The word ‘intranet’ tends to bring to mind boring internal communications sites, used mainly by HR and marketing to disseminate documents and newsletters. This traditionally push strategy has relegated intranets to the back burner for many organisations. However, as the world and the workplace has become increasingly social, the intranet is undergoing an evolution into a collaboration space for the sharing of content, ideas and skills. The intranet of the future will change the way people use the tool, focusing on design and the user experience (UX), and creating an almost ‘app-like’ interface that engages employees through interaction and interactivity.
In order to cater to the needs of a changing workforce, the way intranets are used needs to change as well. Employees today demand a rich user experience that enables them to communicate, collaborate, share ideas, gain access to expert skills and more. This is a complete shift from the push strategy of the traditional intranet to a pull strategy, creating an intranet that makes people want to use it. The focus of the intranet of the future needs to be the user, not the CEO, and thus the design and the user experience are of the utmost importance. Departmental intranets have also become out-dated – the intranet should be a centralised portal for all internal organisational communications. Ultimately, the intranet should be a self-service portal that provides convenience for users, allowing them to log time, apply for leave, find relevant corporate information, collaborate on tasks and more.
In future, the intranet will need to cater to the requirements of Gen Y and Millennial users – those who have grown up using sophisticated mobile and social communications tools. This shift is driven by a number of different factors, including increasing consumerisation and the demand for a consistent experience on personal and work-related devices. Ultimately, users want access to a friendly experience, not simply a functional one, which not only requires a focus on UX, but also a deep understanding of the user and their needs, wants and requirements.
One of the biggest evolutions of the intranet is the increase in social features, such as mobile chat and instant messaging services. Social tools such as tagging, sharing and liking content are part of creating the user experience, and are fast becoming standard features in many business applications. The intranet should be no different. In addition, mobility needs to be supported through responsive design and a ‘mobile first’ development ethos, while ensuring secure access from various end-point devices.
As previously mentioned, the intranet of the future needs to have an emphasis on design and UX. The key toward ensuring user adoption of intranets is to make the interface and the experience familiar – incorporating social elements, elements of the web, and the ease of use and intuitive functionality of apps are all essential. This should include more sophisticated search and filtering. Consumers are used to the Google interface, and intranet search should provide similar functionality to enable users to find the content they require quickly and easily.
Intranets need to be consumer focused, and the province of the users themselves. Employees, and not heads of department, should dictate the nature of the content and the future strategy of the intranet. The more social and interactive the intranet, the more likely it is to capture end users and their thoughts and result in engaged employees. This concept of ideation enables crowdsourcing of ideas from employees, which is the springboard for driving innovation. Intranets should also include functionality for managing the innovation pipeline, allowing people to rank and endorse ideas, and trace their progress through the system.
Ensuring user adoption is as simple and as complicated as creating the right experience for users. If an intranet is designed correctly from a UX perspective, employees will enjoy using it. Buy-in and adoption rates will be higher, which increases opportunities for engaging and interacting with employees. A well-executed intranet gains loyalty from employees, helps to raise levels of employee satisfaction and trust, and helps to create a culture of innovation if driven by a strong leader.
An end-user focus is critical in achieving this, and throughout the process of building an intranet it is necessary to involve as diverse a user group as possible. This will ensure that their ideas and wants are taken into account, and creates a sense of ownership and involvement once the product is rolled out. An agile approach is also essential. The intranet needs to be a work in progress, an evolving product, which, like apps, is constantly maintained and updated. This all ties back to the UX, which is impossible to get right without an intimate understanding of the user.
The success of an intranet can be judged by how happy people are to use it, whether it empowers them to do their jobs better or faster, whether they are saving time, or can connect with people to enable processes to be completed faster. Functionality should be balanced with design, but ultimately if one aspect needs to be scaled back it should always be functionality. Without good design, users will not use the tool, however additional functionality can always be developed and added at a later date.
The intranet should, at the end of the day, fit the way employees work, deliver what employees want and like, and be tailored to meeting their needs and the maturity of the organisation. The intranet should give employees a tool that makes their lives and their jobs easier. A successful intranet is not an implemented one, but an adopted one that employees enjoy using.
* Peter Reid, SharePoint Solutions Head at Intervate, T-Systems company