Intranet projects are still popular these days. There is great new technology platforms & many new features available. Internet designs have moved on a lot so your old intranet is starting to look a little tired. Now your employees have new devices so your intranet needs to be mobile first and responsive. Think of the opportunities for new branding, a new name, better search and a refresh of all the content. Finally the intranet could be at the heart of the knowledge management and collaboration in the organisation. Delivering a new intranet is a signature career achievement.
Stop. Are you sure you need that new intranet?
New intranets don’t come cheap. Even after the technology solutions is acquired, the expenditure has only just begun. All that wonderful new design is going to cost money. You will need personas, card sorts and then branding advice. Getting the information architecture right can make all the difference so you will need a lot of time spent on the taxonomy of content, hierarchies of information, businesses and users. Glossaries and other reference materials will need to be reviewed and updated. Search will need to be tuned to make sure that it delivers the right options. All your existing content will need to be reviewed to fit into the new design. Throw in a policy and product information refresh and the costs and time skyrocket. Then there is the maintenance costs of all that content. Add in personalisation, collaboration and social features and the work never ends.
What is the Intranet really for?
To senior managers, an employee communications or HR team, an intranet is a showcase of the organisation, its business strategy and its knowledge. It is the one source of truth. It is the hub of collaboration and a critical place to share messages with all employees. This perception can create a whole lot of politics that disrupts the effectiveness of your new intranet. People become focused about the need to control the design and the content. User focus is swapped for the desire to meet the needs of the hierarchy. That control has real consequences when it disengages users. Worse still it can force one template on everyone and make everyone into ‘content providers’. The costs of this control are in content that gets out of date and grey market sites that spring up to break the shackles. Soon the efforts to get around the intranet are drawing investment, effort and attention away from the platform. Confusion escalates and the intranet site is on its way back to being a stale reservoir of knowledge.
To an employee an intranet is where all the links in corporate distribution emails go. Usually the intranet is the last place they go to look when they and their colleagues don’t have the answer to hand and local searches have turned up no relevant ideas. Often the intranet is the place where knowledge is tied up in clunky processes & policy that don’t reflect their day job. Everything is anonymous. The context and authority that comes from human connection is lost. An employee does not care about single sources of truth or showcases of corporate messages. They care about findability and usefulness. Nobody browses an intranet willingly.
I know many organisations who have built elegant product sites on their intranet to explain all the features, process and policy relating to their products. Too often they discover that their teams use the customer facing website for product information. The structure of customer facing product information is usually better suited to employee’s roles in explaining that information to customers. It is indexed for Google search. Legal requirements ensure that product teams keep the external information that matters up to date. Also the employee can send the customer a link if they need to explain lots of detail. The pretty intranet is a showcase but the internet is the workhorse. How much of your intranet site could you do away with by directing employees to external sites?
Are the behaviours going to change?
In our work, we create value through our actions. If the behaviours aren’t going to change, then don’t change the intranet. Changing only the technology alone, will foster only cost and confusion.
If you do want to get better at collaboration, communication and knowledge management, start with a clear understanding of the value to the organisation and the value to the user. Look for ways to achieve your goals that involved changed behaviours and community, not technology. When you are clear on the value of changed behaviours, you will be clearer on what your technology needs to look like to support that work. Now you won’t be forcing an intranet as a solution and you will be able to look at the breadth of options from social collaboration, to working out loud more, to using external internet sites and other tools of helping employees to find what matters most to help them do their job.
You will also have built a case for the whole organisation to align to working in new and better ways.