Never get solely fixated on driving intranet or ESN adoption

In Chris’ last post he outlined why it’s important not to confuse strategy with tactics when it comes to intranets. In my view one of the reasons for this is because intranet teams have a habit of focusing too much on the tactics and working energetically and diligently to make them work, without ensuring they are part of a strategy which ensures business value.  Ultimately this leaves teams open to a withering “that’s nice, but so what” from senior management.

One of the reasons for this is the obsession with driving adoption when it comes to intranets and collaboration platforms.  Of course if you build a site or post content, it’s only natural that you want more people to use it or read it. More visits to the homepage, more users registered to the social network, more collaboration sites created, more comments on the news items, more unique visitors. These are often the validation of an intranet team’s efforts and the evidence of success.  They are also some of the easiest things to measure.  I’ve become fixated on driving adoption in my work and I’m sure I will again and again.

I’m not going to pretend that adoption isn’t important, because it is. It may well be the prerequisite for the overall success of your intranet strategy. Perhaps you need some sort of scale to feel an effect an organisational level, for something to be transformative, or to realise some sort of ROI benefit.  But it’s only part of the mix and increasing adoption on your intranet is definitely not a strategy in its own right.  

Focus on value not adoption

Adoption also only has value if what users are adopting has value. It has little value in itself. For example email has spectacular adoption, but now a reduction in that adoption level is regarded as a good thing.

In his recent presentation at Congres Intranet in Utrecht  Lee Bryant is quoted as saying “We don’t need people to adopt the intranet. We need people to do their job.”  This is spot on. If an intranet has less value, perhaps because it is only an internal communications vehicle, then adoption becomes a little bit of a red herring. Yes, there may well be some residual value in many people visiting the homepage and reading the news, but does the impact really justify the efforts?

The lure of the uptick

It’s also really easy to be seduced by the uptick of adoption. There will be a post-launch surge which provides an immediate high for the project team after the energy-zapping pre-launch effort. But we all know things might not pan out so well in the medium to long term.

There can also be a degree of complicity in presenting the stats to stakeholders, showing a nice upward-looking trend which presents success at a glance.  And that’s not to say these adoption trends might be really significant and fantastic, but they might not be.

It’s that tactics-and-strategy-confusion thing again

When adoption becomes your main focus, you’re in danger of judging success on the delivery of the tactics which drive that adoption. Intranet teams do have a lot of tactics at their disposal to drive adoption. I’m thinking better usability, a nicer design, gamification, subtle nudge tactics, advocate networks, publishing communities, notifications, personalisation, customisation, dashboards, metric scores which reflect engagement and adoption, encouraging viral growth, even traditional change management. These can all be excellent and important techniques when done right, which do help drive those numbers up.

But what does a 20% increase in the number of visits to the homepage mean? What does the unexpectedly fast viral growth of a social network mean? What does a 25% rise in the use of Team Sites mean?  Intranet managers and ESN community managers with their eye on the ball need to ensure it means something for their organisation and the people who work there.

Chris says:

“Now. I bloody love metrics. But it isn’t blind love and I can see its flaws. Adoption is a lonely metric unless it is enriched with a bundle of other more meaningful business metrics that should include a measurement of what you were after in the first place. Adoption worship, I think, perhaps comes from a lack of a hard understanding what your benefits were up-front. If you are deploying an ESN to break down barriers between functions go and look for the cross functional diversity of different communities and measure that. If you want to break the cold and steely grip of email, go and look for a drop in the number of email attachments. I understand where people are coming from. When you’ve done a great big intranet project you want it to be loved, but each large project is poker-chips-down, and some of your bets won’t work and you won’t press through into the late majority for many reasons. Go and read Everett M Rogers’ “Diffusion of Innovations” for more on this.”

Don’t get intranet strategy and tactics confused

Your intranet strategy is a plan of action to ensure that you are prioritising what the business needs of you in the most appropriate way.

A tactic is one way of achieving your strategy.

Try not to get the two confused.

  • Improving search is not a strategy. It is a tactic that supports a strategy of maximising findability so that people can get the information they need.
  • Personalisation and customisation are not strategies. They are tactics that support a strategy of maximising relevance for the user and the publisher.
  • Mobile intranet is not a strategy. It is a tactic that supports a strategy of enterprise mobility to ensure that people can get what they need to get done, irrespective of their location.
  • SharePoint (good God!) is not a strategy. It is a tactic that supports, umm, replacing your end of life content management system perhaps or consolidating numbers and types of platforms. Whatevs. This is the case with any particular product name.
  • Social is not a strategy. It is a tactic that supports a strategy of getting people to collaborate and share in a certain way that will contribute to new ways of working.

Tactics can be used for lots of different strategies. For example you can use the implementation of a social platform to support employee engagement and involvement. Both good uses for a different reason. Tactics may be rather modest such as making sure you take your opposite number in IT or Communications to lunch once a month.

Why is this important? A strategy is based on the beneficial outcome of delivering a business need. If you dress up a tactic in strategic clothing you will be found wanting. A few simple questions by a senior manager and your hopes and dreams and reputation will be skewered. If you are unaware of this little game you might spend the next budget cycle muttering about chronic under-investment in intranets being to blame. No. It was you. You fluffed it. Sorry. And there is enough goodwill and interest in these tools out there to not make it a pure hard-cost problem. Find your allies and work with them.

Lastly there is no shame in not operating strategically. If it just you and a monkey delivering the intranet for 5000 close personal friends, just making it work is enough. Make it work well and you should get a medal. There are things that intranet should just do, and do well. Concentrate on those.  Your strategy is more personal: survival and getting out of such a pickle. I give you a hall pass on being required to speak business jargon unnecessarily.

Chris Tubb March 2014

Steve says:

“Chris is right. Confusing a tactic with a strategy is a dangerous game. First of all you potentially alienate the stakeholders and your users who can’t  quite share your enthusiasm for this initiative. Secondly it encourages narrow thinking.  So a limited mobile intranet is up and running, which is great, but your non-office based staff are shrugging their shoulders as they don’t have the BYOD policy,  the wi-fi needed in the factory facility, and the email accounts needed to truly work in a different way. Thirdly the tactic you are pursuing becomes the focus in itself, which means taking your eye off both the ball and the goal.  Always work with some sort of strategy, and slot your tactics in appropriately.”

Don’t let your project plan and governance, become your intranet strategy and governance (or why Intranet stakeholders are your BFFs)

A quick one, but worth repeating.

Your intranet is a complex array of browser based systems and services. They are tangled together like spaghetti alla crazy glue. Your users don’t really get the idea that one bit is owned by one team, and another bit is owned by a different team; nor should they care.

If it has been a bit of a mess the reason is usually that collectively the idea of the intranet has not been a strong one. One day there is enough embarrassment-in-common amongst the great-and-the-good that something-must-be-done. “We need a project to build a new intranet,” they say. A project manager is found. Requirements are gathered. The PM rounds up a strange breed of people called “Stakeholders”, who presumably know what they want. The project starts to fly and some structure is thrown over the rhubarb-muttering crowd like a hopeful fishing net. That net is called “Project Governance” and it attempts to bring some structure to the panicky madness that is a large scale IT development project.

After a bit of monkeying around with Gantt charts, test scripts and usability testing the intranet is handed over to the people that will put content in it and content is poured into it like beer into a tankard. Champagne corks are popped that everyone has a little party, and the PM rides off into the sunset. His work is done here. The development team go and work on something else.

The governance, of course, falls apart because the project is over. The stakeholders drift away. The intranet degrades, until the next time. Then people like Steve and me shuffle onto the scene. We ask if there is an intranet strategy. Small voice: “Not really. Just ideas you know…” Mumbling. Staring at shoes. Is there a steering group. “Used to have one…” Governance model? “Pfffft…. Wild-west, innit.”

There is a better way, people…

Of course what you really need to do is to sort out the strategy and governance to scope, define and set a roadmap for the future. The projects can then fall within this framework.  So…

1. Get a group of people together who are accountable and engaged about the intranet. They will want to use it to drive business outcomes with things like “efficiency”, “engagement” and “knowledge”.

2. Get them to figure out a vision and a plan for the whole intranet – from tip to tail, from the top of the tallest shiniest news story to the dark and dingy team sites. No site left behind.

3. Get them to assemble a way of everyone working together: a governance model that encompasses anything that people might conceive of as the intranet. Let it scale.

Then start creating projects to deliver a bit of the intranet vision. Any project you create should be part of an overarching plan to deliver your intranet strategy. Your intranet “project”, even if it is huge and transformational should be initiated and accountable to your intranet steering group.

There is a better way: PEOPLE

Your intranet isn’t SharePoint. It is a idea that brings unity and structure to people, places and things. Your vision, strategy and governance aren’t just documents. They are held in place by the people who are involved and invested in it. No people, no belief, no mandate, no strategy.

Il faut cultiver son jardin, dagnammit.

If you are in this horrific groundhog day of big-bang project, followed by cold-tea ambivalent mediocrity and eventual and inevitable failure, you can break the pattern.

Save and close that Word document, get up from your desk and go speak with your stakeholders. Bond with them. Give them a reason to believe in a cheery future and your intranet’s place in it. The belief starts with you, and when someone asks what platform your intranet runs on, point at your intranet steerco and say: “Those guys.”

Steve says:

Far too often intranet  strategy comes grinding to a halt for various reasons and then gets revisited when its big project time. The danger then is intranet governance and project governance overlap and become indistinguishable. Sure there are similarities – some of the same stakeholders  are almost guaranteed — but its what happens when the project is over that worries me. It’s amazing how  everybody abandons ship the day after launch. Chris is right,  Keep them distinct, otherwise you could be heading for trouble.

Your employees need your website as much as your intranet

Direction summary

  1. Go and meet up with your colleagues and stakeholders in IT and Marketing to persuade them to try and them to look at internal and external digital channels more holistically.
  2. If this only gets as far as a polite conversation wait for an actual project or small instance which needs that approach to re-open negotiations.
  3. Identify opportunities where you can expose either existing external channels via the intranet or current internal digital channels externally.  Focus on value, cost-savings and process improvement.
  4. Try and do something simple – even if it is just extending internal search to include website content.
  5.  Communicate success stories.
  6. Try and work in this way as many times as possible, so that you can influence future projects or ideally an over-arching digital strategy which more formally encapsulates your thinking

Introduction

“I’m afraid we’re spending next year’s entire digital budget on the website, so there’s nothing for the intranet. I know this is the seventh year in a row this has happened, but…”

 Woah! Stop there a moment! Aren’t internal digital channels as important as external-facing digital channels?  “No of course, not” is the prevailing view in many organisations.

 This lazy thinking has tended to cast the intranet as the bumbling poor cousin that’s perpetually at the back of the ration queue.

It would be simplistic to say that simply budget prioritisation is wrong and if you spent more on the intranet and less on the website everything would be OK. True, that can help, particularly when you are implementing a new platform, but there is a deeper issue at hand.

 The vast pre-eminence of “external” is fuelled by a belief, often perpetuated by intranet teams themselves, that there is a very clear and comfortable distinction between the external facing web environment and the intranet ecosystem. This is underpinned by factors such as channel ownership, technical compatibility, politics and yes, the ring fencing of budgets.  Of course in a time when redundancies are still rife individuals are also highly protective of what they do and the channels they are associated with.

There is an accepted wisdom that internal channels are only for internal staff and for external channels are only for external parties. Instinctively that might sound correct, but while the first half of the statement is largely true, the second half is only partially true.  In fact every external digital channel is also for an internal audience, to varying degrees.  And in many cases there is a surprising level of overlap in the needs of an external and internal audience.

Every external digital channel is also for an internal audience

Here’s a few examples to try and illustrate what I mean by the above statement:

Stakeholders

Different lines of business like to see their presence in the marketplace. Sometimes the content on an external digital channel is there as much to satisfy an internal stakeholder as it is to target a set of clients or consumers.

Key messages to customers

It’s important that employees are aware of the key messages that their organisation puts out externally. Obviously for customer-facing staff this is very important for delivering consistent client service, and good product knowledge also contributes to this. For example I’m reminded of some of the recent examples at Barclays, where the ability to try out customer-facing digital banking apps on the internal mobile intranet allowed branch staff to be comfortable and familiar with these products. It contributed to a significant uptake of mobile apps among products.

It’s also important for the back-room guys. Commercial awareness and having an end-to-end process view helps improve services.

Feedback from customers

Social media is now tracking customer sentiment and experiences, and there is obvious value in employees being aware of what is being said. (Beyond just being able to react to it.)

Resources

Websites and extranets contain important information and knowledge that can support internal employees   Some of this might need to be referred to in interacting with customers, some might be special expert knowledge from one section of an organisation which is not known by another section, and some might be key operational data.

A few real examples of external information which is also referred to internally includes nutritional information about items on a menu, a huge database of product manuals, the order of business of a government chamber, an article summarising the latest legal developments in a particular sector and service updates on a travel situation.

Also the various constituent parts of huge global corporations often act like a bunch of separate organisations. Want to find out about your Chile office or that really obscure subsidiary? Yep, looking at the website is often easiest.

Mobile-optimisation

The website is nice and responsive, but the intranet sure isn’t. What’s the easiest way to find the Southampton Office telephone number on my SmartPhone? Oh yes, the corporate website…

Process status

Systems which give a status view of particular transactions or processes for customers is often as useful internally as it is externally. This occurs in both B2B and B2C organisations.  Sometimes the summary view created for customers is just better designed than the one intended for internal use.

Events

In times of crisis, particularly in large organisations (think BP Oil Spill), external communications can be an important reference point for employees.

External collaboration

In a way this is obvious but external collaboration in the form of online workspaces and Team Sites are generally regarded by employees as a hybrid of an external and internal environment, although there may be a restricted area sorted by permissions for the really internal stuff.

Values, transparency, branding and all that engagement type stuff

Employees aren’t idiots, but they’re often treated like they are.  They’re going to stumble across the corporate website and Twitter account occasionally. If there is an inconsistency between the external messages put out and the reality of working at the company, then this is clearly bad for morale.  On the other hand if there is consistency and transparency and then you might be on to a winner.

Consistency is also important in user experience. Personally there seems nothing better to undermine a new branding initiative by implementing it internally months after it has been implemented externally. Surely it is far more sensible and logical to do it the other way around?

Employee profiles

“Actually you’re better looking at my LinkedIn profile rather than my personal profile in the employee directory. At least that has a non-awful photo.”

So what does this all mean for intranet strategy?

By looking at internal and external channels in a holistic way there are many opportunities to:

  • Add relevant content, features and applications to the intranet resulting in better customer service, knowledge and engagement

  • Get more bang for your buck in digital projects by designing systems which serve both internal and external needs, and focus on end-to-end processes

  • Give legitimacy for “internal” projects by showing they are actually “external”

  • Get consistency and alignment in internal and external communications with all the benefits that flow from this

  • Encourage sharing and cross-fertilisation of digital skills through cross-functional work

This results in the following types of initiatives:

  • Both internal and external collaboration sites integrated into the intranet environment

  • Social media feeds embedded into the homepage

  • Reposting of external news stories on the homepage

  • Extending intranet or internal search to include global website and microsite content

  • Databases and repositories of valuable content on different themes and  which can also be accessed directly by clients and third parties (e.g. brand information, product data, articles etc.)

  • Extending of self-service directly to customers and clients in some fields

  • Key customer data which can be accessed by staff on mobile devices

This direction is worth moving forward with if you really are stuck behind the external folk, or if you’re both struggling for budget . This is about joining forces for the common (and mutual) good.

Well that’s nice, but how do I move this direction forward?

Your ability to move this Direction forward does depend quite a lot on the way digital is budgeted for and which functions control the channels.  Obviously if you’re all one department and you already work closely together it is going to be easier. If you’re split functionally, less so.

I think the best approach is to try and work on discrete projects which encapsulate this way of thinking and then move on from there, so it is either a more common way of working or helps to refine or define an overall digital strategy.

As with most Directions this involves a bit of cross-functional conversation. Go and meet up with your colleagues and stakeholders in IT and Marketing to try and do some persuasion. If your fantastic plans fall on deaf ears then work on something smaller or wait for the opportunity.  It’s also worth keeping  Legal and Risk in the loop if you’re looking at anything to do with transactions and process, or if you’re working on anything which is current internal only but could clearly be external.

Overall you need to be identify opportunities where you can expose either existing external channels via the intranet or current internal digital channels externally. This may be focus on what you already have or what you want to do in the future.

A good idea is to keep it simple and focus on the obvious, because there is bound to be something of value which helps reduce cost-savings and improves processes. Often there is a usually a no-brainer somewhere if you look for it hard enough.

And then the usual stuff applies. Communicate the success stories and make some noise.

Effectively your aim is for you not to have the same ambition-crushing conversation with your budget holder about intranet funding for the eighth-year-in-a-row.

Steve Bynghall December 2013

Chris says:

“Yep it’s the fear. Fear that those guys across the hall have all the budget. The fear that they look down on poor Jonny Intranet. The fear of going over there and working on stuff together. The fear of what your bosses will say. But, damn-it-all-to-hell what weird and arbitrary boundaries we like to draw over organisations – they start for the sake of convenience and then they there like a twelve-foot-wall. If we are trying to be more holistic and take a digital workplace view, then clearly the external assets of an organisation are there to help employees achieve their tasks, as much as they are there for the customers.

The business processes will be stitched through both the inside and the outside like a thread through silk and you should know their twists and turns. If you were going to draw the web site on your intranet site map where would the arrows go? Do you even know all the content and functionality that’s on your organisation’s web site? Maybe they’ve got the good stuff. So: lose the fear, get up, walk across the hall and go and buy them coffee.”

Putting intranet applications at the centre of your intranet strategy

Everything’s ticking over nicely over in Social-town, CMS-ville and in Collaboration City but you really want to take on the world. It’s time for you to follow the money and go head-to-head with those ruffians in the application estate.

Direction summary:

  1. Create a scalable system of governance and standards for all intranet applications to ensure that they are implemented in appropriate ways.

  2. Manage the application owner community, and act as a gatekeeper to ensure that applications you link to from the intranet are good enough.

  3. Build an application directory to support your governance model and to show the right applications to the right users

  4. Look at ways to fix small problems, and propose ways that applications could be streamlined and processes re-engineered to be user-centered.

Introduction

For organisations, the hard, provable value in most intranets is not in communications, collaboration or social. The massive day-to-day value is in the huge variety of transactional business applications that are accessed via the intranet using a web browser. Everyone knows them inside out. Intranet stakeholders would break a limb to avoid admitting that they belong to the intranet. No, no. They belong to someone else. We only link to them, and here our involvement ends. The users however don’t think like that— as far as they are concerned they are part of the intranet and it is a mystery why they all look like a dog’s dinner.

Everyone got very enthusiastic about intranet applications, err… about a decade ago, and some of them haven’t changed since. Lots of the others have come online mostly using software as a service, with business owners going out onto the open market with a credit card with no one except the procurement department for company. Then they have landed as a link on the intranet. If you are lucky you’ve maybe got a rational way to connect the right people with the right applications in a structured way.

But the brutal truth is that this fractured, tortuous, bric-a-brac-knick-knackery of assembled antiques is how your multi-billion dollar organisation works on a daily basis.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Every conceivable business process from administration, through hiring, firing, managing and paying for people and things, accounting, dealing with customers and suppliers. All of it. All of it ticking on well enough, but with little attention to user experience or to how the next process along works.

This movie needs a director, and that director is you.

Diagnosis

Under what circumstances would this intranet direction be a feasible choice?

Most processes are online processes

You will be beyond the first blush of digital enablement of processes. It would be rare if you would come up against a paper process.

If you switched off the intranet, the place would stop working

Ask people the question: “What would happen if the web browsers accidentally disappeared off all the computers one morning?” If business managers go pale with concern, your organisation has a high-dependency on online processes. The good news is that the intranet is highly adopted, recognised and used as a business tool. The bad news is that you could be in trouble if anything goes wrong.

There is widespread dissatisfaction with the intranet application estate

There will be grumbles. People will grouse in the lifts about it come performance management time. People will put off doing their expenses because of the horrors within. IT managers will use phrases like “prehistoric” and “antediluvian” when prompted, or possibly something more authentically and robustly Anglo-Saxon. If you have not got everything under single sign on, the back of people’s notebooks will be a tangle of usernames and passwords, dripping with risk.

Digital paper processes

The old hands will know about how horrific it was to digitally enable of of those essential business processes in the first place. You may find that you have remained stationary in the post-office queue of technological progress. What you have today are your paper processes from a decade ago frozen in time, like a siberian mammoth. The processes themselves have not been refined, streamlined or interconnected.

People find it hard to find the right application

“We have something that does that? I didn’t know.” “I have all of my intranet applications as bookmarks.” Nothing hits adoption rates more than hiding stuff.

The intranet team is not involved in application strategy, choice or delivery

Intranet applications land on you, like a cow in Monty Python and the Holy Grail [Fetchez la vache!]. Thump. The first you heard of it, someone asked for a link. “Hey why are you so angry, it’s like, only a link. Ow, please stop hitting me.”

