Are you persuaded by the case for an office intranet but frustrated by the lack of support from your IT department? Are you bamboozled by talk of intranet servers, LANs and WANs when you Google ‘create an intranet’? Is an intranet website something you’ve been considering for a while, but it all seems too complicated and so it’s ended up in the too hard basket? If this sounds like you, then help is at hand!
In this post, we look at how to set up an intranet from a completely non-technical perspective. You’ll be surprised at just how easy it is for even the average person to create a professional, fully functioning intranet without a PhD in computing or the support of a team of IT professionals.
First though we define what an intranet website is before looking at the benefits of creating an office intranet. We then examine the pros and cons of the company network server option versus that of a custom-built intranet or a cloud-based hosting service. The aim of this post is to provide you with enough information to make an informed choice about the best option for your business.
What Is An Intranet?
In simple terms, an intranet is a private online network that is only accessible to internal staff or a specially selected audience. An intranet website is a central repository for all the key information and tools that staff need to get the job done. From document management systems and file sharing through to automated processes, news pages and blogs, corporate calendars and collaboration tools, the intranet offers all these essential features in one platform with a single logon.
Why Set Up An Intranet?
If you’re reading this article then the chances are that you are already thinking about creating a company intranet and are familiar with the benefits on offer. It’s worthwhile though quickly reminding ourselves of the undoubted advantages which include the following:
- increased workforce productivity
- enhanced team integration and collaboration
- ease of and improved internal communications
- open all hours, 24/7 access enabling more flexible working arrangements
- improved employee engagement
- less time spent on sourcing and updating organizational information
Simply put, a company intranet will add value to your business by helping your staff members to be more productive as well as efficient and effective.
How To Set Up An Intranet
So, now that we’ve made the business case for a company intranet, let’s look at how to set one up.
The first thing to consider is that much like your company’s internet website, the intranet will need a server. There are two main options available:
- Use a server connected to your company network. You’ll need to install intranet software onto your server.
- Use a cloud-based hosting service. You pay a hosting company to host your intranet for you.
Let’s examine each option in detail.
Company Network Server Option
The decision to opt for a company network server may well be influenced by the size of the organization and the available IT resources. Larger companies often already have a server whereas for smaller organizations it may be necessary to purchase one and so that cost will need to be factored into your budget.
To set up the intranet you will need to install intranet software onto your server that will enable you to generate the pages and insert the content. There is a whole range of options out there and which one you choose will be influenced by its ease of use, functionality and adaptability. Some of the off-the-shelf type packages, however, often still require a certain amount of technical knowledge. Another important point to note here is that often the software available on the market has not been specifically developed with an intranet in mind. For example, some companies have used WordPress to develop an intranet; however, although capable of creating a perfectly acceptable intranet, WordPress was actually developed as a blogging or website creation tool. It doesn’t necessarily, therefore, have all the functionality and ease of use that a dedicated cloud intranet system has.
Some companies use a consultant or get their existing web developer to create the company intranet. These are both good options for those that lack technical savviness, but they will increase your costs.
The main disadvantage of the network server option is that you are responsible for everything. From managing the intranet server, installing updates and backing up data to issues of security and virus protection – you will have to handle all the management and maintenance. In addition, intranet servers take up a lot of valuable physical space and so there not always a feasible or desirable option. Office space is, after all, an expensive commodity.
Hosted Intranet Website Option
Under this option you pay an online hosting service to host your intranet site. Once again there are a number of providers out there including MyHub. With a cloud-based hosting option you simply log on and create the pages and content. Most providers utilize pre-built intranet templates that you can easily follow or a standard set of features that can be adapted to meet your organization’s requirements. In addition, the intranet can be customized to suit the structure of your business and your company logo, style and colors.
The biggest advantage with online hosting is that there is no software to install or server to maintain. In fact, hosted intranet solutions are usually super easy and quick to set up and require little, if any, technical know-how. What’s more, the hosting service is also responsible for all technical issues, maintenance, updates, backups and security. In addition, most hosted solutions will provide ongoing support to intranet administrators as well.
Furthermore, intranet hosting services are usually charged on a monthly basis and so the costs are fixed. In the case of MyHub, for a fixed monthly fee, companies can enjoy unlimited numbers of users and unlimited data storage. This makes the cloud option very cost-effective and it also provides that all important cost certainty that is so important to businesses, particularly small enterprises and start-ups.
