field turned into a large calendar with people walking on top of it
PHOTO: Curtis MacNewton

Today’s intranets are much different from their static repository predecessors. 

Gone are the days of outdated employee directories, a smattering of largely irrelevant content and the occasional update on building maintenance or holidays.

The modern intranet acts as a portal to knowledge and a gateway to collaboration. It emphasizes sharing and creating content, connecting people and ideas, and delivering real business value by boosting productivity and fostering innovation and competitive advantage.

But, of course, an intranet doesn’t become a powerful business tool overnight. While more teams are recognizing the power of an interactive intranet, creating one can feel like an uphill battle. It’s easy to set it and forget it — the typical company’s modus operandi with intranets past. These days, planning, launching, governing, maintaining, growing and measuring the value of a productivity-enhancing digital workplace is a challenge — but it’s an effort that will pay off in spades.

What does it take to deploy and manage an intranet that lives up to its potential? Here are some strategic considerations to address at each stage of your intranet’s life cycle.

Related Article: Is Your Intranet Lost in the Fog?

Day Zero: Treat Your Intranet Initiative Like Any Other Critical IT Project

Intranet projects often fall apart before the launch date because of lackluster planning. A dynamic, interactive digital workplace is not something your corporate communication or HR department can just stand up on their own in a couple of weeks. Like any other technology project, an intranet deployment should start with concrete business objectives and include project and resource management plans, clear timelines, a stakeholder steering committee, agreed-upon key performance indicators (KPI), an adoption plan and more.

A useful strategy for creating your intranet’s deployment road map is to focus on specific use cases. Here are the two of the most common (and successful) types:

  • Wide, or viral, use cases that inform the way we work. These types of intranet use cases are all about presenting usable information that’s primarily designed for consumption. Think broad communication initiatives, communities of practice and departmental portals. These virtual spaces provide the foundation for collaboration across an organization and deliver measurable business benefits when all employees use them.
  • Deep, or managed, use cases that change the way we work. These types of intranet use cases address specific processes and business areas, and they are more about workflow replacement or augmentation than knowledge. Intranets built with this type of use case in mind are venues where truly collaborative groups and teams connect and work out loud to boost their productivity and make better decisions.

Together, these two approaches will ensure your intranet attracts broad participation and maintains its stickiness. But first, be sure to run initial use cases through the following criteria:

  1. Barriers to entry: Will people care, and will they want to participate?
  2. Potential audience: How many people will this bring onto your digital workplace? (Critical mass is important.)
  3. Sponsor: Do you have a leader who will check in to see how you’re doing and ask about the value the project is bringing to the organization?
  4. Purpose: Can you easily articulate what this is and why it matters?
  5. Politics: Do certain use cases matter more than others for non-value-driven reasons? (Hint: it’s OK if they do!)
  6. Community management: Do you have an advocate who will spend significant time in the platform and thereby ensure its success?

The answers to those questions will provide clarity and identify priorities to help drive your road map, which will inform your deployment. Your road map should not, however, be a list of all of the things that must be complete on Day One. Instead of overfocusing on the launch, it should lay out a 12-month plan for achieving key departments’ intranet goals.

Related Article: What it Takes to Be a Modern Intranet Manager

Day 1: Don’t Overthink the Launch

You don’t want your intranet to become a static artifact, like the old hard-copy employee newsletters companies used to distribute. It doesn’t need to be perfect: an employee community is an ever-evolving, living thing that’s designed to grow and adapt.

Many organizations make the mistake of throwing all of their time and energy into the launch, only to have the digital workplace quickly become stagnant because of a lack of sustained effort. Day One is just your starting point. Yes, you want your intranet to be fun and fresh and attractive enough that people will be excited about it and will want to engage with it — but the hard work comes when they begin to do exactly that.

Save your energy for months 3, 6, 9 and beyond, when all that (wonderful) collaboration requires maintenance, governance and measurement.

Related Article: Intranet Measurement Isn't Simple Cause and Effect: Find the Metrics That Matter

Days 2 to 365: Focus on Governance

Speaking of governance (cue the groans), it is something you have to focus on if you want to maintain a successful intranet. Is it exciting? No. Is it necessary? Absolutely.

Every company goes through periods of massive change, from mergers and acquisitions to industry disruptions to developments like the changing nature of work, the advent of artificial intelligence, the emergence distributed teams and more. Your governance plan should help maintain order amid the chaos, balancing risk and flexibility to support your organization’s needs and culture. Governance puts guard rails in place to prevent things from going wrong. It also creates the structure necessary for things to go right — governance provides the “how-to’s” that foster productive behavior.

To effectively manage and maintain your intranet, your governance plan should include the following:

  • A steering committee: This panel should include key business stakeholders and your executive sponsor. They should meet regularly to review progress against business objectives and make key decisions for future growth.
  • Terms and conditions: You need policies that clearly stipulate what employees should and should not do on the new intranet. (Note the should is more important than the should not.)
  • Defined processes: Your intranet policies should also clearly state how you will provide support, address cases of inappropriate use, handle growth and more.

Related Article: Governance Still Matters in a Digital Workplace

Every Day: Emphasize Business Outcomes

Conversations about the benefits of intranets can feel decidedly fluffy. Engagement! Collaboration! Communication! These elements of your intranet initiative are critical, but they can be hard to analyze and evaluate. Luckily, however, they’re also just the means to an end, not the objectives themselves. While it’s helpful to measure things like engagement, collaboration and communication to benchmark your progress, the statistics you compile won’t reveal whether or not your digital workplace is doing its job and delivering concrete business results.

To truly understand your intranet’s effectiveness, make sure to regularly revisit the desired business outcomes you identified in the planning process. These should be precise and measurable, like the following:

  • Increase employee retention from current average of 18 months to 24 months over the course of the next year.
  • Improve strategic alignment so the percentage of employees who say they understand our company vision and direction rises from 45 percent to 65 percent.
  • Boost productivity by reducing employee email load by 20 percent.
  • Reduce IT expenditures by 10 percent through tool consolidation and a decrease in total cost of ownership.
  • Improve innovation by 25 percent as measured by activity in the ideation forum.

Like many web-based projects, intranet initiatives can easily get bogged down in minutiae. Should the button be red or blue? Should we call this community “The Digital Watercooler” or “The Digital Break Room”? Those details are fun, but it’s important to keep your eye on the prize: your intranet’s ability to capture corporate memory that positively impacts your business.