Guiding policy

Your aim with this intranet direction is provide appropriate structure, guidance and control to intranet applications to benefit users, application owners and bolster the reputation of the intranet as the place to deliver process. You will begin to position the application estate to re-engineer processes to become user-centered.

Come on tail, go wag the dog.

The policy is straightforward — you will control intranet applications. You, as the intranet manager, control the means of connecting the user with the application:

   •    You represent the user to the application owner and application provider.

   •    You will categorise applications and collect data about them and make sure they have owners.

   •    You will be involved in making sure applications are good enough.

   •    You will create standards and a system of control based around a rigorous system of governance

An intranet strategy requires you to focus on its delivery as a priority. This is a big one, and you will need to devote resources for analysis, development and (in particular) stakeholder management. You won’t be able to do other big projects at the same time unless you can get in extra resources for this or to backfill existing tasks.

Application centric as a strategy

You must concentrate on four key tenets:

1. Let governance scale depending on circumstance

This is the big one. As soon so you mention intranet application governance some IT dude with high blood pressure will combust with rage that it just won’t be possible to make his application look like the intranet.

Aaaaand relax. Absolutism is the enemy of useful.

Let governance scale. Create a system of governance that will allow appropriate decisions to be made depending on different criteria. If an application is used by everyone everyday, you are going to want the user experience to be consistent, to wish it to be branded as much as is reasonable, and to make sure it is under single sign on for authentication. If an application is used by a team of twelve in the Doncaster office, you are not going to be fussed about it, but you would like to know about it and to have some metadata that allows to provide a link from the application directory.

2. Manage the application owner community; be a gatekeeper

You are used to dealing with, and controlling, publishers. This is no different, this is the old content management game, but you will need play hardball. The first step is getting comprehensive data on all the systems that are out there, and and getting names for each of them. The second step is providing some standards for application owners within the context of the scalable governance model. The third step is to enforce the controls. This is a long game and will take some politicking and organisational fancy footwork but you have means as you are the gatekeeper.

3. Add value through structure and coherence

As far as the author is concerned the primary purpose of intranets is to provide structure. Providing structure to optimise the employees’ access to complete tasks through processes is then one of your key responsibilities. Tasks have in general been lumped together in massive blobs of similar functionality called an “Application” and applications have their own internal order (or lack thereof).

So your task is pretty easy, categorise all of the applications and show the right ones to the right people. There are a couple of approaches (see tactics below).

Adding metadata for each of these application will again add massive value, both for your administration of the governance model, as well as surfacing ways of finding the right tool for the job to the employee.

4. Fix problems, streamline processes

Once you have whipped the application estate into some form of order, you can start stirring.

Through user testing begin to document and explore where there are significant and provable problems with applications. As you already know the extent to which each application is used (by numbers of employees, frequency and duration) it will be trivial to build business cases to fix them. Make a stink. As an experienced intranet professional you should have the usability and user experience chops to evangelise to development teams and to propose solutions. Help them.

Fixing small problems is however small beer. Once you start looking you will start to see the preposterous lit up with spotlights. The processes that are redundant. The two requests for the same thing that goes to two different teams. There will be pride to bruise, but both you and the intranet could come out shining.

Tactics

The strategy is the battle and the tactics are your troops.

Scalable applications governance model

Get the governance model written and out there. Not all applications are born equal. Some are exceedingly important to large numbers of people. Some are only used intensively once a year.  Some may be crucial to the operation of the organisation.

Your governance criteria may include:

   •    The number of people who use the application and their geographical distribution

   •    The frequency and duration of use of the application per user

   •    The business criticality of the system (administration through to revenue generating)

   •    Whether the application is internally or externally hosted

   •    Whether the application is available on a mobile platform

Your choices within this model may include:

   •    Providing sufficient operational checks to be entered into the application directory (Mandatory)

   •    Single sign on (Scalable but virtually mandatory)

   •    Branding (Scalable)

   •    User experience (Scalable)

   •    Accessibility (Scalable-ish)

Application metadata directory

The application directory is the hook that the entire of the strategy hangs upon. You need to build (or adapt) a little system. It will be a database of all the applications for the entire company.

It will have all of the metadata you will require to understand:

   •    Who owns the application

   •    The link you need to get there

   •    All of the operational support data you might need. For example has the application passed some some of operational readiness and usability check?

   •    Who the application is for so you can target it to the right profiles

It will also be the switch that will turn an application on, or off. Grey out this switch unless all the other data has been populated. This is a heist.

New applications don’t go live until they have met your criteria.

“Sorry Mr Project Manager, Sir, I understand you are keen to launch, but we just need you to fill in a few bits and bobs. As you were told. Six months’ ago.”

Sane labelling

People within organisations as you know are rather frustrated and bored and they tend to spend a lot of time making up silly names to make themselves feel better. Many of the applications will be called something ridiculous that will make any user’s head bleed if they try and think too hard about what it does. Things like “Discover”, “Laura” “RADAR”, “Pulse” or “IcARuS”. Demented. You might have a fun time pointing this out to application owners. “But everyone knows what IcARuS does!” they will shout, as you uncap your red pen of righteousness.

