dusty empty stadium seats
PHOTO: Vincent Botta

Most intranets are dead zones. If companies don’t invest in a team to ensure that new and useful information is available, the intranet will die a slow death. In today’s world of outsourced services, creating an intranet that people regularly visit is an increasingly greater challenge. The closest thing to an intranet for many firms is either a languishing SharePoint site or Okta, which simply serves as an authentication launch point for payroll, benefits and IT support.

Then I read about the BBC’s intranet. It is allowing employees to see where their salary falls in the pay range of those with the same job title. While a good step towards more open and fair salaries, it also makes the intranet relevant. Instead of a dead-end bulletin board or a set of services employees only need once in a blue moon, this provides them with a tool that they want, need and can only get there.

Not Your Average Weather Portlet

Do you remember portlets? They were little mini-applications that you would load into your portal. I remember working with Plumtree when it was the hottest portal around — it created portlets that displayed the local weather, that day’s Dilbert cartoon, and provided the latest results for the 2000 Olympics.

That was a long time ago.

All of these were meant to serve as enticement for people to begin their day in the employee portal. They could see their latest email or newest project documents. It was meant to be the next generation of the intranet, replacing the static webpages of the '90s.

It didn’t work. The productivity portlets were too primitive for anyone to do more than realize they needed to leave the portal and get to work. Maintaining the portlets was a challenge, and application communication was still pretty primitive. Over time, a set of links to the individual applications became more feasible. Employees didn’t need a portal for that, their Netscape browser had bookmarks. (I told you it was a long time ago.)

In the end, portals left the realm of the intranet.

Related Article: Is Microsoft Teams the 'Portal' We've Been Looking For?

Intranet as the Only Source of Information

BBC's salary comparison is information employees can only get in their intranet. People will go there whenever they wonder if they are paid fairly. While there, they may even see other important information — who knows?

Of course, this tool will lose its allure in a few weeks as people learn all they can from it. What will keep bringing them back to the intranet when that happens? The BBC plans to enhance the tool to show differences by gender, but there are only so many enhancements it can make along these lines before somebody’s privacy is violated.

Once again, we are back to finding new ways of enticing people to the intranet.

Related Article: Are You Getting the Most Out of Your Intranet?

Maybe Intranets Aren't for Everyone

Let’s face facts. Most organizations can't afford to invest in an engaging intranet site. The post portal era gave us Enterprise 2.0. Remember Yammer? The internal social network boosted intranets, but that devolved in most organizations over time. While we’ve witnessed the rise of Confluence and the messaging applications Skype and Slack, Enterprise 2.0 failed to deliver a dynamic intranet.

It's an all or nothing game. I know many intranet proponents won’t like to hear that, but if you aren't a large company with money to continuously invest in an intranet, then it isn’t for you. Sure, you can create some initial excitement but how many salary comparison tools are there?

I'm not saying you shouldn’t provide innovative tools for your employees. What the BBC has done is brilliant. But if you do it with the hopes of rejuvenating your intranet, you may as well stop now.

The whole point of the intranet is to serve your employees. Do that. Don’t sweat the visits per day. Instead, craft a good weekly update email and spend your money on other ways to help your employees.