True intranet success requires a lot of work – usually measured in years. The dedication, rigor and resources required to build and maintain a successful intranet or a unified digital workplace are significant. And while a successful intranet does not necessarily require a lot of money per se, there are many facets that require attention, planning and people.
“The technology isn’t super important – most intranet platforms pretty much do the same things,” says Andrew Jayne, an intranet specialist who has managed intranets for some 20+ years. “Some are better at social, others are better at document management, but they all have the same basic functions.”
“People are far and away the most important thing. You can have the best content in the world, but if no one uses it, it’s not worth the server it’s sitting on. And if you don’t have the right folks at the helm, the user experience can actually make it a hated aspect of the workday”.
“People are more important than technology to the consistent management of content and functionality on the intranet,” says Ray Scippa, Publications Director for ConocoPhillips, a Fortune 500 and a global energy company with more than 11,000 employees spread across the Globe.
It will come as a surprise to many, that technology is the easy part – the most important ingredients behind successful intranets are people. As I’m fond of saying, technology is just an enabler: two-thirds of the necessary ingredients for a successful intranet are people and process (think rules and content management), technology is a necessity, but it’s the easy part.
“Our current technology, since the 2019 redesign, using Akumina and SharePoint, has served us well with few issues,“ says Scippa. “However, we recognize that technology continues to progress and will require us to consider changes soon.”
Employees go to the intranet for content. Period. They are not there to surf, or buy, or to socialize. Employees usually seek out forms, policies, phone numbers or some document related to their job – it may be from a static page, library or a dynamic app, but it’s content. Content is king and it’s created by people, which requires process and rules (think content management). Content is created by people, the rules and process are created by people, employees consume the content, and IT, HR and executives establish and support the governance and technology for doing so.
Ironically, it’s the technology that allows for less centralized intranet management: today fewer people manage and maintain the intranet compared to ten or 12 years-ago. Furthermore, the modern intranet promotes greater decentralized participation, and content publishing and sharing, at all levels of the employee spectrum, throughout the organization, from top to bottom.
The ConocoPhillips intranet home page, The Mark
Ten years ago, a company of 10,000 employees might have 4-8 people dedicated to the intranet (some got away with fewer). Today, that number is closer to one to four FTEs, and in some cases, no one is fully dedicated to the intranet. Rather, there are more generalists (not specialists) in IT, HR and communications that have some intranet responsibilities, but have roles for which the intranet is but one part of their work portfolio, one channel across the digital workplace.
Today, a global energy leader, with an award-winning intranet, ConocoPhillips has zero people dedicated solely to the intranet. Zero.
“No one works full-time on the intranet,” says Scippa. “The Communications team in Houston includes four colleagues dedicated to intranet content as part of their daily responsibilities (but are not dedicated solely to the intranet).”
ConocoPhillips communications team has communicators in 14 global locations around the world who manage their local sites. “Large business units, including Norway, Canada, Australia and Alaska have teams of four communicators. Smaller locations (i.e. those with less employees) such as China, Malaysia, Qatar and London, have one or two communicators,” adds Scippa.
ConocoPhillips’ decentralized content model promotes content from all locations and multiple communicators, regardless of their focus, from various business units and functions, who contribute editorial ideas and submit content for posting on the intranet.
Additionally, employees our encouraged to submit content, share ideas and stories, in their own words, to the intranet home page. “Our general employee audience can submit ideas for content via a link prominently displayed on the intranet’s main page,” says Scippa. “When the average employee submits an idea, we evaluate it and decide on the best approach. Often that means encouraging the person submitting the idea to produce a first draft for us to edit.”
ConocoPhillips has two IT professionals on-call to support the intranet for the Houston-based corporate communicators. And that’s it.
Of course, as important as communications and IT is to the intranet, there are two groups, as depicted in the Nexus of Intranet Success, that are more important: employee and executives.
Nexus of Intranet Success
Beyond the showcasing of successful intranet screenshots, the basis for most intranet award contests, which is a mistake for most organizations to copy (every organization is different), The Nexus of Intranet Success is a working model that emphasizes the mission-critical ingredients of a successful intranet. I refer to the collective intranet facets or ingredients for success as the Nexus of Intranet Succes (Nexus [‘nEksIs] comes from a Greek word meaning ‘meeting place’ – an appropriate moniker given the intranet’s position in the average organization).
Intranet model of success, “Nexus of Intranet Success,” © 2003-2023 Prescient Digital Media
Depicting the Nexus as an illustration, the main components required for a successful site or portal can be presented as a set of three concentric levels:
- Level 1, Executive Support
- Level 2, The Foundation (Planning, Resources, Value and Users)
- Level 3, Motivated Users
While some levels or factors may, on the surface, seem more important than others, optimal intranet and Internet success requires success on all levels – each working in conjunction with one another. Hence, the relevance of the ‘Nexus’. In reality, however, intranet success is mostly about people, as denoted by the inside and outside circles. The intranet is mostly about people…
At the centre of the Nexus or the heart of a site’s potential for success, is the backing of senior management – both moral and financial support. Many organizations have intranets that are mid-management or grass-root initiatives, and some enjoy a certain level of success. However, the potential of your intranet will never be fully realized without proper executive support and a senior management champion (ideally either the CEO or CIO).
