Building an intranet to house static content such as an employee directory and benefits forms can make a portal as dated as a corporate brochure. Making unified communications (UC) tools -- collaboration applications, wikis, micro-blogs -- part of an intranet strategy helps portals evolve with employee needs.
"We reach a point now, increasingly, where we've got this tension going on -- we've got this intranet, and somewhere else we've got this collaboration going on, and that's an unsatisfactory state of affairs because it can only confuse employees," said Tim Walters, senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. "What you'd like to do is join these two. Tear down the barrier."
Enterprises invest significant time and money in developing dynamic websites for the Internet, he said, but they often fail to see the value of creating an intranet that is equally vibrant.
"That's a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's just internal, so we don't really have to care if it's useful or usable, never mind if it's desirable," Walters said. "Not many people use it or actively resist using it."
"[But to make business processes] faster, more efficient, more productive -- and ultimately ensure that prospects and customers are better served by the entire organization -- [collaboration products need to be part of an intranet strategy]," Walters wrote in a recent Forrester research note, What's Holding Back Your Intranet?
An intranet strategy shouldn't be one size fits all
Beth Gleba, corporate information manager for IKEA North America, has watched the Swedish furniture retailer's intranet go from one-dimensional to award-winning in the past eight years. One essential first step was to identify that one intranet can't serve the needs of every employee. There should be individual community spaces for different groups of employees.
"It took about three years for us to become better at segmenting coworker audiences and information needs," Gleba said. "This practice really helped us move forward and learn how to use our intranet for multiple purposes: distributing very broad information for everyone but also target[ing] info to key groups or communities that may have just a handful of people at each location."
IKEA also recently launched an "extranet," making some company portal features available to employees via a password-protected Internet site.
"I strongly … believe that Web 2.0 skills and capabilities are necessary for modern information management," Gleba said. "Today, I sense that we are on a learning curve together. As professional communicators and IT pros, we're navigating through these very big changes -- first learning how these tools work and understanding their benefits ourselves; next, reconciling how the new tools change all of the settings we've created to protect security and information." "But I think it's clear that the cat's out of the bag," she added. "Users simply won't go back to old expectations about speed, access and the ability to contribute to content. And to me, this is very good. This is a new opportunity. This is the next step."
Collaboration products just one piece of intranet strategy
Intranet managers should not only incorporate UC tools -- video, wikis, blogs, micro-blogs, social networking, social bookmarking, document sharing -- into their intranets, they should also discourage practices that "undermine" the intranet, according to Toby Ward, CEO of Prescient Digital Media, a Toronto-based intranet consultancy.
"Email essentially undermines the intranet [when] people still largely use email to share information or content," he said. "It renders the intranet useless."
Use of mass email distribution lists, or "broadcast emails," should be limited to crisis communications -- a message from the CEO or time-sensitive company-wide news, Ward said.
Despite his best efforts, Ed Garcia, IT director for the Horn Group, a San Francisco-based public relations agency, has seen his intranet fizzle.
In 2005, he launched a new wiki-based intranet to replace the static HTML-based one his 50-person company had been using for years to share document templates and office party photos.
"We thought, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's definitely going to solve the problem of content creation because people are going to be empowered to post the content themselves,'" he said. "The same thing happened. The first year or two, people were excited about it…. Now, they [post content] when we ask, but when we stop asking, they don't do it."
Creating an intranet that evolves with UC tools
Even if some aspects of it have stalled, the Horn Group intranet has also "matured" and become a well-trafficked source for employees to download important documents, Garcia said.
But as the last news item on his intranet homepage is from 2008, Garcia knows that he needs to "revive" it again with widgets and RSS feeds. Yet the challenge will be finding content that keeps users engaged.
"That's my biggest frustration right now," he said. "The intranet was supposed to be for dynamic as well as static information, but the dynamic part of it is definitely losing the battle."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer