If you're on the hunt for an intranet that creates real and measurable value, your focus should be more on the users and their needs than on the technology itself. The aim should always be to create an intranet that is based on the users' everyday experiences, requirements and challenges. The intranet should help them get things done and also have a clear link to the organization's goals.
My name is Johan Book, and I've always been fascinated by communication at all levels. For the past twelve years I've focused exclusively on internal communication and change management—areas which are both close to my heart and which I see a huge potential for. After twelve years at the Swedish agricultural cooperative Lantmännenkoncernen, where my roles included internal communications manager, I decided two years ago to start my own business with the aim of helping companies create active intranets that clearly contribute to the business.
The usefulness of intranets is very limited
I'm also a total research and statistics geek, whether regarding intranet development or other communication initiatives. And this has often proved very useful. The more you know about the task facing you, the more effectively you'll be able to handle the challenges and achieve the effects you're after.
One example that it is worth taking a closer look at is the “Web Service Awards—how healthy are Sweden's intranets in 2015?” Here you can read the following:
“The purpose of intranets is unclear. Only 68 percent say that they have a purpose at all, and only 44 percent know what the purpose of the different sections is. People responsible for intranets also think that their coworkers or management don't use their intranet as much as they would like to. There are also problems because intranets are not tailored to the needs of their users. Only 34 percent say that their intranet is tailored to their needs. If people don't know what their intranet is for or what their coworkers need to get out of it, you've got a problem.”
We can see that companies all over Sweden are prioritizing their intranets. But at the same time the statistics are clear: The intranets are not delivering the level of usability the companies had hoped for. 75% of those responsible for intranets feel that their intranet is not used as much as they had expected. This is very similar to my experience with intranets in particular. So we're already committing a lot of time and money to our intranets, but at the end of the process we're not getting the outcome we had expected. Naturally, we want our investment in our intranet to give benefits in the shape of positive effects that strengthen the organization.
There are several success factors for those companies that have actually managed this
Over the years, I have had the advantage of running, supporting and getting inside views of a huge number of intranet projects. My experience and research have given me a great insight into which factors can lead to success for your intranet. While some intranet investments are extremely successful, most companies don't get the kind of information exchange they had planned for in their intranet. And there are some clear success factors that all the successful projects share. And that's precisely what this series of six articles is going to cover:
- What do want your intranet to be? What do you not want it to be?
- Change leadership. How do we use good leadership to get stakeholders and users on board?
- Categorize and prioritize target groups. Get to know the target groups and their requirements, understand both their business and their daily work routine.
- Goals—concrete and measurable for each target group. What is the situation like now? How do we want it to be?
- Editorial work—from click to effect.
- Administration and organization—the intranet's powerhouse.
I warn you from the word go that the first two articles in the series will be a bit heavier than the last four. They lay out the foundations for a successful intranet project development, and therefore I have chosen to give them more time and space. I hope that you'll enjoy reading them and that you will take valuable knowledge from them that you can apply directly in your work.
Intranet: A tool for achieving results
First up is the article that covers “What do you want your intranet to be? What do you not want it to be?” An important point to stress, which many people seem to forget about, is to lay strong foundations for your intranet project. Too many people fall into the trap of just creating an intranet—but that's not an end in itself, surely? If you don't know what kind of results you want from your intranet, how can you follow up your work and know when you've reached your goals?
“If it wasn't for the darned users it would be easy as ABC to develop a good intranet”
Intranet consultant, 2009
An intranet is a tool for creating loads of positive results in the organization, both administrative, knowledge-based and cooperative. It's these results that you must aim for when you decide what you want, or don't want, from your intranet. I'm often told that “everything” must be available on the intranet, which will just be expensive and an inefficient use of resources. On the other hand, “everything” which is useful for your coworkers as users must be available. It's a huge and important difference. This is why it's so important to decide right from the start what you want from your intranet. And what you don't want.
People first, then technology
Technology and functionality are of course important once you have laid the foundations. And the foundations are important—absolutely essential, in fact—if you want to create an intranet that makes a clear, active contribution to your business and your users' experience. New technology and functionality is really cool, and it's very easy to get carried away by the desire to use absolutely everything.
But on the other side of the interface you've got users who neither need nor want all these bold new solutions. Successful intranet development requires in-depth knowledge of your target groups, their requirements and their working methods. Once you've gotten that information, you have a better knowledge base to fall back on when you're choosing your focus and which functions you want to concentrate on, both short and long term. The ability to prioritize your work and your input will be factor in your success—you can be certain of that.
Four fundamental questions you need to ask if you want to create real user benefits
An intranet is a tool for achieving different results. You must never lose sight of that. Therefore you need to create the right circumstances for the intranet and the organization behind it so that they contribute to precisely these results. It's essential that your overall plan is based on the specific needs, goals and circumstances of your operation. Afterwards come the sub-targets, outcome goals, follow-ups and actions—all with the overall aim of meeting your basic goals.
What are the four questions you need to ask in order to make sure that your intranet ends up being just what you wanted it to be?
- Let's rewind to the overall purpose
What result do we want from our intranet? For whom? When? How? The better your strategic groundwork is from the beginning, the easier it will be to create an active intranet where you can easily follow up on and improve the user experience regarding functionality, content and appearance.
- Knowledge of your target groups
You haven't just got one target group—you have several. If you try to make your project fit everyone, ultimately it won't fit anyone. Your target groups have different needs, depending on what they are working on, their roles, how they work together and so on. For example, the accounts manager, sales rep and mechanic probably don't have the same requirements or the same circumstances when it comes to creating a usable product for them. So don't forget to divide up your target groups.
- How will you satisfy the requirements of both management and users?
Company management can often have an idea of what an intranet should be and how it should contribute. Their idea can differ significantly from what the users actually need. In this case we need to be clear that if we can't satisfy the users' requirements, we won't be able to create an active intranet that contributes to the business. You need to find a balance between what the person placing the order wants and what the users need.
- What shall we measure? How shall we measure it?
Measuring is important in order to be able to take knowledge-based decisions when making improvements. Never forget the basic purpose and targets of your intranet: Are you getting closer to them? Measure, analyze and create improvements by focusing on:
– Goal attainment—outcomes?
– Usability—you've got the functionality, how user-friendly is it?
– Pure statistics
—covers page views, click counts, devices used
I hope you have found my article on “what you want your intranet to be and what you don't want it to be” useful. My next article will cover change leadership, a structured process for guiding individuals, groups and organizations from where they are now to where they want to be in the future. Till then, don't forget that successful intranet development is a combination of brains and a fighting spirit!
Good luck, Johan Book