Rename and be damned, new joiners won’t have a clue. Some of the finest approaches I have seen totally separate what the application is called, and replace it with a task on the home page that links directly to the task within a system. IcARuS might be a room booking system or a mortgage payment calculator. As far as the homepage is concerned call it “Book a room” or “Calculate mortgage payments.” Proper job.

Personalisation

Only show people the applications that are useful to them. Don’t let them wade through a link farm, show them the stuff they have access to, or is most likely to be most important.  For example a common group who have very specific needs are managers.

Many larger organisations will have different intranet applications for different regions, so chop things up based on region or country.

Applications standards

If you don’t have some standards, people won’t follow them.

Standards for intranet applications should be in line with, and reference, the Governance model. Clearly don’t get too hung up on the direct design of the user interface. Buttons is buttons, as long and people can use it successfully and you can judge that with user testing. Lay out expectations about the desired capabilities in an easy to follow format. Remember you are not the IT Strategy team. Remain strictly neutral on technologies used to implement projects, but be firm about usability, accessibility and single sign on.

Single sign on and external single sign on

I remember the days before widespread single sign on. It was horrific. Thanks to the widespread adoption of the the Windows stack (There! I said something nice about Microsoft!) single sign on via Active Directory is encountered in most organisations that I see. Single sign on is in my opinion the single most important aspect of user experience. If you need to remember another password – or even need to reenter the same password adoption rates drop off.

Lack of single sign on causes massive problems for the user and for the organisation. Projects that don’t implement under single sign on should be considered sociopathic pariahs who are shifting work from their project onto the business as usual.

One area we are seeing a threat to this is the burgeoning number of externally hosted cloud based applications. Again project managers appear to think it is OK to for external solutions to have entirely separate authentication mechanisms. Push back and insist that they use an external single sign on solution, which is surprisingly easy to do (I am told) and has massive ROI. If their pet solution does not allow single sign on, and your governance model requires it, suggest politely that they consider alternatives.

Reverse proxy code injection

I would be first to admit that I don’t truly understand this technology, and I am unaware if it is being used in this context, but if you are going to follow this strategy, I would want something like this in my quiver.

Modern reverse proxy servers (for example Nginx – pronounced engine-x) can route traffic from web service and then squirt HTML into the pages that arrive at the browser. This gives an option to transform a service without actually touching the servers or the functionality. Doing this you could insert a banner navigation to all intranet applications so that users could have a more consistent experience. You could also insert tags from your metrics platform, such as Google Analytics, to get an overview of usage. Content delivery systems such as Cloudflare use Nginx to achieve these sorts of things.

Again, my childlike mind doesn’t entire grasp the complexities of the subject, but it could be a useful tactic if you had these capabilities.

Measure and increase task effectiveness

Get a usability analyst with a stopwatch. Do all of those tests and get a time against it. Look at the problems that the test-subjects comes across. Write down their comments, reactions and stories of workarounds. It’s so simple and yet it is never done.

Use insight from that analysis to incrementally design it better, either on your side of the intranet homepage and application directory or working with the application owners to improve their application.

Reengineering existing processes

Not so much a tactic, more of a quest to crush organisational mediocrity.

When you become familiar with the intranet application estate, some of the processes will very clearly be ineffective. They will have been centred around the process and the originating teams that have created them, and will not have the user and their experience at their heart.

You don’t own these processes, but you can become the facilitator, the matchmaker, the opener of doors. Make some proposals to application owners about how their processes could be optimised. They will probably agree, but say they haven’t got budget. But you’ve planted the seed and it will however be on their mind the next time there is an upgrade. Or go for it, build the business case and take it to the big boss and see what he says.

Chris Tubb November 2013

Steve says:

“Going application-centric is the way to go if you want to make your intranet into, dare I say it, something approaching an integrated and advanced digital workplace… In terms of prioritising which applications to integrate I still think HR should be an important component of whatever you’re doing.  In fact HR sections of the intranet, particularly in global conglomerates, are usually mini- application centric microsites  in their own right.

If there are three things to remember in this Direction I’d say a) Single Sign-On is sacrosanct b) Having scalable governance, perhaps with a sense of which elements to prioritise,, brings a sense of realism of what can or cannot be done, and stops an all-or-nothing view which can sometimes stymie action  c) Remember as more applications are routed through the intranet it adds more value. If an application owner doesn’t want to play ball, then that’s their problem, not yours. They are the ones who are losing out.”

Intranet strategy is not a form-filling exercise

A screenshot of searching for "intranet strategy" with autosuggest choices

Sorry to start a post on the cliché of what-Google-autosuggest says, but really, what is it with you people?  The wide-scale statistical analysis of what-we-all-presumably-think suggests that when we are looking for stuff to do with intranet strategy we are doing so in desperation. :-)

It is a worry is that the intranet world thinks that a strategy is a form you need to fill in to get the cool toys. Yes, you know, how annoying that the organisation doesn’t want you to just spend its money without having a long hard think about it.

Your intranet strategy is not a document to fill in the blanks.

It is not a form, it is a thought process about how you and the intranet can make the most opportunity of the near future and deliver maximum benefit, followed by your plan of action about how to do so. It reframes business problems, provides a diagnosis of the current state and positions how the intranet could solve them. In addition don’t confuse your intranet strategy with a project’s business case. The business case is where you work out whether you can deliver enough benefit to cover the costs of delivery for the next part of your strategy.

You may well need to fit your strategy into a standard business template round your way. Don’t even think of touching that document until you have defined your strategy, your way.  Then you will understand the problem and be able to then tell your chosen solution in the right language to the business strategy team and senior management.