The number one challenge facing corporate intranets today is not technology, nor tight budgets, but rather internal politics, specifically, the politics of competing priorities and management agendas. The second biggest hurdle is a financial one. To win these challenges you need senior management in your corner.
“Without the support, the site is more of an organizational afterthought and your work is almost an underground effort,” says Shel Holtz, ABC and IABC 20-year veteran of organizational communication. “So, if you want your site to be taken seriously, you need executive support.”
Before the project (build or re-design) can gain executive support, it must be presented and marketed to demonstrate how it can help the organization achieve its goals and objectives. The intranet must demonstrate measurable value insofar as it relates to company profits, earnings and revenue.
“Speak executive’s language, appeal not to technology but results,” says Holtz. “No executive loses sleep because the intranet doesn’t get enough hits or isn’t cool enough. Executives lose sleep over revenues, earnings, and competition. You need to demonstrate how your efforts will help executives sleep better.”
One way of pitching this idea to executives, as Holtz suggests, is to bring the executive team’s attention to articles from business publications that explain how other companies have achieved bottom-line success through the application of online technology.
Before you pitch your proposal to executive management, know what you want your site to achieve. Know the 5Ws for the site:
- Who will come?
- Why they are looking for your site?
- What they want to find?
- When they want it?
- Where they’ll find it?
Internet and intranet sites can be complex and very expensive. Few successful sites are developed and maintained by a single person using only internal resources. While hardware, software and people are the major resource requirements, specific investments in servers, databases, publishing mechanisms, search engines, self-service applications and editorial and technical staff account for the bulk of expenditures.
The biggest difficulty in conveying the necessity for adequate resources is that there is no rule-of-thumb – every organization is different with differing business requirements, access to infrastructure and internal technical skill sets. There is no standardized budget model for the development and operating costs of a site, many pundits often attempt to frame resource requirements by the annual cost-per-user. For example, at most medium- to large-size organizations, the annual intranet cost-per-user ranges anywhere from $50 – $1000 with $100 – $300 per user being the most common range.
Without thorough planning, your site could face extinction. Although executive approval and support is vital for the shape and funding of a site, without solid research and clearly stated requirements your intranet could waste considerable time, money, and effort.
An intranet manager at a major communications company recently lamented about the phenomenal amount of wasted time, money and effort exhausted in evolving their enterprise intranet portal that serves tens of thousands of employees. In one year, the intranet was redesigned three times – sucking significant funds and patience from an organization that should be using the intranet to support rather than drain the bottom-line. Of an extended team of more than a dozen people working on the intranet, only one person remains.
“Forget the online “field of dreams” epigram – if you build it, they will come,” advises Holtz. “Find out the who, what and why of the site. Then determine how you can meet your specific, measurable objectives with the audience and its needs.”
For more on Resources, Planning and “The Foundation”, see The Nexus of Intranet Success.
“Building an intranet is one thing. Getting people to use it is another,” espouses Scott Kirsner, author of Intranet Marketing 101. Internet sites are no different.
Steve Crescenzo, a top-rated communications speaker, and consultant, equips business communicators with ways to motivate users to visit a site.
“Firstly, motivating users requires education and marketing to raise awareness of the site’s existence,” stresses Crescenzo in delivering his Integrating Print and Online workshop. “If you can get people there, you know they’re there because they want to be there.”
One way to get people there is to use a PUSH medium, like print or e-mail. Intranets are PULL communication vehicles – users need to be driven towards it. By integrating PUSH and PULL vehicles, you can combine the use of e-mail and print to help promote your intranet or Website.
If you choose to use e-mail to push users, be sure to use it with caution. Avoid sending too many e-mails – they can be intrusive, like junk mail, which winds up in the trash. Crescenzo offers six tips for maximizing your e-mail readability:
- Not too wordy
The delete button is easy to get to,” says Crescenzo. “E-mail a little. Link a lot. Make links to different parts of the intranet.”
Once users are aware of the site and are using it, they also need to be motivated in continuing to use it. If users are not compelled to use the site, then they won’t, and it becomes a useless tool.
True intranet success is rare and often fleeting. It takes a lot of work, with an emphasis on people, and process. To reach the rarefied air of intranet success, your site must be delivering on all three tiers of the Nexus model. Success is often pre-determined by the understanding and support offered by your organization’s executives (senior management) and is delivered by motivated employee users who keep returning. The in-between – planning, resources, use and value – is the foundation or blueprint for success and the ‘devil’ in the details.
Watch the full video replay of the dedicated webinar, People and the Intranet:
Or see the slides and all the screenshots used in People and the Intranet:
Toby Ward, a former journalist and a regular intranet and digital workplace columnist and speaker, is the President and Founder of Prescient Digital Media and the Digital Workplace & Intranet Global Forum conference series.