Aligning the deployment of a new intranet project with a company’s goals and strategic plans sets up your intranet to be a success. If you put together a strong intranet strategy and plan indicating that it is critical to the business, then it's likely to win the support of company executives. And today’s intranets can, when planned out carefully, be central to a business’s ultimate success.
According to Patty Caya and Kara Pernice in Intranet Portals are the Hub of the Enterprise Universe,
“Today’s intranet portals are at the epicentre (sic) of the enterprise universe. They provide utility and usability, featuring all or most necessities for employees’ success. Popular enterprise portal offerings include use via mobile devices and home computers, consolidation of and access to enterprise applications, and communication vehicles for employees. As organisations inch toward a digital workplace, intranet portals are beginning to serve as the hub of the corporate wheel, providing spokes of information and applications that serve diverse and increasingly dispersed workforces.”
A successful intranet can boost workplace productivity and knowledge sharing. In turn this increases business profits. However, before starting an intranet project, it’s essential that the personnel involved understand exactly what it is that the company wants to achieve – and this must be explicitly understood.
As pointed out by Intranet Organisation: Steven L. Telleen, Ph.D. in Intranet Organisation: Strategies for managing change:
“Without explicit expectations, there will be no way to determine success. Either anything you do will be considered successful, because there are no expectations, or nothing will be successful, because the odds of accidentally hitting unstated expectations (that are likely a moving target) are almost zero.”
The goals of the intranet will depend on the business and can range from “existential visions” (where we expect to change the way we do business), to “referential goals” (improving and speeding up business processes). These tend to focus on different aspects of the organisation in order to support the intranet project.
Intranet best practice guidelines recommend defining goals as the first step in your planning. Why are you doing what you're doing?
Existential goals tend to focus on the development of individuals as well as the enterprise, with the technical requirements viewed as a means to aiding this process. Referential goals on the other hand, tend to focus on web apps and processes that are overall more efficient and user-friendly. This is the most popular approach in the current climate.
Many enterprises make the mistake of focusing purely on the technical side of the intranet when planning, but this is almost certainly a sure-fire route to failure. Tools can be put in place which in theory might help the user to perform their job better, but if these tools are complex and difficult to use, then they are only going to ensure that the user doesn’t actually engage with the intranet.
Use Appropriate Technology
With this in mind, when developing an initial plan, it’s important that it’s understood how staff use current tools, their level of technical knowledge should more advanced tools be implemented and why the tools on offer will help them to perform their work more efficiently.
To begin planning, project managers should consider the following:
- What’s the main purpose of the project – is it to enable better communications, to speed up transactional processes, facilitate knowledge sharing and eLearning?
- How will staff use the intranet to achieve the intended goals – what tools and applications will be implemented, will staff have access to knowledge banks, will content creators only add to the latter, who will have governance?
- What tools are available to ensure success – how will the chosen tools and applications be received by staff, will there need to be additional training implemented so that staff can use tools?
- What legacy equipment will have to be accounted for – will new tools be compatible with legacy IT equipment, what measures will have to be put into place to overcome any technical challenges?
How will existing content assets be migrated – “lift and shift” is an inadequate strategy and thought should be given to how content will be organised, edited, archived and deleted.
- What consideration will be given to mobility – will parts of the intranet be made responsive, what content/access will be served to mobile users and why?
A large part of the planning will involve people; ideally, those who will be using the intranet daily. An intranet project is likely to fail because little thought has been given to the level of user experience and usability, leading to low user engagement.
To ensure a successful implementation, it is vital to identify how applications will help each department, how users will interact with an intranet during the course of their day and if they will be able to use them immediately.
User behaviour is not the only important factor to consider when planning your intranet project. It’s also important to have a thorough understanding of the business requirements of your company. For example, if you’re building an intranet to speed up transactional processes, then what applications and changes to the database will facilitate this and automate some of the processes which are usually carried out by staff?
To understand the user, the project manager should, in the early planning stages:
- Carry out user surveys to determine how staff currently use the network
- Carry out an inventory on current technology and applications and how much they are used
Gain insight into the technical understanding of a wide section of staff
- Survey users with a proposed list of applications and tools to gauge which they are most likely to use
Ask how users feel the intranet could be improved to enable staff to more efficiently carry out their jobs
Related reading: [Blog post] Best Practice Intranet Design Guidelines
Governance has long been one of the major struggles of planning an effective intranet.
According to Nielsen Norman Group,
“A key lesson from many of our case studies is that organisations should plan the governance structure before starting a portals project. Success doesn’t come from buying a software package. It comes from running the project right, and from maintaining good governance after launch.”
The article goes on to say that previous research has found that when posed with the question “who owns the intranet” the answer was often a combination of departments. These included IT, marketing and HR, for the most part, with IT playing the role of custodian and the rest of the responsibility shifting in favour of corporate communications.
An important element to come out of the planning stage is the intranet content strategy and management policies that will ensure the intranet continues to be a valuable support tool for staff.
Whatever the best set up for any enterprise then, it’s vital that there is a strong intranet governance structure to support it.
Aligning the objectives of your intranet with business requirements will vastly improve your chances of staff adopting your intranet.
Ensure you engage executives in the planning process for a greater understanding of what needs to be accomplished. Also, closely consider the end-user so staff are able to fully utilise the tools and technology at their disposal.
Software and technology alone is not enough in evaluating and choosing the right intranet software. Thought must be given to exactly what the enterprise expects to achieve in terms of business goals if the project is to reach its full potential and provide maximum ROI.
We strongly recommend you download the free Intranet Buyers Guide. It will take you step-by-step through the process of planning for and selecting the right solution. A bonus spreadsheet is also included so you can easily get started on your own project.