man on a laptop
PHOTO: Matt Wildbore

An intranet is a vital part of any digital workplace strategy. When done right, an intranet can act as a functional resource for employees while also representing a company’s culture. 

But intranets have a bad reputation. Sometimes even the word “intranet” can be taboo. Cumbersome, lackluster intranets or intranets with poor search tools are unfortunately still commonplace, pushing companies to undertake redesigns in an attempt to improve them. In some cases, users don't trust documents they find on their companies’ intranets.

So what does it take to make an intranet truly effective? You can gather requirements and ask users for their wish lists. But when the intranet is deployed, do those features make it effective? User-driven design processes are more the norm these days. Then what is missing in the design process that can put an organization at risk of failing to achieve the result it is paying for? 

What’s missing is the underlying connective tissue that supports the technology. Though this may sound cliché, people and change management can be the difference in creating an effective intranet.

Let’s examine the anatomy of a good intranet. Before we can discuss the differentiators, we have to agree on the fundamental basics of an intranet.

Anatomy of a Good Intranet

Here are some of the features and capabilities an intranet must have:

  • Internal news: A corporate intranet should provide a venue for publishing and sharing internal news stories. The content could include messages from the C-suite or a roundup of news from across the company.
  • User experience: The site must be easy to use and feature a pleasing layout and aesthetics. It should also be easy to maintain, with tools that make it easy to contribute, publish and move content.
  • Search: A search tool that works is essential. You could also consider enhancing your intranet’s search capabilities by applying machine learning capabilities.
  • Social networking: An intranet needs social features, which can come in many different forms. Use cases can determine which social features will be effective for communication and knowledge-sharing in your organization.
  • Knowledge management: Tools and features that assist in knowledge-sharing, information reuse and transparency are among the most important components of an intranet. Effective knowledge management is the sum total of a number of features and capabilities, including the intranet’s content management schema, its knowledge bases and centers of excellence, and its social computing features.
  • Services and resources: An intranet should be a place where employees can get information about benefits, corporate policies and more. It should also provide employees with a way to manage their benefits or take care of job-related logistical matters — ideally with self-service tools.
  • Integration with other applications: Many intranets still act as portal gateways to other line-of-business applications. Integration with other programs can be time-savers and help to make an intranet a one-stop shop for users.
  • Bots: Bots and other applications driven by artificial intelligence can be powerful tools that improve the user experience. They can be a true differentiator for users if designed well.

We could devote an entire article to the fundamentals of a good intranet, but the real question is how to make an intranet effective. The secret sauce is in the intangibles found underneath the hood of an intranet: how it is managed, who contributes to it and, ultimately, the culture of the organization it serves.

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

Differentiators for an Effective Intranet

Here are some of the factors that make a corporate intranet truly effective:

  • Governance that works: An effective governance structure is a harmony between leadership, support and executors (power users). Policies and processes that are simple but comprehensive provide the best path to longevity and effectiveness. It also helps if you’re able to automate aspects of processes for timeliness and consistency.
  • Power users who have an interest and responsibility in building for their teams: Power users can truly help to unlock the magic of the intranet. Their ability to interpret business needs through technology and the intranet will help ensure the usefulness and relevance of the intranet in real day-to-day work. Cultivating these individuals, supporting them and helping them learn and master the technology will further the return on investment your intranet delivers.
  • A culture of sharing: Your organization’s culture will play a big role in determining the impact the intranet will have on users. The level of effectiveness can also be measured in how siloed and secured each aspect of the site is. If the goal is to create a social venue for sharing information in an organization that is not comfortable with the idea of transparency of information and ideas, the intranet may never take flight.
  • Trust in, and acceptance of, online self-service: Rollouts of new intranets are often coupled with process modernization efforts, and process modernization efforts often include the introduction of employee self-service tools. As is the case with information-sharing, if your organization is not culturally ready for online self-service, the concept may never take flight. Leadership has a strong role to play in determining the direction of many of these process changes.
  • Effective search tools and high-quality content: We have already identified search as an intranet fundamental, but search is so important that it’s worth mentioning again. An intranet search tool needs to earn the trust of users, and one way to ensure that it does that is to make sure you have high-quality content in your intranet. Search technologies have advanced considerably in recent years, but when it comes to users’ perceptions of the effectiveness of a search tool, the quality of the content and data that the tool queries is a big part of the equation. If search tools don’t have good content to work with, the search results will be lacking and users will complain.

If you’re at the beginning — or the middle — of an intranet redesign effort, take a minute to think about these aspects of intranet effectiveness. Gathering requirements is very important to the structural foundation of an intranet, but don’t forget to address these other areas if you want to build an intranet that flourishes and is embraced throughout your organization.

Related Article: 6 Ways to Measure Your Intranet's Effectiveness