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June 26, 2015

Intranet Strategy – How does an intranet benefit the organisation?

Synopsis

Intranets take considerable resources in order to operate successfully. In order to justify these resources intranet planners must gain the wholehearted support of management, and to do this they must be able to demonstrate that the site will provide an excellent benefit to the organisation.

There are 2 types of benefits that an intranet can provide:

  • Streamlining existing activities
  • Creating behaviours not possible without the intranet.

The latter can be thought of as “serendipity” – the unplanned connections between entities within the organisation that would never have connected otherwise. The intranet is a powerful facilitator of serendipitous connections.

 

Introduction

In our ebook, Intranet Engagement Strategy – Bridging the Intranet Adoption Chasm, I demonstrate that in order to bridge the so-called adoption chasm you must consider human behaviour and build your intranet around the needs and personalities of various groups within the organisation.

While this is undoubtedly true, it does not quite address the complete 360° environment in which an intranet operates. The 3 core principles of intranet engagement provide a sound basis for appealing to the various personalities but in order to achieve any of these principles, it is quite likely that intranet planners will need the space to be able to make big decisions about the way the intranet is planned, developed and managed.

In order to be awarded this space to manoeuvre, it is going to be necessary to secure the wholehearted support of the management. They will need to be convinced that the intranet is worth the investment in terms of cost, resources and time.

So how is this done? In the ebook, I look at ways of developing a measurement strategy so that we can build a quantitative business case. However, there are other ways in which we can support these arguments, by demonstrating the benefits that the intranet provides to the organisation.

 

So how does an Intranet benefit the organisation?

This may sound like a stupid question. After all, the fact that the intranet exists or is being discussed at all implies that it is considered to be a beneficial addition to the IT portfolio. However, all too often the intranet is considered to be a thing that was invested into in the past, and should just sit there doing “whatever it is doing” for the foreseeable future.

If the potential benefits of having a well-engaged intranet could be demonstrated to management, then they might be more willing to invest time, cost, resources or all three into its future development.

So how DOES an intranet benefit the organisation?

There are 2 types of benefits that an intranet can provide to an organisation:

  • Streamlining existing activities
  • Creating new behaviours not possible without the intranet

 

Streamlining and Efficiency

Many of the perceived benefits of an intranet to an organisation are in this category. Historically, too intranets have tended to focus in these types of benefit.

There are many areas in which an intranet can streamline existing activities, for example:

  • Internal Communications
  • Resource/Asset distribution
  • Self-Service Tasks
  • Learning & professional development
  • Online collaboration
  • Person Directories

In some cases these benefits are acquired by taking an existing offline activity and taking it online (e.g. booking annual leave on paper vs an online form). In other cases the benefits are gained through the centralisation of an otherwise highly distributed activity (e.g. internal comms emails vs online newsfeed).

There may well still be areas of the organisation that can be streamlined or further streamlined with the right intranet feature. In the context of demonstrating a benefit to the organisation, these are “quick wins” for intranet planners.

 

Creating New Behaviours

These types of benefits are far more subtle than the streamlining and efficiency benefits, and as such they are harder to demonstrate to management. The key point that needs to be communicated is that the intranet is such a powerful tool, it is capable of more than just making familiar tasks easier. In fact it is capable of delivering new behaviours and dynamics into the organisation that are simply not possible without it.

Programmed Connections

If we consider an organisation very simply as a group of individuals each with a list of tasks to complete, each within their own spheres of contact. These individuals know exactly who they need to contact and what they need to know in order to complete their tasks. Their spheres of contact have developed into exactly the right size in order for them to complete their daily tasks, and encompass all that they need to be aware of within the organisation.

These are called programmed connections: connections where people know with whom, for what and why they are trying to connect. Programmed connections are the normal way of operating for almost all of us, almost all of the time, and could be the only type of connections currently existent within the organisation.

Examples of intranet features that can assist programmed connections within an organisation:

  • People finder/employee directory
  • Enterprise search
  • Latest news/communications
  • Activity Feeds

These are NOT considered new behaviours created by the intranet.

Serendipitous Connections

Since the arrival of the internet as a key information source in all our lives, we have become used to the idea of targeted advertising and all manner of attempts to draw us in to websites that we weren’t previously aware of, or even looking for.

This is normally considered quite annoying and we do our best to avoid these types of connections. However, in the marketing-free world if intranets this type of capability can be used with great effect. It can be used to create connections within an organisation where neither of the connected parties knew the other person existed, or that they were of benefit to each other.

These are called serendipitous connections: people “stumble” across new connections that they were previously unaware of. A serendipitous connection creates new behaviours and adds value to an organisation that is not possible without the intranet.

Examples of features that could be placed on an intranet to encourage serendipitous connections:

  • “more like this article”
  • “experts on this subject”
  • “Other people searching on this”

I knew a manager once who strongly believed in the serendipitous power of intranets. He worked in a massive international organisation and was looking for an adviser on a particular area of expertise. The traditional way to get such an adviser would be to put out a notice within his department and wait for applicants to reply. He suspected, however that the applicants he would get from his own department would be more interested in the prestige of the position than being able to offer him the best advice. So instead he posted a highly technical article related to the area of expertise.

He knew that this article would be almost impenetrable to most people, but after a few days he noticed a low level employee from another department had left a very interesting comment. He connected with that employee and it turned out that he was an expert in exactly the field of expertise in question, and he had found his new adviser.

Without this serendipitous connection he would never have known about that expertise within his organisation.

 

Conclusions

In the ebook, we see that the key to a successfully engaged intranet is more than just fancy features and a cool name. It requires investment not just in terms of cost, but in terms of time and resources as well. It requires time to research the underpinning intranet strategy, and then it takes more time to develop it into an intranet that is capable of appealing to all of the personality groups within the organisation. It can’t be rushed.

It then takes continuous, ongoing resources in order to maintain the buzz around the intranet, as well as to ensure the regular turnover of content and continuous improvement of the site.

This is quite a considerable investment and in order to secure this commitment, “wholehearted support from management” must be sought. Gain it and the freedom to develop, deliver and maintain a highly successful intranet is there. Fail to gain it and the intranet adoption chasm starts to look very wide indeed!

Dan Jones, June 2015.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

From a background of astrophysics (MSci, University College London) and business management, Dan Jones has been working with SmallWorlders and their intranets for nearly 10 years. As Head of Consulting he maintains a particular interest in the art and science of intranet engagement and in 2014 co-authored the white paper “The Science of Intranet Engagement Measurement”.

Since then he has been presenting and talking on the subject of intranet engagement measurement, as well as developing his “Intranet Engagement Theory”.