The Evolution of the Intranet

Nigel Danson, CEO and founder of Interact, says that for far too long intranets were viewed as the poorer relation to the website. The website, which is the external face of a company, was long perceived as having a greater impact on sales and therefore more imperative to business success. Meanwhile the intranet was given a secondary placing in comparison. 

I believe this downgrading of the intranet was due to a fundamental issue with the way intranets traditionally operated which made them ineffective, inefficient and subsequently redundant to a productive workforce. Intranets were managed by one person, usually in the IT team, who made the decision on what and when information is pushed out. The problem with this traditional approach is far too often the information is not tailored or suitable for individuals with different needs within the organisation.

However, over the past few years there has been a massive step change in both the perception and use of intranets. As a result, investment levels in intranets have increased significantly relative to corporate websites.

One of the biggest developments which kick started the intranet evolution was the ease by which anyone can upload content, which happened around four years ago. Many organisations have introduced ‘Intranet Champions’ in various departments in the workplace, such as marketing, finance and HR, which has decentralised the way content is added. It has also made the updating of intranets less of a technical nightmare, meaning that an up to date intranet is no longer dependent on the IT department.

This decentralisation of the intranet has led to the next step in the evolution of the intranet, as many organisations have begun to realise the benefits that a collaborative intranet can bring in helping people to get work done.

The evolution into a social intranet

A report from evidence-based user research company, the Nielsen Norman Group, shows that social features within an intranet are essential for supporting employee collaboration and knowledge management. The report also highlights the ease at which users are taking to social tools when used for the right reasons and in the right work context.

As organisations continue to adopt a ‘social’ intranet, it is not uncommon to have hundreds, if not thousands, of people contributing to intranet content on a daily basis, through blogs, comment on documents, ‘Likes’, ‘Shares’ and status updates.

These social capabilities of an intranet not only aid knowledge sharing, but are particularly important when someone leaves an organisation, and they take with them their valuable knowledge and experience. A social intranet makes conversations more public and structured so knowledge is kept within the company.

However, the social intranet has in turn created a problem; there is an abundance of information, which employees have to sift through to try and find the content relevant to their specific query.

This not only causes people to become frustrated and in turn leads to a lack of employee engagement, but also individuals are likely to miss vital information which can help them do their work. The creation of this ‘noise’ can therefore have great detrimental effect on an organisation’s productivity.

Increasing productivity

People want to be able to get work done and achieve results quickly. But when an employee requires information to do their job effectively, knowing who to approach in an organisation to find relevant information can be a minefield, whilst searching on intranets can be a time consuming process. McKinsey recently reported workers spend approximately 28 hours per week searching and collaborating.

The report from the Nielsen Norman Group shows that knowledge within a social intranet must be carefully managed to effectively support employee collaboration. Also, an integrated search functionality which searches the entire social layer on the intranet in addition to other content is essential. Most notably however the report highlights that social intranet projects must be driven by business needs to make them most effective.

Far too often intranets are technology-focused, when to be most effective they must focus on the specific requirements and needs of the business, the employees and the tasks they need to do.

In a business world where time is critical – not least due to the current economic environment, the demand for accurate and relevant content which supports specific business and employee requirements to enable people to get work done efficiently is more crucial than ever. I therefore believe for a modern day intranet to become essential to an organisation’s success relying on social alone is not enough.

Social alone is not enough

Statistics from Mckinsey show that productivity within an organisation can increase by 25 per cent with the right technology and culture. However, we have seen with a number of our customers this increase in productivity levels can not only be reached but surpassed.

This can be achieved by utilising a blend of social and productivity tools which can aid internal communication, collaboration and carry out key business processes. This in turn reinvigorates employee engagement and interaction, empowers staff and perhaps most importantly for the boardroom, increases productivity.

The benefits of a social intranet are numerous, but for the collaboration that it brings to be both effective and efficient, the noise must be intelligently filtered to make content more targeted and therefore appealing to its intended audiences. A prime example of this type of technology is Amazon recommendations, which makes suggestions to consumers based on previous searches and purchases.

To truly aid productivity, intranets must take the same approach and use the data from social tools to look at an individual’s connections, interactions, intranet behaviour and profile data and from this information, construct a unique profile DNA for each intranet user and filter the most relevant content accordingly. The end result is a social intranet which works intelligently to make the right content find the right people.

As the intranet has evolved, it has become a powerful digital workspace which is constantly accumulating content, people, collaboration and services. Whilst the power and importance of intranets has continued and will continue to grow, the task has got even tougher to ensure an intranet is equipped to play an essential role in carefully aligning itself to an organisation’s long-term success.


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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine
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