Another great advantage of cloud-based intranets is that they can be accessed by staff anytime and anywhere on a tablet, smartphone or computer with internet access. Many businesses no longer operate the traditional desk-bound, 9 to 5 model of working. Increasingly we’re seeing companies offering more flexible working arrangements as well as remote working. In this context, online intranets are a great advantage and help to facilitate more flexible working. So, when developing your intranet it’s important to ensure the site is mobile friendly and optimized for the smaller screens of smartphones and tablets.
Custom Built Intranet System
There is one final option that we need to mention and that is the custom build. Some larger companies, particularly those with strong internal IT resources, have opted for an entirely bespoke intranet built from scratch. The driving force is usually the desire to create an intranet focussed on addressing the specific needs of the business. Another attractive factor for many companies is that they retain complete control over functionality, updates and revisions rather than delegating this to an external provider. There are, however, a number of disadvantages not least of which is the time and resources involved in developing a custom-built intranet. In fact, the whole process from start to finish can easily take several months and many thousands of dollars.
What About Intranet Content?
Having considered the why and the how let’s turn our attention to the what: what content should be included in an intranet?
Given that the whole point of an intranet is to make the working lives of your staff easier, the best starting point for addressing this is staff themselves. Consider setting up a project team with representation across the whole organization to determine what information it is that staff need to have at their fingertips. It’s worthwhile investing the time and effort in this stage so that you get it right. There’s no point in having a flash intranet website if staff don’t use it because it doesn’t have that critical corporate information.
It’s likely though that your intranet will include some, if not all, of the following elements:
- email accounts
- document management systems
- corporate calendars and meeting management systems
- task and project management
- knowledge management
- shared project spaces to facilitate joint working and collaboration across teams
- communication tools such as blogs, discussion forums and webinars
- automated business processes such as booking annual leave or ordering supplies.
Draw up a map of the sequence of pages on your intranet. This will give you a good feel for the overall flow and sequencing of information and will also help you develop a site menu.
Be mindful though of information overload. It is tempting to put every piece of company information on the intranet. But if it’s not relevant or staff can’t find it easily then they will simply stop using the intranet altogether. It’s a tricky but essential balancing act.
In addition, when developing content try to make it as engaging as possible. Company safety and health information for example, although very important, can be a pretty dry topic. Try to enliven it by including lots of visual interest with diagrams and photos, online quizzes or surveys or even by injecting some humor. Be mindful of the different learning styles apparent in the modern workplace and incorporate a range of media that will satisfy all needs including video, podcasts, wikis and webinars. Be inventive. Using a few of these tricks will make staff more likely to engage with the intranet thereby increasing your staff adoption rates.
Finally, make sure that you refresh the content on a regular basis. Static images, unchanging text and worse still outdated information is quite simply dull and boring for users. So, on a regular basis make sure that you update the images, revise the content and get rid of anything that’s no longer relevant or up to date.
Intranet Website Design Issues
Intranet design issues is an involved subject that warrants its own dedicated post. Here we touch on some of the key principals to consider and we invite you to check out the Complete Intranet Design Guide for more detailed information.
The main point to get across when it comes to design is the simpler the better. Clean, uncluttered pages with plenty of white space is the way to go rather than some flash, all singing and all dancing intranet that is just way too much. For example, that purple color that looks so vibrant and eye-catching in your company logo can soon become annoying and overbearing when used as the backdrop for every page on your intranet. The most successful intranets have opted for a minimalist look and present information in bite-sized, easily digested chunks with the option to click for more detail.
Piloting Your Intranet Software
It’s a good idea to pilot the intranet with the most easily published material. Any online intranet provider will be happy to give you a demonstration or free trial so that you can fine-tune the product. A webinar or shared-screen guided tour is a great way to assess whether the software is a good match for your office intranet requirements. There is, however, no substitute to actually playing around with the software yourself.
If you have gone down the route of a company intranet server option then testing the intranet site for functionality and user-friendliness is worthwhile. You can then use the feedback to tweak the design and content as necessary before it goes live to all staff.
Other issues that piloting can help you address include site permissions and access rights. Not all staff will need to access all parts of the intranet. It will be necessary to maintain the confidentiality of some information by limiting access to those staff that really need it.
However, with a cloud option, all of this pre-testing and piloting will have already been completed by the provider. In fact, the offering from a cloud provider will be continually tweaked and refined in response to the real experiences of a whole host of businesses that are using the intranet website day in and day out.
Ask For Help!
Hopefully, we’ve now shown you that setting up an intranet may not be the technical minefield you first thought it was. In fact, with a cloud-hosted intranet, it’s possible to have a professional looking and fully functioning site up and running in just a matter of hours. Contact us at MyHub for a free demo or 14-day trial and see your business start to enjoy the great benefits an intranet has to offer.