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.

Employee centricity

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.


employee centricity and an intranet trend - screengrab of common tasks toolbox for emploiyees
Example of an employee centric common tasks toolbox with automated processes workflows and forms

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.

simple representation of a social graph in the workplace
A simple representation of a social graph in the workplace


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.

Intranet governance and contributor engagement

Dan ends our video series by exploring the people elements of intranet governance. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more.

Dan Hawtrey, Managing Director
+ 44 20 7471 8500 | [email protected] | LinkedIn

Governance is a big word. It carries connotations of centralisation, power, control, and authority. But actually I think it’s perhaps a bit of a misnomer because today’s intranets are very social systems with ownership distributed across many different people.

Yes, you do have to define a strategy, put in place a steering team, think about policies and processes; I’m certainly not trying to downplay those pieces, they’re very important. But getting governance right is also about putting the right support structures in place, in particular support for content owners and site administrators.

The key aim of modern intranets is to get plenty of contributions from lots of different people. On top of that you want contributions to be high quality, so that they’re engaging and useful. But that’s only half the battle, you also want your content owners to keep things up-to-date and to continue contributing after their initial burst of activity. It’s all about maintaining high levels of enthusiasm.

Stats graphA great way to do this is to share with them analytics about how their section is doing, and perhaps even show them how it’s doing versus other people’s sections. After all, who wouldn’t be interested in knowing how many times their piece has been read.

You could give them a login to Google Analytics, but I’ve always found that GA is pretty opaque to people who aren’t familiar with it. A better way to do it, is to take the time to create a report yourself, something that is going to be quick and easy to read and digest, rather than letting them drown in data.

Giving support and analytics on a regular basis to your content owners is not only providing positive reinforcement, but it’s also giving you a chance to keep up the dialogue between you and them. This is going to help reduce the chances of empty sections and content growing old and outdated.

View Joe’s previous video: making life easy for your content contributors.
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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.

Intranet best practice: Five dimensions of a great intranet

Im one of the few people you could meet who says, I really love intranets; and actually thats not completely true, as I love intranet projects.

I always tell my team that intranet projects can be both the best and worst projects to work on.  Worst, because of organisational complexity, often accompanied by heavy politics.  Best, because done correctly, they allow the user experience practitioner to deploy their full armoury of skills and techniques.

In over 15 years of working on intranet projects for large corporate organisations, I think Ive genuinely seen the best and worst.  And the category a project falls into depends almost entirely on the organisations willingness (or ability) to subscribe to just a few key principles.

Ive had the pleasure of working with, and leading, some incredibly talented UX professionals.  Our joint experiences led to the articulation of key principles we call the 5 dimensions of a great intranet.

The slideshow (below) walks you through the 5 dimensions and includes some of the big recent trends seen in intranets.  I hope you find it useful, and remember, Im always happy to talk about intranets!

Intranet Design: A user-centred approach from Content Formula

But take a look at our recent SharePoint work to see the results of all this.

A framework for intranet governance

Los cautro postesIntranets are big things; too big to just plan, launch and maintain as if its just another web project. Stakeholder management can be a nightmare as, in order to grow a successful intranet, the platform has to be everything to all people, and everyone has their opinion and needs.

While everyone has a stake in the success of the intranet, not everyone is equal in their influence. I suggest that stakeholders need to be identified and differentiated in a structured manner. This will provide clarity when it comes to decision making, tactics, and strategy – the very foundation of intranet governance.

While I propose the use of groups and committees to govern and steer the direction of the intranet, you might prefer a more informal approach. How ever you structure the stakeholders, I think it’s useful to think in ARCI terms.

A is for accountable

This is a very serious word. To be accountable for something means being prepared to take the blame. Accountability means having the authority to make decisions.

If you can’t make decisions and implement change then it may be that you are not accountable.

The litmus test is this – you are not accountable for something unless failure would damage your position. You are accountable if you literally have a stake in the success.

In practice, the core intranet team may be accountable for the intranet, but perhaps this is not ideal. Surely the intranet team needs senior guidance?

This is where the Intranet Steering Committee comes in. The 6 to 9 committee members, who come from all levels and areas of the organisation, weigh up the guidance from the Intranet Team, the IT department, and their own stakeholders and colleagues, and ratify the intranet strategy.

Being accountable, they share the blame for stalls, delays, and intranet cul-de-sacs, because no single team can be accountable for success or failure. It has to be shared across the organisation.

R is for responsible

The core Intranet Team is responsible for the intranet, and works hard to layout the intranet strategy, and once approved by the Steering Committee, implement it on a daily basis.

The Intranet Team is responsible for how the intranet achieves the objectives that the organisation sets (via the Steering Committee). This includes daily tactical decision making. The Intranet Team maintains and develops the intranet as per the expertise that responsibility implies.

The Intranet Team often has to listen to complaints and receive departmental requests that may be wildly outside the intranet strategy. Saying ‘no’ can be really hard, and so the beauty of having a Steering Committee is that the intranet manager can say ‘thank you, I’ll pass this on to the Committee’. It’s now up to the Intranet Team to guide the Steering Committee, and the Steering Committee to say yay or nay to the request. Naturally, the Intranet Team (or Intranet Manager) takes responsibility for the daily, business as usual, requests.

