Build a Business Intranet that Actually Works
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The term “intranet” won’t die. It should. I don’t think I have ever seen a good intranet in 24 years since I first started writing about business intranets in 1997 (yes – by writing about this market I was a part of the problem!). I’d even argue that there is no such concept as a “good intranet” – as it is an inherently flawed idea. An intranet effectively tries to bring together all the stuff that employees don’t access or don’t want to access and puts it somewhere that employees might actually use.

Intranets don’t help employees do their jobs

Why don’t we access these systems? Because they are generally not “core” to our jobs. Employees will find and access the systems and applications that are core to getting their jobs done – even if they are terrible to use (even in this “designed for humans, SaaS-world” there are still plenty of core systems that are terrible to use). Some companies try to integrate their intranet and core applications; making employees access the intranet to login to their essential apps. This might make life easier for IT responsible for deploying, managing and securing the applications. It also excites HR as they hope that along the way to accessing these systems, a “schmear” of company culture or information might rub off on them. But many employees quickly work out ways around these systems by bookmarking sites or using dedicated applications.

One of the reasons that company intranets are generally so poor is because they don’t actually help people do their job. There are often no guided processes or checklists to ensure follow through on tasks. Remember how many salespeople didn’t (or still don’t) use the CRM system because it didn’t help them actually sell? Well, intranets suffer from the same problem.

Some software providers looked to solve this problem by bringing the company intranet and core application together into a single interface. Salesforce has limited success with Chatter – but many users of Chatter spent much of their energy telling employees they “weren’t using Chatter the right way” – which sounds awfully like a design problem, not a user one.

Now is a good time to review your company intranet

Why now? Because the big collaboration players (Microsoft in particular) are improving their offerings in this space, creating partnerships, and painting a vision of a world where employees might actually WANT to access company intranets.

Which brings me to Microsoft Viva. We wrote about Viva when it was initially launched as a concept and businesses (and more importantly, their employees) can now experience the capabilities. Viva helps resolve some of the challenges with business intranets:

  • It makes some of the collaboration systems more usable and insightful
  • It actually provides outcomes for employees (through the learning module in particular)
  • It integrates with existing processes and exposes these application-centric processes through Teams

At the same time, it is trying to be a “cultural change agent” by having a single place to go to view company news and announcements. This is similar to many company intranets, and like many of them, is likely to be an abandoned sideshow – the only time many employees visit it will be when they are forced to – like when the CEO sends an all-company email saying that there is an announcement on the company intranet that everyone needs to see. Which is the digital equivalent of posting you a letter to inform you that you have an email!

The challenge for Viva is that employees need to be using Teams to get the most out of it – and I don’t just mean “using Teams for chat and calling” but using the collaboration elements effectively – ALL the time. And the challenge with this is that (a) many employees don’t EVER use these features of Teams (or use them sporadically), and (b) some companies (and teams within companies) have multiple platforms for collaboration and sharing (Slack, Trello, Basecamp, Jira etc).

But either way, Viva looks like a positive step forward for collaboration – and more importantly, it gives businesses some guidelines on how to improve their existing intranet.

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How to Make your Intranet work?

Integrate the work that people have KPIs on, with collaboration and intranet systems

Design processes so the intranet makes it EASIER for people to do their jobs – by removing unnecessary handing of information, copying and pasting, multiple levels of authentication and moving between many applications or screens. Leave requests or approving invoices have already been integrated into email – so managers can click a button in the email to send the approval. But what if there were a page on the intranet where all the leave requests or approvals for funding or payment were in a single spot? What if the system provided insight around these requests (such as Mary Singh only has 1 day leave left, or Company ABC takes 90 days to pay on average)? And if all leave requests could be approved with a single click, it actually makes the employees life easier.

Build processes into the systems to solve employee pain points

Many intranets are ostensibly used for helping employees find each other or find experts on specific topics. But they don’t guide this process – they just say “there’s lots of information here – use the search tool and good luck!”. Design guided processes for outcomes people actually want to achieve. Survey your employees to find out what they’d like the intranet to help them achieve – and build some employee journey maps across various roles to understand the challenges and pain points. If it makes sense, use the intranet to help resolve those pain points.

Make your existing tools more powerful and easier to use

Your employees generally want to collaborate. Don’t get me wrong – many don’t wake up each morning thinking that they’d love to share some documents with unknown team members today – but they do want to work together more easily than they do today. So take a look at what stops them from achieving this and look to solve those problems by making existing tools more powerful and easier to use. Adding analytics helps employees and their managers better manage their time and their interactions. Automating file sharing and discovery will help employees find the information they need without adding additional work for the content creator.

Businesses need to think of their intranets as “places to get things done”

Too many intranets seem to be designed for 4pm on Friday afternoon versus 9am Monday morning. And if this is yours, then don’t be surprised that employees don’t use it that often or give it little time. The more you can use an intranet to make employees lives easier, the more likely that you will be creating a resource which improves the productivity and happiness of the employees you serve.

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Tim brings more than 20 years of experience in designing and implementing Cloud, AI, CX and Automation strategies to the Ecosystm network, to support businesses in their IT decisions. In his previous role, Tim spent 12 years at Forrester Research, most recently as a Principal Analyst, helping IT leaders improve their digital capabilities. Prior to this, he was Research Director for IT Solutions at IDC in Australia, where he assisted IT vendors in designing solutions to better fit market requirements and IT buyers in improving the effectiveness of their IT functions. Beyond the office, Tim boasts an international reputation as an entertaining and informative public speaker on the key trends in the IT market. Tim graduated from the University of Technology Sydney with a BA majoring in Marketing and Research. In his free time, Tim enjoys playing football (badly!) and tennis and watching rugby. But while he may enjoy that, he spends most of his time driving his two children to various sporting and social activities.


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