Tips for planning an intranet project
Definition of INTRANET/internal web:
“A software solution meant for information exchange within an institution that contains the information, document management system, projects, calendar, contacts, schedules, processes of the company, etc.”
How boring is that?
INTRANET—A BLACK HOLE?
Many people associate the term intranet with a black hole—a place where information drowns and disappears. Or already drowned and disappeared.
Intranet was used mainly as a document repository or, at best, as a means for solving problems connected to internal communication, and making information exchange, processes and HR planning more effective. Today, however, many people expect a lot more from an intranet. Why is it so?
1. new ways of working
Work forms and working relations have changed all over the world. Flexible work forms, including flexible working time and workplaces as well as autonomous working time arrangements, are increasingly widespread. More and more Estonian employers are also providing flexible working time arrangements and the possibility to work from home offices for their employees.
While flexible working time is common for 26% of employees in Europe, the respective percentage is 30 in Estonia (26% of employees have access to flexible working time and 4% to autonomous working time), which ranks Estonia in the 9th place in the EU.
Between 2009 and 2013, the proportion of Estonian companies enabling flexible working time increased from 49% to 65%, catching up with the EU average. (According to a survey on employee-friendly flexibility commissioned by the Foresight Centre/Arenguseire Keskus, 2018)
2. THE client and company have more touchpoints
Today, in the digital era, clients communicate with institutions, companies and brands in very different ways: at offices, via media channels, via letters, through social media, by telephone, via e-mail, through chat bots, etc.
The number of contact points for the client and company is greater than it has ever been before. Companies face the challenge of offering their clients homogeneous service quality across all channels. When a client contacts a company, they should not have to go over their whole history, all their wishes or problems. It is equally important that the employees do not convey different messages or promises to the client. It is also recognized that communicating with clients is not only the task of front line employees who are in direct contact with the client. All employees should hold the same values and communicate the same messages.
3. the employees’ involvement with the workplace
Most people spend a large part of their waking life working. However, employees aren’t always strongly linked to their employer. For many organisations, it is important to have a strong connection with their employees and guarantee a shared value system. Why?
- Since employees who are emotionally involved are more likely to share positive information with their family, friends and clients.
- Since dedicated and involved employees produce an up to 202% bigger profit (Gallup).
- Since dedicated employees work smarter than average and are more loyal, thus creating greater value for the company.
IN THE CONTEXT of the aforementioned trends, AN intranet is an important tool
While it used to be a static collection of files, today´s needs are moving intranets towards becoming an interactive communication environment.
INTRANET IS the whole organization’s project
The project for developing a new intranet is not merely an IT-project. Even though its technical capability and functionality are crucial, there are many other aspects that influence the success of the outcome.
No two intranets are identical, since the needs and priorities of companies are very different, but the following aspects should definitely be considered in the initial phase of the project.
I INTRANET AS A READy-made solution?
how to choose a suitable system or software FROM THE enormous amount of ready-made platforms available?
The system should be selected according to its main goal. That could be sharing information “stuck” in mailboxes and facilitating cooperation between co-workers, systematizing enormous amounts of information, decreasing duplicated work, getting a better overview of all the functions of the company, facilitating faster processes, decreasing training costs etc.
Companies often use several different tools for internal communication—processes connected with sales are run in one place, the data on existing clients is stored in another, the calendar in a third location. A specific app is used for communication, a separate software solution for hosting files etc. Trying to find software that would have all the different functions together within one solution is a frequent issue.
If a company has many goals, it is good to know that for many platforms, all kinds of add-ons can be ordered and the system can be adjusted to fit the personal requirements in the best possible way. It also pays to think about the number of employees in the company who do not have access to a computer at all or most of the time as well as take into consideration the employees who would like to keep track of work matters in the elevator, in front of a traffic light or in bed. In that case the intranet should also be compatible with mobile devices.
II INTRANET AS A TAILOR-MADE SOLUTION?
Developing an intranet from scratch is rather an exception due to the considerably higher price but commissioning certain functions as tailor-made solutions is very common.
Companies often opt for the ready-made solution to save time and money. Nevertheless, it has to be taken into account that human, time as well as financial resources have to be invested into the success of such a project. Even though the solution you found may contain all the functions that you need, implementing an intranet cannot be done in a day and even ready-made solutions usually require some functions to be adapted or added.
If you don’t have a totally new company, it is worth considering how the selected system would fit into the structure of your company or institution, i.e., how it can be integrated with the existing processes and programmes. It would be ideal if the platform would replace the solutions used before, but if that is not the case, it should at least be compatible with them.
If the ready-made product is missing some important functions, the system must be flexible and allow adding the required parts as tailor-made solutions or external applications.
IV Change management
Ways of working and communication channels change quickly in today´s companies and organizations but not all changes occur without a hitch. People like to do things like they are accustomed to. If the organization does not keep up with challenges of digitalization, changes that threaten data security and stable work outcomes may occur, and this is not in the interests of the company.
V Benefits and usability
Benefits and usability should be taken into account both by the employees and organization. The employees´ habits should be considered and the organization should also ask what they will gain from the intranet. It must be considered how the intranet allows performing the objectives of the organisation—not only today but also tomorrow. When the organisation grows, the intranet has to grow with it—think about whether the software you selected is scalable.
An intranet is a living system that will never be complete.
Developing an information system is not brain surgery. Quite specific steps have been developed to determine the needs of an organization and users and to fulfil them with IT-solutions: mapping needs, performing analysis and interviews, creating a navigation scheme, prototyping, testing usability, creating personas, creating a storyboard and user journeys. Depending on the methodology, these steps can be carried out in a strict sequence or in parallel, and with different intensity to keep the development agile.
Even though we can evaluate systems developed by and for others quite adequately, we are often blind when it comes to the systems we have created ourselves. It is definitely worth testing the new system on a pilot group at different stages of its development and introduction before implementing it in the whole organization to detect any possible shortcomings or problems.
VI INFOrmation architecture
Information architecture, i.e., the structure of topics and content is the building block of every intranet. The task of the information architect is to organize the information in a way that the users of the system would find answers to their questions.
It is important to consider the following aspects upon designing information architecture:
- How to organize, classify information—based on topics, departments, commercial functions, chronologically?
- How to name information (different folders)—e.g., by using official terminology or lay terms?
- How to move around the information tree—how to structure navigation?
- How to search for information in the system—with the help of filters, keywords, labels or an index?
VII communication and inclusion
It should be taken into account while planning a new system that the value and advantages of the intranet have to be “sold” to the employees often and repeatedly. Merely informing the employees about the new platform and its possibilities is usually not enough. Already upon starting a new project, people should be informed about the development to increase their trust in the new system step-by-step.
All stakeholders should be involved in an intranet project. In addition to interviews and surveys for determining different users´ needs and habits you can also organise fun activities like a competition for choosing a name for the intranet.
VIII THE TEchnical side
When a system malfunctions or loads for a long time, the users get frustrated. Therefore it pays to explain and test the technical aspects like the server resource demand already at the beginning of a project.
Data security is also a topic that needs close attention. The users´ access rights and liabilities should be thought through very carefully.
IX PROJEct management
Creating a functioning intranet is an investment. So that the intranet project would be a success, resources would be used in the best possible manner and risks would be mapped and avoided, a capable project manager proficient in the methodology and processes of project management is needed.
X TEchnical support service
The selection, adaptation and implementation of a new intranet platform can become a huge challenge, especially if it needs to fit into the already existing large IT infrastructure. Find out whether the producer or developer offers technical support. It is particularly important in the course of the implementation but can be useful also when the intranet is already operational.
case-study: creating a successful intranet for bigbank
In the course of ten years we have helped both medium-sized and big companies to select, implement and adapt intranets. BigBank wanted to make their existing intranet user-friendly, so that everything important would be easy to find. Employees could not find necessary information and did not wish to use the intranet because of this—the information architecture, design and search engine were unacceptable.
We started our work from collecting information with our project team. We conducted a survey at BigBank to understand how the employees used the intranet and to determine their main needs and problems. Based on the information collected we created the profiles (personas) of the main users. With the help of the latter we started mapping the users´ journeys and needs. In parallel, we started organising the navigation chart with digital mapping tools.
In the course of work, 100 navigation points remained from the almost 600 we started with, and from these we created a new navigation model. We tested the new navigation model with ca 80 employees. By mapping user journeys and the new navigation model, we created several different intranet prototypes (draft versions of the information system). Prototyping the intranet offered us the chance to calmly think through all the stages, test them on the employees and guarantee that we were creating exactly the sort of platform that the employees actually needed and wanted to use.
We developed the prototype in cooperation with Confluence developers who helped us adapt it according to the restrictions and possibilities of the platform. We started developing the required functionality based on Confluence relying on the final prototype, taking into account that the source code of Confluence couldn’t be changed. As a result of the project we developed an easily navigable and manageable intranet that contains all the study materials, files and operational information necessary for work.
What are the most important characteristics of an intranet?
While the Internet is public, an intranet can be accessed only by the employees of a company. Intranet could be considered an internal website. It should comply with the same quality criteria as a public web page: be user-friendly, follow the company´s values and branding as well as help people communicate and exchange information.