Although intranets have been around for over twenty years we still stumble across clients who have never felt the need to implement one. Often these are smaller companies, or are organisations that have grown rapidly and haven’t had the time or headspace to consider an intranet. Some other clients have suffered an under-performing intranet for years which has largely fallen into disuse.
All these organisations tend to get by using email, file shares and even paper-based processes for communication. Sometimes employees and teams may use their own solutions designed for consumers rather than businesses.
Usually there will come a time when the collective inefficiencies and frustration of that approach – usually spearheaded by the fact that nobody can find anything – means the call for a new intranet will grow.
Intranets have changed
If you haven’t had an intranet before and are mulling over the idea, it’s important to note that intranets have changed. A new, well-implemented intranet is a vibrant, people-centred platform that helps people get their work done. It is not the dreary, static website with out of date content where it’s impossible to find anything.
That antiquated view of intranets is simply not born out by the new intranets we deliver for clients or which we see elsewhere. If you’ve had a bad experience with an intranet, it really doesn’t have to be that way.
The other thing we usually observe is that smaller companies worry about the cost. Ultimately a good intranet will save you money by increasing efficiency and improving processes. Smaller organisations are also unlikely to need to have a full-time intranet manager, especially if some attention is given to get the processes, rules and roles associated with the intranet right from the outset.
How to create an intranet
If you’re considering a new intranet it can be difficult to know where to start. To help you, here’s a high-level “intranet for beginners” view of seven major steps to get you to a brand-new intranet. Note that these aren’t necessarily linear, and several may be happening all at once!
Start the conversation about an intranet
One of the greatest things about intranets is that they are extremely flexible and have multiple functions. A single platform can meet your needs around internal communications, collaboration, knowledge management, HR activity and several other specific business processes. And that’s just for starters.
Different organisations have different needs and in turn, different groups of employees have different needs. Your organisation will probably have a priority for what it wants the intranet to be. Perhaps you want to help communication across multiple sites, connect with frontline workers or raise productivity? Possibly it’s all these things.
It’s critical that, even at an early stage, you start to talk to key stakeholders within your organisation. Speak to senior leaders, IT, HR, Communications and other groups. Is there an appetite for a new intranet? What business problems would it solve?
Similarly start to speak to different groups of users. What are the everyday problems they face? At this stage, it’s about getting a headline view of how an intranet might add value to your organisation and starting the conversation. This may be the first step to getting the topic of a new intranet on the table.
Understand the intranet market and technology choices
It really helps to have a understanding of the “intranet market” and some of the choices available. This means you can talk authoritatively to your stakeholders and start to envisage some of the benefits a new intranet will bring you. It’s also a precursor to making a more formal process to select a product and implementation partner.
There is a lot of information out there on the web about planning an intranet, but it also helps to speak to other companies about what they’ve implemented. There are also some networking groups and conferences, as well as awards and publications with detailed case studies.
A key decision will be whether you implement an off-the-shelf intranet solution or need a more custom-made solution – effectively do you buy or build?. An off-the-shelf (also known as an “in-a-box”) solution is a ready-made intranet which has templates, designs and the features you need to deliver an enterprise intranet. It’s much easier and speedier to implement and can meet most organisational needs, although in some cases you may need to have elements developed for you.
There are also two main types of off-the-shelf intranets – those that can be deployed completely independently and those that sit on top of SharePoint or Office 365. SharePoint is a very powerful collaboration and process improvement platform provided by Microsoft. SharePoint is also available as part of Office 365, a cloud-based service from Microsoft with SharePoint, the Office Suite and an increasing range of other tools.
If you’re using Office 365 or SharePoint (and many organisations both small and large are) then a SharePoint in a box solution for your intranet is the way to go. You’ll be unlocking the powerful features of SharePoint or Office 365 and have a state-of-the-art intranet which looks great but also meets all your needs. For example, we implement the market-leading solution from Wizdom. Whatever you choose, the key is to understand your choices.
Undertake formal user research
The best intranets are based on a thorough understanding of employee needs and how they work from day to day. What are the pain points? What are the business problems you’re trying to solve? What is the “real world” experience of employees of current technology?
By answering these questions, you can then ensure the intranet contains the right features and is designed around how employees actually work, not how you think they work.
Undertaking user research needs to be a formal, structured process which takes in surveys, interviews, workshops, observation and looking at various metrics. It’s something different to the more informal conversations you may have had before. You may need to get external help – when we implement an intranet for a client we include workshops, interviews and other studies, as part of our methodology.
Construct a strategy and business case
Eventually you’ll need to assimilate your research and findings into a more formal strategy and potential business case. You may also have some early requirements.
Many intranet teams make the mistake of rushing into an intranet project without formalising the strategy. Clearly articulating the business benefits of the new intranet and the priority areas are very important in helping to sell your intranet inside and get buy-in, making a formal business case, helping external parties in an RFP process and then shaping the requirements and implementation plan.
Talk to intranet vendors and experts
Agencies like Content Formula who understand intranets and independent intranet consultants can help you at all stages of your intranet journey. For example, we help you implement your project but also conduct user research, formulate your strategy or even facilitate a more exploratory discussion about the value an intranet could deliver for you. We also often talk more informally to prospective clients.
The critical point to remember is that you should always talk to somebody who understands intranets and the process for implementing one. There are some excellent general digital agencies out there, but they may not necessarily have intranet experience or knowledge. Building an effective intranet is very different from building an external-facing website. Intranets have multiple uses and the needs of an internal audience are very different to those outside.
Speak to an agency which has a proven record of working with intranets and clearly understand the channel. They will help you in the earlier stages and can also then potentially be on your shortlist of implementation partners when you run a more formal RFP process.
Select a product and partner
At some stage, you’ll need to select a product and an implementation partner. Usually you’ll have a way to do this in your organisation. Whether you’re running a formal RFP process or something less intensive, take a structured approach to ensure you’re getting the product and partner. An intranet is a strategic investment so get the right tech and people involved.
Implement a project
Congratulations on getting to this stage! Sometimes it can feel like an age from the early conversations to getting underway with the formal implementation, although we’ve known this to happen in weeks!
Usually the formal project is the most straightforward part of your intranet journey. Generally, intranet projects are much faster than they used to be. Your implementation partner or software vendor should have a set methodology and be able to help you with the actual implementation, including conducting further user research.
At this stage, it’s likely you’ll need to start planning your tactics for launch and beyond – how are you going to plan to drive adoption and establish governance?
Talk to us!
We hope you’ve found our beginner’s guide to the intranet useful! If you’re thinking about an intranet and you don’t quite know where to start – get in touch. We can talk you through the major steps you’ll need to go through in more detail and some of your options.
Remember, whatever stage of the journey you’re at, and whatever experiences you’ve had with intranets in the past, take a fresh view of what today’s intranets can deliver. We think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised!