If you are looking to create a company intranet in the near future, then this article is essential reading. Let’s face it, creating an intranet can be a daunting task for anyone but if technology isn’t really your thing, then it can be an even bigger challenge. Don’t worry though as help is at hand with this post. Written very much from the perspective of the absolute novice, we examine the important steps that you need to take along the way so that the implementation process is as smooth and stress-free as possible. This guide will also serve as a useful checklist so you can be certain that you haven’t missed any critical elements. First though, let’s start at the very beginning with a definition of what we mean by intranet.
What Is An Intranet?
An intranet is an online private communications network with access restricted to only internal employees. An intranet contains a range of tools and modules that are designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of a company’s operations. With online interactive staff directories, news pages and blogs, collaborative workspaces, quizzes and surveys as well as automated business processes to name just a few, the intranet quite simply has the potential to help employees get the job done more efficiently. Intranet technology has been around since the 1990s; however, more and more businesses – from the small startup to the large corporates – are investing in intranets as a solution to a range of business issues.
What Types of Intranet Are Available?
The terminology around intranets can be confusing as often the terms are used interchangeably. Below we make it clear what the different labels mean so that you can make an informed choice as to what’s best suited to your company environment.
As we’ve seen an intranet is an online, internal communications network.
This is the name given to a closed, internal communications network that also allows limited access to a specially selected group of external partners such as clients, customers or suppliers. Businesses often use an extranet to collaborate with or share information and data with external parties. Examples of businesses that frequently use extranets include universities or colleges for the payment of fees and the sharing of information with students and parents, or franchise operations to improve communication and the flow of information with franchisees. Extranets are also a great option for businesses that have a need for two-way sharing of information and data. Graphic designers, accountants and law firms are good examples here. An extranet enables the faster and more efficient transfer of data than more traditional channels like emails, memory sticks or shared folders.
Think of a portal as being a gate or entry point through to external apps or enterprise systems. Often these are human resources apps or customer relationship management software or it could be external websites that staff members frequently refer to in the course of their work. The great advantage of a portal is that all these systems and apps are accessible from a single sign-on. Access is, therefore, quick and easy and there’s no need for multiple logins and passwords or for staff to have several browser tabs open at any one time. So, now that you have a better understanding of what an intranet is and the main types of intranet that are available as well as their different uses, let’s now turn our attention to how to create an intranet. Below we identify all the steps involved from the start of the process to the launch of your brand new intranet and beyond.
1. Set Up A Project Team
The first step is to set up a project implementation team with representation from across the organization. The project team will be responsible for selecting the most appropriate intranet software option as well as coming up with a shortlist of intranet providers. In addition, the team has a leading role to play in developing an initial sitemap as well as devising the content, functionality and design of the intranet. Ensuring you have a broad range of representation from across the organization will mean that you have a better chance your intranet will be fit for purpose. What’s more, these team members will naturally act as advocates for the intranet which will be of great assistance in encouraging its wholescale adoption by staff.
2. Be Clear About Your Goals And Objectives
From the outset the project team will need to be clear about what the business’s goals and objectives are for the intranet. What is it that you want the intranet to achieve? What difference will it make to the business? Tempting though it is, don’t jump straight into the design and layout. It’s worthwhile investing the time and energy in this analysis phase so that the company intranet is fit for purpose. The truth is for most companies there is a pain point or issue that is driving the adoption of an intranet as the solution. It could be that internal communications has been identified as a weakness. Or it may be that information silos are a feature of your business and you want to encourage more collaboration and joint working. For other organizations, it’s a desire to improve employee engagement across the business and develop a stronger company identity. Whatever the case may be in your company, conducting an intranet needs analysis will help the project team identify the organizational issues the intranet will need to address. It’s important that the team talks to staff and key stakeholders about what information and business processes should be available on the intranet. And it’s also a good idea to undertake a task analysis to identify any logjams that the intranet can address. A needs analysis is a very important first step in the deployment process. It will help refine the company’s goals and objectives as well as ensuring the intranet meets the long-term needs of staff and the wider organization.
It’s a good idea for the project team to address the issues of ownership and governance from the outset. Without a clear sense of ownership and a strong management structure, the intranet will not function properly. If possible, the intranet should be ‘owned’ by a key stakeholder at the senior management or board level so that the intranet team has sufficient authority and resources to get the job done. The project team will also need to come up with a policy and procedure for the ongoing management of the intranet. Who is responsible for generating content? How is content updated? How are site permissions and user access set up and updated? It may not be possible to have a complete management manual at this early stage, but it’s certainly worth bearing in mind as the implementation progresses so that it doesn’t become an onerous task at the end.
4. Selection Of Intranet Software
With a comprehensive vision for the company intranet together with a sense of the information and tasks it needs to address, the project team is now in a position to look at software options. There are three basic options open to business intranet buyers and these are:
- Custom build an intranet from scratch to be hosted on the company server.
- Develop an off-the-shelf intranet using software downloaded from the internet and host it on a server connected to your company network.
- Use a cloud-based hosting service. Under this option, you pay an intranet provider to host the intranet for you.
The possibility of creating a bespoke intranet designed with the organization’s unique needs at the forefront is very appealing for some companies. However, doing so requires a great deal of technical knowledge and expertise. It can also be a labor-intensive and expensive process. As a result, many businesses are put off by the investment of time and resources that is required. In fact, this is probably only a realistic option for those companies that have a company server on site together with a dedicated internal IT resource with the requisite skills. With the off-the-shelf company network option, to create the intranet you will need to first install intranet software on to your server. This will enable you to generate the pages and insert the content. There are a number of platform options available including SharePoint, Drupal and WordPress. However, using these types of packages has advantages and disadvantages which the project team will need to consider. A very tempting advantage is that the software is usually free to download from the internet and so is readily accessible and appears to be a cost-effective choice. An important disadvantage is that often the ‘free’ core offering is actually quite limited in its scope. Many businesses have discovered that achieving the functionality they need requires the purchase of additional add-ons and plugins that very quickly amount to a significant investment. What’s more, piloting and testing the do-it-yourself intranet as well as managing updates for all the extras can become a convoluted and time-consuming challenge. A considerable degree of technical knowledge and know-how is, therefore, required to set up and manage this intranet option. So, the decision to go ahead with a do-it-yourself type option is often influenced by factors such as the size of the company and the availability of internal IT support resources. With a cloud intranet solution, however, for a fixed monthly fee you pay an online hosting service to host your intranet site. Usually, there is an intranet template that you can follow or a standard set of features that can be customized to meet your organization’s requirements. In addition, the intranet can be branded with your company logo, style, and colors.
The biggest advantage with online hosting is that there is no software to install or server to maintain and so deployment is much quicker and easier. Having an existing template also means that the features have already been tried and tested which could be a considerable time saver. Whichever option you decide to go for, you will want to draw up a shortlist of potential providers. There are a great many possible providers in the marketplace for both the network hosted and cloud options. Your shortlist should reflect the best fit between the product and the vision and goals you have for your intranet. Check out MyHub’s free to download evaluation checklist which will help you in making a selection.
5. Intranet Demonstration
There is no substitute to test driving the software and any good cloud provider would be happy to take you through their product via a screen share tour and a trial period. Actually getting your hands dirty with the intranet software is the best way to determine whether it is a good fit for your business. Involve your project team in any demonstrations or trial runs so that you get broad feedback from within your organization. It’s much harder to test drive some of the bespoke solutions. You can, however, undertake some due diligence by speaking to other companies that have utilized that particular software for their company intranets. In addition, check out any online reviews or evaluations on specialist tech websites.
6. Creating Intranet Content And Design
Now that you have selected your intranet software partner, you are at the very exciting stage of developing the design and writing the content. When it comes to the design, it’s important to make it as intuitive as possible. Try to keep in mind the whole purpose of the intranet which is to make it easier for staff to find the information they need to get the job done. Developing a site map at an early stage will help you to visualize the content, how it all connects and what makes sense for your business. A clean, uncluttered look will be fundamental to this. The six, six rule is a good one to bear in mind when working on the design of your intranet. The six, six rule suggests a maximum of six pages per section with six items of content on each is ideal. The rule will help you to focus on what’s really important and forces you to be economical with the design. Similarly, when it comes to content try to keep the copy as clear and concise as possible. Staff will want to identify the key messages quickly and easily without having to wade through a lot of unnecessary words and waffle. Use plain English and avoid jargon or technical language wherever possible. Make good use of headlines to draw the user’s attention and to give the reader a sound idea of what follows. Keep it visual. Lots of photos, images, pictures, even infographics will make your intranet more interesting and eye-catching and will engage the user. Try to stick with images that portray real staff members and real work situations as these will resonate more with employees than stock images downloaded from the internet.
