Design Other

Is your corporate intranet a force for good? – Part one

By Ricky Wallace | marketing manager

ClearPeople Ltd

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July 14, 2016 | 7 min read

Change is often the impetus for most intranet projects. Organisations want to empower their employees by providing them with the tools, knowledge and resources to stay connected and engaged in a world where the traditional office experience is evaporating. More and more businesses therefore are looking to their intranets to help drive this change.

But is your intranet a force for good? Is it fulfilling the objectives you initially set out? There are important questions you should think about before embarking on engaging your staff through an intranet.

ClearPeople graphic on the digital workspace.

Intranets must accomodate the changing digital workspace.

Why do you need an intranet in the first place?

In a nutshell, an intranet provides an organisation with a communications hub which can be used to increase productivity and efficiency. Business processes need to be streamlined and repeatable in order to improve efficiency and the intranet, if used successfully, can be the central portal from which to resolve this.

In his book Designing Intranets – Creating Sites that Work, James Robertson suggests that the main reason for a company intranet should be "to deliver an interactive and inclusive collaboration and communications gateway, providing easy access to latest news, content, workflow, documents and applications from whatever device you are on, wherever you are".

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Robertson goes on to identify five key pillars which all intranets should be built around:

Content: information, materials, resources and tools to help staff in their day-to-day jobs

Communication: delivering this content to an enthusiastic audience

Collaboration: encouraging this audience to connect and engage with each other

Activity: a place to ‘do things’ and not just ‘read things’

Culture: a place that reflects how a company operates, its values, ethos and commitment to its staff.

Ultimately, though, the success of an intranet is based upon meeting the needs of its audience - always putting the user first. Don’t just assume what your employees want and need. Ask them. Remember it’s just as important to identify reasons why staff aren’t visiting an existing intranet as it is why they are. You’ll be surprised by how much insight you can gather from a survey or focus groups.

Who owns the intranet anyway?

Before you start an intranet project, it’s important to confirm ownership and overall governance of the platform.

Often ‘ownership’ is given to the team or stakeholder who manages the budget for the project, but for the project itself to be successful it needs to owned, and more importantly governed, by a team who are invested in its future.

Many organisations view their intranet as a HR platform where you fill in a timesheet, download an expense form or look up the recent internal telephone list. Others see it as IT’s responsibility because it’s labelled “technology”. And some group it into Marketing and Communication’s realm owing to the content and resources available. Furthermore, some businesses will have a specialist internal communications team and the intranet is managed by a specific Intranet Manager.

Ownership is very much dependent on the nature of your business and its culture. What is important though is that the team who owns and governs the platform understands its objectives and works hard to maintain its credibility and subsequent use.

An important point to remember is that the main focus of an intranet is collaboration, so the very nature of ownership doesn’t have to sit with one person or team, and can be a cohesive and collaborative effort. We find the most successful intranets are owned by a variety of teams who govern specific pages or areas of the site that fall within their specialisms. This ensures content remains up to date and trusted by everybody in the organisation.

What should the intranet look like?

Design will make or break your intranet. One of the most common failures in a company intranet is users not being able to find what they want – and design is paramount in ensuring that content is easily found.

But who are your users? Simply grouping your employees into one homogenous mass is the quickest route to intranet failure. Different teams in different locations, and indeed different individuals, will all need to use the intranet to solve different problems on a daily basis.

To help you identify the main audience groups of your intranet, ClearPeople suggests creating personas. A persona is a realistic representation of the archetype user types of your intranet. Based on qualitative (user interviews) and quantitative (surveys and analytics) user research, they express each group's expectations of the intranet and help to consolidate, uncover and define the direction of a site by highlighting the specific and overall needs of each user type.

Personas are one of the best practice methods of the User-Centred Design (UCD) process, which ensures that a system is easy to use, fits with user expectations and meets business goals.

From the page layout to the information architecture, every design decision and functional decision should put the end user experience first. Does it work well for your staff? Is it useful to them? The answer always has to be yes. And never just assume. It’s important to research your user’s needs and to test the design solutions.

Tomorrow, in Part Two of this blog, I’ll look more at User Experience (UX), examine what content you should include on your intranet and consider what technology you should utilise.

Ricky Wallace is marketing manager of ClearPeople

Design Other

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