Andrew Wright is the founder of the Worldwide Intranet Challenge, a free global intranet benchmarking service. His expertise is in SharePoint, intranet optimization, knowledge management, information architecture, user adoption, change management, process analysis, and business analysis.
What, in your opinion, is the single biggest factor contributing to the most successful intranets?
Well, my research from the Worldwide Intranet Challenge shows that the strongest correlation to overall intranet value is how much employees interact with it. In other words, the more that employees contribute content, complete online forms, participate in discussions, etc., the more valuable the intranet will be for an organization.
What are the biggest barriers to intranet success? How might companies avoid or overcome such barriers?
Most organizations of more than 200 employees already have intranets these days, so it’s not often I get involved in implementing a new intranet. But I believe the three biggest barriers to general success with intranets are:
- Managing content so employees can find what they need.
- Getting employees to contribute useful content in the first place.
- Integrating the intranet with existing tools and applications.
There are many things that can be done to overcome these barriers, but some of the more powerful ideas include:
- Ensure your intranet technology empowers employees to engage with the content that resides in the intranet.
- Establish intranet governance – clearly define roles and responsibilities around who does what.
- Have a well defined and easy to use information architecture that enables pages and documents to be tagged.
- Deliver content based on a person’s role, location or interests; this is called personalization of content.
- Develop workflows and online tools that make it easy (and essential) for employees to complete basic work tasks.
- Integrate the intranet with existing tools and applications.
- Establish and report on key metrics.
- Link key metrics to organizational KPIs if possible.
- Provide rewards and recognition to encourage employees to contribute useful content.
To what extent should senior management be involved in an intranet initiative? What departments other than HR should be involved?
It’s critical for senior management to be involved. Not only from a financial viewpoint but perhaps more importantly, to set the example. The best intranets all have support from key senior management. I’d say it would almost be impossible to have a successful intranet without the support of one or more of the C-suite.
All departments need to be involved. As I said earlier, the more employees that actively engage with the intranet, the more valuable it will be. Each department needs its champions and leaders to show the way. In fact, I see the main role of internal comms and HR departments these days as being evangelists and facilitators of content development – not content developers themselves (though of course this will still be an important role). So this means providing training, monitoring use and intranet reporting, facilitating communities, managing the information architecture, developing and managing intranet governance. A key measure of an internal comms department should be the percentage of employees contributing content to the intranet.
How are you seeing intranets changing as they integrate more social sharing features? What are the benefits and drawbacks?
The benefits of integrating social features are huge. Gartner released a report a couple of years ago estimating a 25 percent productivity improvement for organizations that implemented social tools properly. The use of social tools translates to a greater level of engagement from employees. It means that there is a platform for all employees to contribute valuable IP to an organization. This is a very powerful concept. Imagine the tips and tricks, good ideas, questions, answers, solutions that can be shared throughout the organization when all employees are contributing.
The main drawback with the use of social features is that valuable nuggets of information can easily get lost. If I want to know the procedure for applying for an internal transfer for example, I don’t necessarily want to trawl through a bunch of Yammer groups and conversations to find this information. I’d prefer if it was available in a nicely categorized list of ‘How do I’ web pages. However, this is becoming more common in organizations today. Valuable documents, tips and tricks and advice appear briefly in discussion groups or conversations but then get lost because they are not properly categorized and filed.
What comes next? What do you see as the future of company intranets?
I think the future of intranets is very bright – it’s a great space to be in! I’d estimate that most intranets are probably operating at only 10 to 20 percent of their potential at the moment, which of course means there is a huge upside. From my research, it’s clear that only a small percentage (less than 5 percent) of employees contribute to the intranet on a regular basis. If this percentage can be increased – and it has been slowly increasing over the last few years – organizations and employees alike will reap enormous benefits through more efficient work practices, more innovative and meaningful work, and more highly engaged employees.
You can connect with Andrew on Twitter @roojwright.
To learn more, check out our eBook, “The New Social Intranet: How We Collaborate in the Digital Age.” It expands on what the future holds for intranets and how to get there from here.
This post is part of a series of profiles on some of our favorite social business, knowledge management, employee engagement, sales & marketing, and customer support experts.
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