Aligning with business strategy

You must understand and align with the business strategy and your business unit strategy. This is a given. If you don’t have a business strategy to work with (this happens more than you think), by all means deliver how you think best. However please don’t use the business strategy merely as a source for mining trite thought-terminating clichés. Yes, it probably does say something about “working together” that you will want to map over to the collaboration tools that you already have in mind.  You may even want to “reverse engineer” the current big corporate initiative in there somewhere as well, but at the bottom of all this you need to understand what your stakeholders’ strategy really is.

But, please, put on your Sunday best and go and speak directly to senior management. This will go beyond the generalities and you’ll find out what “working together” actually entails. And that might not be what the tech-in-your-pocket in fact does.

Aligning with stakeholders

It’s also important to get some kind of handle of the agendas of your various stakeholders and the key functions you need to rely on, both stated and not stated.  These don’t necessarily need to dictate your intranet strategy – you can rise above the politics after all — but there’s no point defining something  that will simply not work, for example if you know the risk department will never sign-off on going into the cloud, and your strategy is to go into the cloud. Similarly it is also important to factor in key decisions and events on the horizon. The HR department are moving to a full self-service model?  Hmmm, that could be interesting…

Getting the show on the road

OK so if you have a fair idea of what’s going on and can define your strategy and its all beautifully aligned, like some astrologer’s dream, you then  also need to work out a roadmap to get there. A strategy without a roadmap is like strawberries without cream, Laurel without Hardy… oh you get the picture.

You need a roadmap to show how you’re intending to get from A to B. It can be high-level, but it also makes the strategy real, feasible and credible. By giving people the next logical step you are much more likely to be able to push them into action. This is another reason why an intranet strategy can never be  a templated document because the roadmap needs to reference the individual things going on in your organisation.

A strategy for “you”

Here at Intranet Directions we are here for the benefit of the intranet manager and we view the idealised Masters of Business Administration view of the world with skepticism and sometimes outright derision when it comes to applying it to intranets in most organisations.  It is pointless to deny that you, as an intranet manager, have your own motivations and ambitions – you have your personal strategy if you will. But remember that your strategy and the intranet strategy are not quite the same thing, although they should be aligned.  Part of your strategy might be to be highly visible to senior management.  That’s not the intranet strategy, so don’t get them confused and be completely clear in your head about which is which.

Master strategists don’t reach for a template. Churchill, Sun Tzu and James T Kirk didn’t Google.

Steve Bynghall and Chris Tubb November 2013

Buddy up with HR to increase intranet value and adoption

Most employees use intranets to get things done during their working day.  So when an intranet doesn’t do this well, it can be regarded as being ineffective and of little value, both by users and senior management. And if that is the case, then you’re on the slippery slope.

Users just want to get stuff done

One of the reasons so many intranets get stuck in this rut is because they focus far too much on content and news.  Internal communications and content is important, but there usually ends up being a huge disconnect between the resources and effort spent in preparing content, and the value users actually get out of it at the end of the day.

A current antidote to this is “social”.  It’s great that intranet ecosystems are evolving to become more participatory through commenting, micro-blogging , social networking and the integration of communities and collaboration. But social intranets, although good for locating experts, employee engagement and getting answers to questions, does not always help users get things done.

A different tack is to focus on key processes in the organisation, and then make sure the intranet contributes to improving them. This can happen in several ways, for example:

  • Making it faster to do things, such as turning a paper-based form into an electronic one
  • Making it easier for the user, for example surfacing data from different applications so the user no longer has to go into multiple systems to complete a task
  • Reducing the amount of data that needs to be entered manually, improving accuracy
  • Establishing one common data source or document, reducing the risk of multiple versions
  • Improving a process so it is more likely to be done by users, for example using intranet-based forms and workflow rather than email where items get “lost” in the inbox causing bottlenecks
  • Allowing users to complete a task themselves rather than asking a central function to do it, so that person can concentrate on more value-added work

The advantage of improving processes is that it is usually popular with users (once embedded) and also with senior management, especially if you can measure the improvement and put some value on the change.  

Ultimately improving the usefulness of your intranet should also drive up the readership of content and news by bringing more and more users to your platform.

Why HR is important

It’s likely that your intranet may already improve processes here and there, but if you really want to make a significant impact with your intranet then an Intranet Direction you may want to take is HR Process Improvement.

HR is one of the cornerstones of any intranet. Several HR processes sit very well with intranets, including:

  • The distribution for HR-related policy and information
  • Employee self-service (ESS) and manager self-service (MSS) relating to pay and benefits, performance reviews and booking leave
  • Booking training and e-learning
  • Onboarding new employees
  • Managing internal vacancies

Of the above points, ESS  and MSS are perhaps the most key. This can cover:

  • Updating key HR data such as bank and contact details (so the information goes straight into the HR system)
  • Questions about HR process and policy
  • Recording absence and booking holiday
  • Pay and benefits, for example with the ability to view payslips
  • The appraisal or performance management system, often giving feedback about others
  • Course booking and other e-learning related processes
  • Choices of flexible benefits

And for managers:

  • Approving holiday, leave, travel and a million other tasks
  • Resource planning
  • Performance measurement and monitoring
  • Managing the appraisal or performance management system
  • Managing training (particularly where it is mandatory)
  • Team compliance processes

Some of these processes such as viewing payslips are tasks which virtually everybody carries out, and can really help to drive user adoption of the intranet as a whole.

