Intranet Innovations 2010

Some interesting insights into the future direction of internal business communications  – courtesy of Step Two Designs’ 2010 Intranet Innovation Awards.

Content is no longer king

Innovative communicators are re-imagining the Intranet.

The most important change hasn’t been the technology platform; it’s been the mindset of intranet and project teams – moving on from the idea of the intranet as an internal website.

Rather than simply focusing on the one-way delivery of static content and corporate news, intranet innovation is now looking at ways to transform how staff work, using new technology to rethink traditional approaches and to focus more on connecting people and resources in order to help deliver business goals.

Social media is ‘standard’

2010 marked the ‘tipping point’ of social tools; site-wide commenting, the integration of blogs, micro-blogging, wikis, and social staff directories, and free-ranging contributions from all levels of an organisation, from the CEO down and frontline staff up.

Basic social tools are no longer ‘nice to have’, they’re now standard. If a site doesn’t have extensive social functionality, built-in from the ground up, then it’s significantly behind the curve of intranet development.

For those facing cultural barriers to adoption, including senior management’s fear of losing control or employees wasting time, the message is clear; an organisation still holding back its employees, intentionally or not, from contributing to and discussing all aspects of the business, risks missing out on a significant route to innovation and growth.

Personalisation that works

Personalisation, where staff can configure the intranet to match their needs, has seen a resurgence on intranets in the last year.

Whilst the idea of enabling staff to set up ‘their’ intranet themselves, is an attractive one, the challenge has often been the ’5–10% rule’ – in typical organisations, only 5–10% of staff will make use of personalisation or social features. This rule has been seen in effect across the globe, in the private and public sectors, even in major technology and consulting firms, and in those with a greater proportion of  those ‘Generation Y’ users thought most likely to use new technologies.

To make personalistion work, you need – a proactive culture, features that deliver real benefits and  personalised options that are critical to the daily work of staff. It needs to go beyond the out-of-the-box widgets like ‘my documents’ and the weather. Instead, it should deliver features like to-do-lists, project updates, contact searches, selective content subscription etc.

Consider the experience

It’s interesting to compare public websites and intranets with respect to the user experience.

The best websites provide customers with an easy, effective and seamless experience that hides underlying complexity.

No major public website would consider giving customers multiple usernames and passwords, or presenting six different applications with differing look-and-feel. Yet this is often what is created for staff within organisations: a disjointed collection of applications that often feels thrown together rather than designed.

Increasingly, the best intranet sites feature polished, professional and effective interfaces. Regardless of the technology platform behind the scenes, they cross boundaries and breakdown silos to deliver users experiences that are a pleasure for staff.

SharePoint versus all others

Microsoft’s SharePoint has become a significant, and perhaps dominant, intranet platform.

SharePoint is indeed powerful, but it’s not a lightweight intranet solution. Only with enough development time, resourcing, budget and effective communication will it meet many of the more complex business requirements.

Despite this, SharePoint remains on the radar of many intranet teams, permeating through all and any types of business, whether suitable or not. It is worth remembering that it’s certainly not the only solution out there.

Generating support and buy-in

Whether launching a new or replacement intranet, a considerable amount of time and effort should be invested in communicating and engaging with staff on the changes ahead. From user-centred research, to testing, launching and developing the site post-launch, it’s vital to have support and buy-in from all levels of the business. It is particularly important to secure senior management support, without which few projects are likely to be successful.

The key message is: Don’t forget this vital component when planning your site’s development schedule. A failure to engage and communicate with the business will often lead to a failed intranet, whether the breakdown occurs during the development phase, or post-launch.

Read more about the Intranet Innovations 2010 annual report.

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