7. Pilot The Intranet
Now that you have engaging content and a well-designed look, you are ready to pilot the intranet. Piloting is useful both in terms of ensuring the functionality of the intranet and its fitness for purpose. Revisit those goals and objectives you identified at the start of the process. Have you achieved them? Now is your chance to tweak and fine-tune the intranet so that it ticks all the right boxes. And it’s a much easier process to do that now rather than when the intranet has gone live. Another important aspect of piloting the intranet is to check how it performs on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. The latest research from Gallup tells us that 3.9 million US employees work from home on a regular basis. That’s an increase of 115 percent since 2005 and that upwards trend is bound to continue. Flexibility in the workplace is now the norm and so your intranet needs to be optimized for the smaller screens and functionality of mobile devices. With a mobile-friendly intranet, staff members can still be productive while telecommuting, when out on the road visiting clients or if they are away from the office attending conferences or industry events. It’s essential, therefore, that your intranet is thoroughly tested to ensure it’s responsive on mobiles.
8. Staff Training And Development
You are now almost ready to launch your intranet, there’s just one more step to consider and that’s a program of staff training. Even the most intuitive and easy to use intranet software still needs to be supported by a program of staff training. If you want to hit the ground running from day one, then giving employees the opportunity to get used to the intranet software in advance is an absolute must. What’s more, the training program doesn’t have to be of the traditional classroom-style variety. The online nature of the intranet lends itself to a variety of training media including:
- how-to videos
- quizzes and surveys.
Make it interactive and fun and don’t forget to utilize your intranet advocates in the shape of the project team members. By sharing their knowledge and expertise, project team members will be invaluable in making sure their colleagues are on board and fully appreciate the intranet’s capabilities. And a word of caution here: don’t be tempted to rush this step. A comprehensive staff training program will ensure the intranet is utilized to its full potential and so try and resist the urge to crack on until this critical aspect of the deployment is completed.
9. Go Live!
Finally, you are ready to launch your intranet, but the go-live doesn’t just start and finish with the click of a button! Devote as much fuss and fanfare to the launch of the intranet as you would to a new product launch. Have a countdown in place to generate some excitement and anticipation. And why not run a staff competition to give the intranet a name? Many companies have found naming the intranet is a great way to give it a brand and a sense of identity all of its own.And if you are looking for some inspiration, then intranet names that we have come across include:
- even Wikidelia!
Involving staff in a naming competition is a good way to create a buzz around the office. Make it worthwhile though by offering a team pizza lunch or some gift vouchers as an incentive to take part. Once you select the launch date, then make it compulsory for staff to use the intranet thereafter. Set it as the web default page and insist that employees use the intranet to complete tasks such as ordering stationery or booking annual leave. For those staff members that try to use previous paper or email-based processes, firmly advise them that the intranet is now where it’s at. Your employees will soon get the message and will start using the intranet for all their information needs.
10. Review And Refresh
Even after diligently and thoroughly going through each of the steps in this checklist, it’s unlikely that you will have a perfect intranet from the get-go. Regular review and revision will be needed to make sure that the intranet is still achieving the goals and objectives that you have set. In fact, the overall vision for the intranet may need to be reviewed from time to time in the light of changing business needs. So don’t disband that intranet project team just yet! In addition, it’s vital to renew and refresh the content on a regular basis. Static and unchanging intranet page images soon become boring and uninteresting for users. And there’s no bigger turn-off than accessing information that is out of date or just plain wrong. Setting up mechanisms and processes to regularly review and refresh the intranet’s content is essential from the outset.
Creating An Intranet: Plan For Success
Creating an intranet will be a challenging exercise for any business. Following these steps though will make that process that little bit easier. The secret is having a clear, well-thought-through plan. In this article, we’ve done the hard work for you by setting out the steps you need to take. Now all you need to do is crack on with creating your own intranet. It will be the best business decision you ever make, guaranteed. If you would like more advice about how to create an intranet for your business, get in touch with MyHub today. And while you are at it, why not take advantage of our no-obligation demo or 14-day free trial and see for yourself just how easy implementing a cloud intranet can be.