How accurate is your data?

Having complete and accurate HR data is also another vital ingredient for any successful intranet. You need good HR data to ensure:

  • Effective identity management (e.g. data tapped from your HR system feeding into Active Directory)
  • Personalisation or targeted content works (ensuring location, role-specific and different language content is delivered to the right people)
  • A good employee directory that is accurate and complete (key for establishing trust in the intranet)

Because HR own the system which should provide that data, accuracy is often effectively their responsibility.  A good intranet effectively shines a torch at the information contained within your HR system and when some of it is wrong, or where there are gaps, employees will notice. And they are also guaranteed to let you know about it.

And there’s more…

There are also some more engagement-led processes which can also be carried out within the intranet environment, although often the systems which power these systems are standalone and may not be integrated.

These include employee recognition systems which often involve peers leaving online feedback, either resulting in some kind of reward or acting as a reference point or data input into performance reviews.

There’s also the whole area of learning, either through the integration of  Learning Management Systems (“Book your course!”) or even “social learning” with communities, blogs and other social tools supplementing more formal-based training.

So overall successfully weaving HR into the fabric of your intranet will leave you in a position of strength to move into various strategic intranet directions, and If HR policies, processes and data have no place in your current or planned intranet implementation then it’s time for a serious rethink.

It’s time for intranet managers and HR to work together

At the moment I’m predicting there are three immediate thoughts among people reading this blog:

  • We already do this stuff
  • There is a key problem: the HR department!
  • There is a key problem: the intranet team!

Well if you do this stuff already and it rocks, good for you, and this post may not be all that helpful, although it may give you some additional ideas.

If it’s the second then you’re likely to be in internal communications or IT department. Many intranet managers report that the HR department takes only an occasional or peripheral interest in the intranet, despite their best efforts.  This Intranet Direction requires close contact with the HR department, so be prepared to make the extra effort.

It it’s the third then you’re likely to be in HR. Many HR departments report that intranet teams only take an occasional interest in them, despite their best efforts. This Intranet Direction requires close contact with the intranet team, so be prepared to make the extra effort.

It’s true that traditionally ownership of intranets tends to fall between Internal Communications and IT and the HR function is a peripheral player with a tendency to do their own thing. But this issue can’t be sidestepped.

A successful intranet means working closely with HR folk. Having them as a full enthusiastic partner with ownership and input means the intranet is more likely to be aligned with HR strategy.  Specifically you should aim for:

  • HR representation within the intranet governance structure, the more senior the better
  • HR owning, designing, managing and updating the HR-related areas of the intranet which need to be prominent in the navigation and evident from the homepage
  • A commitment to ensure HR data is kept up-to-date from the HR-system AND a promise not to set up a sneaky rival HR portal that is completely unintegrated with the intranet

And if you’re in HR you can leverage:

  • The potential possible process improvements provided by the intranet
  • The online skills and experience of the digital or intranet team

OK, that all sounds great but I have absolutely no budget

If you have no budget at all, buddying up with HR is still worth pursuing. Although you may have no budget, you new pals in HR certainly might, particularly if it is going to spent on something that makes their lives easier.

Secondly there are plenty of opportunities to introduce relatively straight-forward measures which can improve HR processes. Focusing on content and navigation can be powerful in its own right or implementing out-of-the-box forms and workflow may be all it takes to really add value.

Thirdly even if you try and implement something light now, the seeds you sow of a new relationship with HR may fully paid dividends when the firm’s future employee self-service solution is fully integrated with the intranet.

Don’t use the “no budget” excuse to do nothing. Remember there are ways to Fix a broken intranet without any money and it requires making a stink.

OK, this is all great advice, but I’ve already done ESS and more…

Great, and good for you, but I bet there’s something more advanced you can do though. How about better personalised HR content relating to country, region and role. Perhaps ensuring the intranet and digital workplace is ready for a new policy on flexible working? Or bringing HR fully up-to-speed or bought in to your social network? Using metrics to make things better, measuring the time for task completion or level of effectiveness?  Or perhaps HR are moving in an unexpected direction you didn’t know about and they haven’t told you yet?

Direction Summary:

  1. Get HR on board on the intranet by giving them a seat in the intranet governance structure, and forging close links on an operational level
  2. Work together to identify key HR processes and how the current intranet supports these, where possible using metrics to demonstrate issues (e.g. time spent on a task)
  3. Work on an intranet strategy which at least aligns with HR strategy and establishes a roadmap to improve the intranet, primarily focusing on employee self-service
  4. As part of the bargain to improve processes, get HR to make a commitment to safeguard and improve the quality of HR data
  5. Implement what you can: if you have no budget, focus on content and navigation; if you have bigger budget focus on the integration of systems.
  6. Measure the improvements and communicate to senior management

What does Chris think?

“Getting Human Resources to be your new bessie pal is a great idea for any intranet manager. Wrestling with a huge amorphous mass of rubbish applications is one hell of a task, particularly when most organisations made paper processes digital and then… left them there for ten years. I think HR is a great place to start thinking about bring these processes together and giving them new structure and renewed focus, but are we…. thinking too small? How about cracking the collective heads of Finance, Facilities and IT and shaking this up entirely. You could take on the entire application estate from the top-down. That gives me an idea for another Direction.”