Organizations and businesses in recent years have sought ways to increase the productivity of their workforces, and eliminate barriers to communication. One way of doing so has been implementation of intranets. These private computer networks have the look and feel of public websites or social media feeds, allowing for seamless communication, collaboration, and sharing of resources.

Some organizations have not adopted intranet platforms, instead opting to rely on a variety of other solutions, such as email and third-party messenger systems. Others have implemented intranets which, after years or decades of growth and changes in organizational scope and scale, no longer meet their present-day goals and vision.

Whether you have an existing intranet or not, there are common problems that can indicate that a modern intranet system is necessary for your continued success.

Organizations sometimes reach a halt where the necessary scope of a new intranet system is daunting, but the ability to grow and improve their level of service requires attacking the problem.

In early 2019, we were approached by the California Department of Water Resources. The scope of the DWR is immense. They are responsible for supplying water to 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of agricultural land, and also provide oversight for more than a dozen dams in the state of California. These responsibilities require a large, diverse workforce: the DWR is composed of approximately 3,500 employees across 14 offices in various urban and rural locations.

As you can imagine, any and every hindrance to communication was keenly felt. They knew their needs had outstripped their existing internal communication infrastructure. But it takes a significant, committed effort to shift focus from short-term, day-to-day priorities, and taking a step back and seeing the big picture.

To their credit, DWR recognized they had hit a point where they couldn’t hide from the challenge any longer, and had to get all relevant stakeholders involved: execs, operations, IT, communications, HR and legal, and of course, their base level employees.

In the video presentation “Building an Engaging Intranet with Sitecore” prepared for the Sitecore Symposium 2020, DWR’s Bianca Sievers and Kevin See, and SymSoft’s Bhavik Patel share their experience and anecdotes about the project requirements, organizational support, executing on the vision, and project outcomes.

An inadequate intranet often results in the loss or misplacement of institutional information, failures in communication between executives and employees, and ongoing difficulties for the rank-and-file.

The difficulties that arise from aging, insufficient intranet are often felt both at the organizational level, and at the personal level.

Problems that arise at the macro scale can include:

  • Loss of documentation. Documents—both archival and current—can become difficult to find, as employees come and go and filing systems shift and change over time. It can become necessary to conduct weeks- or months-long content audits to identify what documents exist, and where.
  • Disjointed communication. As with document archives, an inadequate intranet system results in the fragmentation of every aspect of communication. Knowledge is lost, performance metrics are opaque, and efficiency is compromised. The result is an incoherent execution of an organization’s vision, mission, and values.
  • Social isolation. As a result of poor communication, workers often feel isolated, cut off from others by the four walls around them. They have no way of seeing the larger picture, and no way to appreciate the positive impact of their work. Work often comes to feel repetitive and unfulfilling at all levels.
  • Lack of community and mission. Public social media platforms are appealing for a reason—they give a sense of community and connection. Failure to provide for the social needs of the workforce results in an organization that has no central identity, with mission statements that carry little or no real-world weight. Organizational plans, milestones, and updates are not shared, never making it out the door of the boardroom.

Shortcomings in intranet sophistication are also evident to the rank-and-file. Common employee-level issues include:

  • Intranet as info dump. A lackluster intranet often becomes nothing more than a bucket for informational storage. In these instances, file search and navigation features are inadequate. This means that documents, manuals, and guidelines are difficult or impossible to find, and multiple, conflicting versions are generated over time.
  • Distribution outside the intranet. In these situations, the sharing of information often occurs outside of the intranet, with employees instead relying on email, and third-party messengers like Teams and Slack. Consequently, not everyone has the same information, or even the ability to access the same information.
  • Improper data storage. Because of distribution occurring outside the intranet, files are often archived as email attachments or in user drives, rather than in common storage.
  • Success not communicated. With an intranet not being an effective means of communication, personnel successes are never communicated.

But the most obvious symptom of an inadequate intranet is that it delivers an experience that is subpar to Internet services and third-party communication tools, so that it becomes the option of last resort.

But these are problems that can be resolved by making a comprehensive, top-to-bottom commitment to developing an intranet that betters your entire organization.

To return to the challenge facing our client, DWR, they recognized that their existing intranet did not serve the needs of their employees. A platform was needed that was flexible enough to accommodate the unique needs of each employee, as well as a unified connection and understanding of key needs and goals.

In the summer of 2019, we brought together over a hundred and twenty employees to participate in focus groups for the intranet redesign. These participants were specifically selected to better understand the diverse needs within the workforce, based on their skills, geography, and position within the network. Employees were asked to provide feedback on knowledge search information operation and networking. Our team listened and learned from DWR’s employees. And then, we prioritized those needs moving forward.

It was a significant challenge. But we succeeded because we led off by asking a handful of critical questions:

  • If you could wave a magic wand, what are the three things you would fix immediately?
  • What are you doing right now to address organizational challenges? What has worked, and what hasn’t?
  • What are the long-term goals of the organization?
  • How would the success of the project be measured?

In the future, we will address how we develop a successful intranet system that meets the needs of an organization’s mission, as well as its rank-and-file staff. But every successful intranet project addresses three key needs:

  • Accountability. At the outset, personnel are identified as being responsible for the successful execution of the project, so that the organization’s mission, values, and vision are sustained.
  • Curation. Any successful intranet requires ongoing information curation, to ensure consistency in organization. There must be dedicated resources in place which will edit content, optimize, review, archive outdated content, track intranet performance, talk to employees, and conduct regular (often light weight) UX studies.
  • Adoption. An intranet is not a project that, once it is completed, it is placed on a shelf. It is an operational asset. Plans must be put in place for how the organization will transition from the old intranet system, to the newly developed one. All stakeholders must commit to making this transition. Otherwise, the organization will be in limbo between the legacy system, and the new one.

In future posts, we will address other key topics in the development and launch of successful intranet systems. In the meantime, enjoy the video presentation we delivered at Sitecore Symposium and contact us with specific inquiries about your intranet project.