Making intranets interesting

Too many companies invest in intranets only to see them fail

Darwin magazine tells a compelling story about the power of a company intranet.

Writer Daintry Duffy explains that HP used its intranet to ask staff if they were willing to take voluntary pay cuts. Eventually, more than 90% of employees volunteered and HP believes the intranet played a central role.

“Instead of finding out by word of mouth whether people were signing up, employees could check the site to see the current tally of volunteers. As the count steadily increased, it convinced more people to participate,” Duffy says.

However, many companies invest money in intranets only to see them fail or be met with little enthusiasm.

Part of the problem is caused by companies not considering why they are launching an intranet in the first place. There are lots of potential uses for an intranet but companies should know how the intranet will affect their strategic objectives.

Another problem with intranets is when they do not deliver value to employees.

“Stale content and lack of meaningful service offerings are, rightfully, a big turnoff … give them things that will help them do their jobs and don’t waste their time,” Duffy says.

To ensure intranets have fresh and relevant content, companies should encourage topic experts to contribute and maintain their own content and perhaps offer incentives for contributions. At consulting firm Andersen, contribution to the intranet is an element of each employee’s performance review.

Another way to ensure staff use the intranet is to shut down access to that information by any other means.

Intranets should be easy to navigate and not based around the organisation chart (that is around HR, benefits, marketing, sales).

Lisa Sulgit, a web consultant, told Duffy when interviewed for the article: “Your employees don’t know what HR is and they don’t care … they just want to get the stuff they need,”

Writing for Microsoft’s website, Jeff Wuorio says that an administrator needs to be appointed to manage the site and access to it don’t let everyone have the ability to delete or edit content. Also, don’t give into the temptation to throw every possible feature on the site.

“Don't approach all those features like a sailor on shore leave. As a rule, it's best to keep an intranet — particularly a new one — simple to learn and simple to use.”

It sounds obvious, but Wuorio advises companies to aggressively test their system, particularly to see how it works when several users are on the system at the same time.

A Fast Companyarticle by George Anders gives a good example of an intranet building a sense of communitya senior marketing specialist posted her ten best tips on a discussion board on an insurance firm’s US nationwide intranet. Within a short time more than 40 agents from across the US had joined the discussion, and hundreds more had read the postings.

Anders spoke to corporate users about how to build a good intranet and discovered one common piece of advice: create a forum for best practices.

“Step back a moment and ask yourself: what made the public internet take off? The answer: users benefited from being connected to so many people, businesses and ideas at once. People love to share what they know, what they care about, what they’re proud of. A large intranet can capture some of that magic as well,” he says.

Anders says we often hear intranet champions say that if only employees would spend some time getting to know the site, they would discover all the useful content.

“The solution to that problem, of course, is to make your intranet an undeniably essential part of every employee’s workday,” he says.

“Give them news they can use right away, such as links to information on medical deductibles or vacation pay. For a factory site, something as simple as a cafeteria menu or an update on parking spaces might be the hook that snags employees. For a research centre site, up-to-the-minute competitive intelligence about major rivals will keep users coming back for more.

In any case, whatever the audience, your home page should offer something of immediate value,” Anders says.

Mills is a Dunedin-based writer. Contact her at kirstin_mills@computerworld.co.nz

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