Making the business case for a new intranet is something that most intranet teams need to go through from time to time. Sometimes it can be easy and straightforward, with an obvious need and stakeholders who buy into the idea. However, at other times it can be an uphill struggle, with stakeholders either not fully convinced or aware of the business value an intranet can bring.
One of the reasons why it can be difficult is that there are still a lot of misconceptions about modern intranets and what they do – some still think they are the static and stale repositories of the past, which is absolutely not the case – or even believe in the myth that “intranets are dead”. Other stakeholders see the value but might not see a new intranet as a priority, particularly as the benefits of an intranet are often intangible; so this can be relegated when everybody is being told to save money or increase revenue from customers.
In this long read we’re going to take a deep dive into making an intranet business case. We’re going to cover the timing for the business case and key approaches for success. We’ll explore some of the key intranet benefits to highlight and we’ll also look at specifically what to include, and options for a format.
Why do we need a business case for an intranet?
Intranets are reliant on software, and there are a variety of different products out there to support it. Like any business software in an organisation or enterprise, you’ll likely need a business case.
Some intranets are based on SharePoint Online, mainly out of the box, which might already be available as part of Microsoft 365; in these cases it is tempting to think you might not actually need a business case. However, your intranet project is highly likely to need extra budget; you may need extra modules and plug-ins, or customisation. You are also may need to work with a third party on designs, user research, consulting support, technical advisory, content support and more. It’s always best to assume that you will need that business case.
What’s the process for a business case?
At a high level the process for a business case usually follows a number of key stages, which may follow sequentially, but in practice are often overlapping:
- Undertaking a research and discovery phase to gather data taking in input form users and stakeholders.
- Defininng an intranet strategy or aims based on the discovery exercise.
- Identifying intranet requirements and the software and other related costs that will help deliver the strategy.
- Drafting a business case based on the strategy.
- Getting consensus from stakeholders on the business case.
- Presenting the business case and getting approval.
What’s the best timing for a business case?
The timing and emphasis for an intranet business case can vary. Sometimes you might need to be making the case for investing in intranet software in general, but other business cases might focus on a specific solution. It is quite possible that a business case might effectively come in two rounds – first for arguing for budget for an intranet project, and then later for a specific solution once one has been chosen. If you are focusing on specific costs sometimes it is best to have selected a specific solution, as software costs in the intranet space can vary considerably.
In our view a business case also works best once you have formulated an intranet strategy based on user research. This focuses on what you aim to achieve, the roadmap that is going to get you there, and data that shows why this needs to happen. It’s basically the what, the when and the why – essentially all elements that you need to put into your business case.
Approaches for a successful business case
There are several approaches you can take to help deliver a successful business case.
Appeal to different stakeholders
It takes a village (and then some) to build an intranet and realistically you will need buy-in from different stakeholders including your CEO / leadership function, IT, HR, communications, frontline and support and more. Getting everyone on side will absolutely help your business case.
It can pay dividends to make sure your business case appeals to different stakeholders and includes elements that support their particular agenda. For example, IT may want to push the value and adoption of Microsoft 365 – a SharePoint intranet can help with that, for example. HR may want to relieve pressure on their busy help desk, and an intranet can support employee self-service. If the business case can tick the box of specific stakeholders, then they are more likely to be onside.
Separately you may also need to work on presenting your business case separately to different stakeholders and engaging with them early to get their specific input.
Make it data-driven by carrying out a discovery period involving user research
A convincing business case will be heavily informed by data, therefore it is often necessary to carrying out a thorough discovery exercise which involves user research and identifies some of the issues and paint points the intranet is going to solve. It is very difficult to make a convincing argument for a new intranet without taking this kind of data-driven approach. Including quantitative and qualitative data will be an important part of any business case and should show the extent and depth of problems and how a new intranet will help.
Make it credible and achievable
Sometimes it’s tempting to pack a business case with claims and statistics about the considerable impact an intranet can have. However, its important not to put in claims that are unrealistic or wholly unproveable, as this can undermine the overall credibility of your business case. For example, many try to quantify the potential cost and time savings an intranet can have. Sometimes these claims can be based on some rather far-fetched assumptions or intangible benefits, and which might be easy for your CFO to pick holes in.
Align to organisational goals and other strategic areas
An intranet is a strategic-level investment that can make a difference at the organisational level. A good business case should explicitly reference your key organisational goals, as well as other key areas of strategy – people / HR and technology for example – and show the contribution that the intranet makes. For example, perhaps your organisation is committed to becoming a great place to work – if so, show how the intranet contributes to employee experience.
Look to the short-, medium- and long-term
A business case needs to showcase not just the immediate impact of an intranet but also it’s medium and longer-term impact. A new intranet is likely to last more than five years so it’s important to show that the positive benefits will be felt for a while. Estimates of costings often also need to be expressed over three to five years too.
