- We make sure that our Yammer integration works on mobile, so that your mobile SharePoint intranet offers a rich experience.
These sort of rich features that we build can help a SharePoint intranet feel intuitive and useful, and so increases adoption. We have to make SharePoint and Yammer easier to use, and more useful to people if we expect employees to be engaged within the digital workplace.
You may also want to read our earlier article, How Microsoft is integrating Yammer into SharePoint 2013
Introducing our 7-point digital engagement framework
Whats your organisations best asset and your number one untapped resource?
Its not just your people, its their participation in your organisations success.
Have your engagement figures plateaued in the last couple of years? Is your employee survey providing fewer insights, and becoming an albatross around your neck?
You know more than anyone that surveys and soulless communications wont improve morale or drive your organisation forward, not when there are so many changes happening around each and every employee. If you know the right people are not engaged, then its time to go beyond the comms plan, and consider a joined-up engagement campaign.
Your comms and engagement plan will need to address the end goal, the various audiences, and the channels available, but more than this, you will want to capture peoples hearts and minds so they commit to new actions.
Well-laid communications plans often touch on engagement principles to involve people in tactical changes, but when a strategic shift is needed, its important that people are aligned with the changes or new direction.
Engagement activities vary depending on the capabilities and culture of an organisation but mobile devices, intranets, and ESNs mean that you can deliver powerful engagement campaigns broadly, and with quick results.
In this white paper we first explore what we mean by employee engagement and then put forward a 7-point framework for an effective employee engagement campaign delivered using digital tools such as your intranet, Enterprise Social Network (ESN), your digital workplace tools (e.g. Office 365) and of course, email.
We use the word campaign or programme to signify that activities are designed to support a specific goal within a time bound period. We know employee engagement to be an integral part of an organisations culture, and so we approach engagement campaigns with full awareness of the wider environment.
Download your 7-point engagement framework
A 7-point framework for employee engagement in the digital workplace
Modern organisations are using a number of clever techniques to accelerate internal change and make it stick. This free e-book puts forward a simple and effective 7-point framework to use to deliver change campaigns and programmes.
If you like what you read, then do please get in touch with us we can help your both with strategy, creative, and the technical, especially with SharePoint and Office 365.