Having a robust process for feedback and requests is vital if the Intranet Team is to make strategic progress, and not be seen as a ‘blocker’ by others.

C is for consult

The few members of the Steering Committee can’t truly represent the whole organisation. Further advisory groups are needed. Your intranet team might run ‘intranet champion breakfasts’ or ‘site owner engagement sessions’. You might simply have a section on the intranet where you share your intranet improvement plans and seek feedback. Whether you have one formal ‘Advisory Group’ or several groups and channels for feedback, the idea is to be transparent and engaging.

Consulting, or encouraging contributions from, people across the organisation should hopefully provide you with a practical understanding of where the intranet is stronger and weaker in serving the needs of your people.

Maintaining an advisory group or groups also means you have ready access to people who should be willing to take part in intranet improvement exercises (like usability testing, card sorting, branding feedback etc.).

Ideas from the advisory group(s) can be fed to the Steering Committee, providing evidence to support the guidance from the Intranet Team.

I is for inform

Never, ever, redesign the home page as a surprise. Your ‘new look’ is not a gift for every employee – it’s a change they have to deal with.

While it’s possible to add things to the main navigation and the home page without too much fuss, it’s much harder to take things away without disrupting people’s ways of working.

Always keep everyone informed. Remember that communication does not happen just because you’ve published a news article. A proper communications plan is necessary, so that people are kept informed about the proposed changes and what the improvements will mean to them.

Although everyone seems apathetic, even hostile, towards change, by engaging people and providing plenty of screenshots and key points, people will be more accepting. ‘Change communications’ is too big a topic for this article, but always keep in mind the importance of every staff member; the intranet is to serve their needs.

Setting the governance is part of our four-step approach to intranet launch and managegement. Read how we like to see governance embedded, and the roles needed.

Photo credit: David Jones

SharePoint migration paths

Unlike auto-updates on your smartphone, SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013 upgrades take considerable labour. SharePoint migration takes a concerted effort; the whole organisation needs to be involved, with business functions following the lead from the portal / intranet manager and IT architects.

Update SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010

A path through the jungleThere is no direct upgrade path from SharePoint 2007 to 2013; everything is just too different.

You can perform a series of database-attach upgrades to step to SharePoint 2010.

  • Are you prepared to pay for 2010 just so you can get to SharePoint 2013? Its possible that your Microsoft rep will be able to help you with costs, but of course its all about the business case.
  • Are you prepared to do a clean install of SharePoint 2013 and then migrate all your data and content by hand, or with a third party migration tool?

On the one hand, an upgrade path of any kind might please your colleagues, while putting most of the stress onto the IT department.

On the other, a fresh start after five or six years might just be the boost your intranet and people need, but few people will be thrilled to lift n shift their content. Frankly, a lot of content will be defunct and misleading, so a serious content audit is necessary whenever you need your content, navigation, and search results to be current and relevant.

Update SharePoint 2010 to SharePoint 2013

The upgrade path from SharePoint 2010 to 2013 is direct, and the IT team (with the right information) can follow the process easily enough, assuming that any third-party customisations cause no bother.

If youre the intranet manager, or a site manager within the enterprise intranet, then youll want to be prepared to upgrade your sites after the site administrator / IT team has upgraded the Site Collection.

My Sites often need to be upgraded by individuals, but the server farm administrator can force the upgrade, so seek clarification about this step.

One assumption to check, is that your 2010 design, skin, theme, branding (whatever you like to call the look of your SharePoint intranet) will work perfectly with SharePoint 2013. Although we might say that HTML and CSS themes are easy to implement, we also have to be aware that the behaviour and configuration of web parts (those widgets we all love) can be complex.

N.B. Upgrading to the latest version of SharePoint does not solve problems that already exist in your environment. While at home, many of us love to upgrade our software in the hope that the bugs will be fixed, with SharePoint its more about the tech architecture.

So, optimise your SharePoint 2010 installation before you begin the upgrade process.

While optimizing SharePoint is a very technical matter, theres also the opportunity and need to review your governance.

Governance should touch on technology, but its mostly about making decisions and getting things done, and so its about people.

Its not all about IT

SharePoint 2013 rollout will fail if people from across the business are not involved from the start. The more decentralised your governance, the more effort will be required to engage site owners, content owners, and stakeholders. The upgrade might be a success, technically, but if people fail to adopt the new features, or revert to their favourite systems (Google services, email) then the value and impact of your efforts will be eroded.

Good governance helps people across the organisation set the agenda, so that the intranet supports real needs and objectives.

Governance covers the processes and politics of managing and improving the intranet,
to ensure it supports business goals.
~ Wedge Black

Both the people side and the tech side of things are crucial to running your SharePoint upgrade to reduce the risk of a stalled migration, and increase the value of your intranet.

Photo credit: McKay Savage

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