Be consistent with concepts and terminology
Arguing a business case and getting consensus can be a bumpy road, with a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, particulary if you’re introducing new concepts about what intranets can do to stakeholders. Being consistent with the concepts and terminology used, particulary if you’ve already been working through an intranet strategy, really helps to establish clarity and not muddy the message. For example, if you’ve been taking a lot about improving employee experience in your strategy, it’s best to also reflect that in your business case.
Do the ground work
There is often considerable work that can be down to pave a smooth path for the passing of your business before it is even submitted. Part of this will be down to listening to stakeholders as part of the research, sharing your thoughts early with them, and meeting any concerns. It’s also critical to consult early with the right stakeholders – legal and compliance teams for example – sometimes get overlooked. If you do spend some time on the ground work it can mean that the by the time the business case is submitted there are no real surprises for anyone, and it will get submitted.
Get a sponsor on your side
Obviously if you can get a high-ranking business sponsor on your side then it can really help with the argument for investment.
What are some of the intranet benefits to highlight in the business case?
There are a number of key benefits that an intranet delivers that typically for part of an intranet business case. Some of these are high-level:
- Improving employee experience
- Supporting community and culture
- Saving time to increase employee productivity
- Driving process efficiency
- Reducing costs
- Reducing risks
- Supporting key organisational process.
More specifically, there are a number of areas that business cases often focus on.
Current intranet no longer fit for purpose
Sometimes an intranet business case doesn’t need to justify the need for having an intranet as this is already accepted within the business. Instead, the business case may instead need to justify why the current intranet needs to be replaced by a new one. Therefore, focusing on deficiencies of the current solution can form part of the business case.
The sort of issues that often arise in older solutions include:
- End of vendor support.
- Slow performance and load times.
- Poor support for the mobile experience.
- The need to use a VPN to access outside the network.
- Customised environment that is expensive and difficult to upgrade.
- Poor or outdated user experience.
- Poor support for accessibility.
- Difficult to make integrations.
- Does not support corporate branding.
- Requires lots of manual interventions.
- Difficult for content owners to add their own content.
- Poor search.
- Having multiple “local” intranet solutions in place.
- High maintenance and licensing costs.
- Missing features such as personalisation.
- Cannot be accessed through Microsoft Teams.
- And more!
Risks and related costs avoidance
Some business cases outline the risks of not going through with the implementation of a new intranet and the negative consequences this will have. There also might be some related cost avoidance data that can be presented based on the likely impact – for example the need to keep on spending on potential maintenance costs as the intranet continues to be very unstable.
Improving employee engagement and supporting organisational culture
Intranets can make a contribution to improving employee engagement and increasing a sense of connection and culture across an organisation. This is done in various ways – through digital communications, supporting communities and interest groups including employee affinity groups, facilitating dialogue, establishing and supporting connections, focusing on aspects of employee experience such as learning and wellbeing, and more. Often these aspects are intangible but also extremely important.
In a business case it can help to focus on where employees lack connection with their organisation and each other and an intranet could make a difference, for example if:
- Remote working is seen as diluting the positive aspects of organisational culture
- Where there are particular issues with the engagement of frontline employees
- Where a group is trying to build a more unified company culture across different business divisions, brands or locations
- Where a company often needs to rapidly onboard new acquisitions and assimilate people into the company.
Supporting internal comms
Internal communications is an essential activity to keep employees informed about strategy, operational matters and more. A modern intranet is a flexible, modern communications channel where content can be targeted to different groups. An intranet can be a highly effective engine for internal communications and deliver messaging in a way that is significantly more efficient than email.
Microsoft 365 integration
Many organisations are developing a Microsoft 365 digital workplace. A SharePoint intranet is an excellent way to deliver a more integrated digital workplace experience and encourage adoption of the wider Microsoft toolset through integrations with tools such as Viva Engage and Viva Connections. A SharePoint intranet can also be accessed through Microsoft Teams. Of course, using SharePoint Online for the intranet will also reduce the likely licensing costs for your intranet.
Reducing intranet licensing and running costs
Sometimes a new intranet replaces multiple local intranets and legacy solutions. Often having one single, global intranet solution means you can significantly reduce legacy intranet licensing and other running costs. A new intranet may also replace a more expensive, single legacy solution.
Reducing other licensing costs
Intranets have a wide range of features and capabilities, some of which may overlap with existing applications. Depending on what it is included, sometimes it means you can retire some other solutions such as an employee recognition platform, a collaboration solution or a survey tool, and make tangible reduction in solutions.
