a profile page on SMILE intranet
It took TUI Group three years to merge its 18 legacy intranets under a company-wide intranet family named SMILE PHOTO: Screenshot courtesy of TUI Group

Managing a large intranet and digital workplace project in a global company with complex structures and a highly diverse staff is a big challenge for an intranet and digital workplace team — just ask Daniella Adams.

Adams, head of digital workplace at TUI Group, has spent the last three years working on launching a series of linked, but distinct, Drupal-based social intranets in the different markets across TUI Group. Her goal was to replace 18 separate legacy intranets. The new intranets are branded “SMILE,” based on TUI’s motto, “Discover your smile.”

Such projects can take over your job (and even your life) for a year and beyond. They require tenacity, excellent stakeholder management and, often, the need to take a very pragmatic approach.

A Multinational Digital Workplace Challenge

TUI Group bills itself as the world’s number one tourism business. It has a diverse workforce of 65,000 employees, with people working in hotels and resorts, transportation operations (including cruise liners and airlines), retail units and in the back office. During the 25 years Adams has been working for the company, she has seen it grow through mergers and acquisitions, notably the merger of the U.K.’s TUI Travel PLC and Germany’s TUI AG. “It’s quite a challenging business to work in, but it’s also a great company to work for,” Adams said.

Adams was an early adopter in using the term “digital workplace” in her job title. “There has been a lot of interest in my job title, mainly from other intranet teams,” she said. “I took that title five years ago, when [enterprise social networks] were emerging and social started to transform intranets. My job changed from just looking after the intranet to also making sure there were social tools in place that had a purpose.”

A Family of Separate Intranets

However, since 2015, the main thrust of her role has been managing the development of TUI’s SMILE family of intranets. The company has a central custom-built Drupal intranet featuring news, social tools, content pages, and personalization and subscription capabilities at the group level, but then it also has additional local versions for each “source market” within the group. Each intranet is an attractive people-focused site with extensive use of images that reflect the TUI global brand.

The homepage of the SMILE Group site. Screenshot appears courtesy of TUI Group.
The homepage of the SMILE Group sitePHOTO: Screenshot courtesy of TUI Group

“I sit at the group level, and we provide source markets with a framework intranet that the local communications team will then drive forward,” Adams explained. “Essentially, they are my stakeholders. Each local communications team works with their own editors and champions and engages users in different ways.”

While some global organizations have opted to develop a single global intranet, TUI has chosen the relatively unusual path of creating individual local intranets, although the core technology is the same throughout.

To a certain extent, this was a pragmatic decision. “Currently, our business has a very varied technology landscape, so there’s always a challenge when it comes to networks, infrastructure and systems used,” said Adams. “However, the company is undertaking a massive transformation program with a road map to eventually align everything.”

Having separate intranets means that there are some different integrations across different intranets. For example, one source market integrates a Yammer feed into its version of SMILE, even though Drupal has its own social capabilities. “We want to ensure we complement what our source markets are using,” Adams explained.

Naturally there are also differences in languages and content. The group site is available in German and English, but some of the source market sites also use other languages. Each site allows users to subscribe and ask to be notified when news is published on a variety of topics. Team members in each source market choose the categories of news topics. It is also possible to share news across the sites, with the group news common to all sites.

The colleague directory is another central source of information that spans all of the SMILE sites. It includes basic information, but individuals must keep their contact details up to date. “We have a single colleague directory on the intranet, but there is some manual completion needed because we currently don’t have a single HR database across the group,” said Adams. “We import basic information from the colleague’s network account, and then it’s up to the individuals to add the missing information and keep it up to date. Users receive reminders to check their contact information every three months, and if they haven’t used the site, they also get a note the first time they log in.”

An employee profile on Smile. Screenshot appears courtesy of TUI Group.
An employee profile on SmilePHOTO: Screenshot courtesy of TUI Group

Going Open Source

One of the most distinct features of SMILE is that it is built on Drupal 7, and open source is a relatively unusual path for a large company like TUI. The network is also hosted in the cloud and was built in-house, although Drupal experts at Acquia provided some guidance. “Going open source has given us the flexibility to do in-house development, which is definitely an advantage, considering the complexity of the group. The two full-time developers and the designer working solely on the intranet have done a great job at a relatively low cost,” said Adams.

The SMILE sites are accessible anywhere a user can get online, and the design is responsive to allow access on all devices. When it comes to authentication, the team has spent a considerable amount of effort to ensure that when colleagues are in the office connected to the network their access to a SMILE site is as seamless as possible, and that they can still gain access by simply using their network username and password when they are out on the road. Plus, once a user has accessed one SMILE site he or she will able to seamlessly step into any of the other SMILE sites.

Rolling out the suite of intranets has been an intense process. TUI has launched the group site and four source market sites since December 2015. Moreover, the team has added social features across all of the sites. 

2018 looks like it will be just as busy for Adams. “The majority of our 65,000 colleagues can access a SMILE site, but we still have three more source markets to launch,” she said. “We are also looking at a redesign to improve the look and feel. We do have an additional challenge, because our group site and source market sites use two different themes, so we’re going to align those to improve the development and deployment processes and remove the complexity. And then we’ll be releasing a new app, which will be based on a hybrid approach using Drupal.”

Managing Stakeholder Expectations

In addition to overseeing the ongoing project, Adams must also manage the expectations of the source market communications teams that are now using their SMILE sites in “business as usual” mode and want to make changes. “One of my responsibilities is to manage those key stakeholders in the source markets and look at what they’re all asking for,” Adams explained. “It’s a slightly different journey for each source market. What I try and do is bring them all up to the same standard and to make sure that what gets implemented will benefit more than just one source market. Prioritization and managing stakeholder expectations can be a challenge. We have a central Kanban [project management] board where all the key stakeholders can raise tickets, which we review on a monthly call.”

Reflecting on the past three years or so, Adams said she is proud of what her team has accomplished at the group level. “We’re finally getting there,” she said. “This has been a major new way of working globally across the group, I think it has provided a model for others to follow and has developed a great working relationship between the group and source market communications teams. I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved.”