Supporting employee self-service
Intranets are an excellent tool for supporting employee self-service, particularly relating to HR and IT tasks. When employees can either find the answers to key questions through accessing content or complete simple tasks through integrations, it can help relieve the pressure on busy HR and IT helpdesks, who can focus on more value-added work. Employees can also resolve issues and get information more quickly, saving time for themselves.
One of the main jobs of an intranet is to help improve findability, allowing employees to easily find that the document, apps and people they need to carry out their daily work and complete various tasks. Poor findability is often a symptom of an intranet that is reaching end of life, so a new intranet that saves time for employees is often a good focus for a business case.
Risk management and compliance
Any business case that supports risk management and compliance processes tends to have an advantage, because it is hard to argue against. Intranets can help achieve better compliance, for example through providing access to policies and procedures, using mandatory read capabilities to ensure that policies are read, and being a key channel for compliance-related communications and campaigns.
Most organisations have some kind of knowledge management (KM) needs, and intranets make a valuable contribution in supporting KM and related processes. Examples of this include:
- Facilitating expert location and assembling teams through people profiles and the related people search.
- Supporting knowledge sharing through social Q&A capabilities and enabling professional communities.
- Providing key access to knowledge bases, for example relating to products and services for contact centre staff.
Specific process improvements
Intranets can also offer improve specific processes that save time, reduces risks, increase efficiency, reducing bottlenecks, helps standardisation and more. In particular any process that relies on email approvals (or even paper forms) can often be improved by using forms and workflow available on the intranet. Integrations can also help deliver process improvements. If there are some specific processes that are a problem, this can be a good feature for a business case.
What to include in an intranet business case
There are no hard and fast rules about what to include in an intranet business case, and some of that will also be influenced if your organisation or department uses a specific methodology or format for submitting a business case. But below are some common elements to include.
Mission and vision
Often a business case comes out of work made on developing an intranet strategy and in reality there is often a continuum between the strategy and the business case. Having an overarching mission and / or vision for your new intranet and the benefits it will bring will frame the business case in the right way.
Including the guiding principles or central pillars of your intranet strategy will also help to contextualise your business case.
Current state: output from user research including problems and pain points
A business case needs to reflect the current state of the intranet, which can then be compared to potential future state.
If you’ve carried out your user research and discovery exercise, then findings and data should provide essential evidence for making the business case. This is likely to focus on issues, problems and pain points where the intranet can make a difference, for example around time wasted, processes that aren’t working, low engagement, low adoption and more.
It’s often best to include both quantitative and qualitative data. Having numbers only tells half the story and including anecdotes or even better some anonymised quotes can often resonate more with stakeholders,and illustrate the pain points more clearly.
Risks are a standard element to include inside a business case and can focus on the risks of not carrying out the implementation, as well as ensuring any proposed solutions tick any risk-related boxes.
Tangible and intangible benefits
Clearly a major part of the business case will involve detailing the tangible and intangible benefits of the investment in the new intranet solution. There are different ways to express these, but again it’s important to keep things credible, particularly in expressing benefits quantitatively.
Costings are going to be integral to your business case and how to express these could be a topic for another post. Because an intranet is a multi-year investment, it’s usually important to detail the likely costs over a three-to-five-year period. Ideally, a business case should include both direct costs (licensing etc.) and indirect costs (change management) etc.
Costings should always include the first-year implementation costs and any other dependencies including additional any additional infrastructure, licensing and software costs. Ideally, the business case should address the total cost of ownership, including any additional staff that might be required to run it.
Roadmap and operations
Detailing the planned roadmap and operational support model for the new intranet can help show how the intranet can be made a reality.
KPIs and measurement
Including details of KPIs and approach to measurement can also emphasize the intended benefits of the intranet, and again make the business case more credible.
Intranet examples and case studies
Including some intranet examples and case studies to illustrate the positive impact of an intranet can make a difference, helping to illustrate the art of the possible in a more tangible way. It can help if these are from companies in the same sector or with similar issues. Examples from competitors can resonate well – if company X is doing this with their intranet so should we. Screenshots can also be a welcome addition to a business case or at least a presentation about it.. However, as case studies primarily come from vendors, they don’t always give the full story behind intranet impact, and some stakeholders may take some claims with a grain of salt.
What’s the best format for a business case?
Most business cases follow a document format, but sometimes it might also be a PowerPoint slide deck, or even both. There is not particular one advantage over the other although slides can sometimes be more digestible and obviously can be used in presenting to stakeholders.
The format for a business case may also be dictated if your organisation or department uses a business case template. In addition there may be supplements or appendices which are in document, spreadsheet or presentation format.
Making the intranet business case
An intranet business case is an essential step towards getting a new intranet. We hope you’ve found this ultimate guide useful. If you need support with your intranet business case or want to discuss our intranet project, then get in touch!
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