Why you should build components and connectors for your Intranet, not a gargangtuan beast

May 11, 2017

At the start of every year, the Nielsen Norman Group releases its annual report on the best Intranets for that year but for many, the most interesting part is the analysis they release on the intranets. The part of this that I enjoy most is seeing the average time for creating an Intranet with this year's chart showing an average of 1.4 years. That is 1.4 years duration. Throw in the average team size of 12 people and assuming 8 hour days for 220 days a year, that's almost 30 000 person hours of effort. Just for that one release. For pretty much every company, that is a significant investment.

Make the most of what you have already

In many cases, companies will have many existing systems that teams use regularly and work well for them. Projects may be using Slack or Yammer to update on work and share the latest news and would be unlikely to change to share news on a new platform instead without good reasons. You could roll out improvements as a carrot to bring them across or push down from the top as a stick to force them across but a better way is to integrate that information instead.

Keep it slim

There is a natural feeling to make a new project as large and impactful as possible so that people feel that it is important and get on board with it. This is a natural human emotion as people feel that the bigger, the better. Buildings like the Burj Al Arab in Dubai and The Shard in London show that people remember huge structures and talk about them more so there is the temptation to do the same with your Intranet projects.

The problem is that this initial excitement and enthusiasm drops when it becomes too large and doesn't tie in to what you do. Hundreds of thousands of people take the train past the Shard in London Bridge every day and don't notice it at all now. If it offered useful information on train times or special offers then people would still gaze in its direction (although please, please know that I don't think this is a good idea at all!!!) and find it useful.

A thin Intranet homepage that integrates with what people use is the key. Relevant news and information along with links to connect them to relevant people and apps that they use will keep people coming back.

So how can you surface all these different components?

When you are talking about Intranets, the natural place to share links and integrations to all these different services is via the Intranet homepage. Many out of the box Intranet services based on SharePoint allow you to extend a list of apps for a user that can either be a simple link to another service or can add additional integrations. The basic link could be done with Office 365 using the launcher in the corner which will automatically learn from your most used apps and surface those. However, with a little development, you can extend this add your own notifications and prompts as you would expect with a mobile device. For example, show how many HR platform approvals you have or number of outstanding training materials you have to complete. This doesn't need to have the platforms re-worked but you can pull using existing APIs to show a summary and link directly to somewhere in that tool to action that.

The API driven workplace

The other area is to use those APIs in other areas and surface those notifications all over the place. Microsoft Teams is a good example of this. Bots also make this possible where either via your chat tool or with email, you can get responses where you work most. Microservices are allowing even more integration and with standardised security with tools like Okta and Azure AD among others, the complication of authentication and authorisation is reducing.

The key is to give people the flexibility to change and adapt. Don't force emails on people who don't use them - allow people to unsubscribe. If people aren't using Yammer, then they won't start using it just to receive news. Help people who are using the services well to communicate the benefits they see to others and this will increase the usage. Measure which areas are successful with this and back this - don't just assume that everyone wants the latest.

So are you suggesting the end of the Intranet in a box?

Absolutely not. There are great products out there like Add-In365, Powell365 and Valo Intranet that improve the experience of publishing news and other common features for sharing info. Phone directory, key events list, project spaces, job boards, buy/sell/rent and standard content pages can all get a great jump start with these products.

The problem becomes when these are seen as the only solution and everything must run through these. The phrase Content As A Service has been growing in usage and covers that content can be captured in one place but used in many through APIs. The Intranet in a box can capture and maintain content well and also provide one endpoint but it should not be the only one.

Bots, voice services like Alexa, Chat services and mobile apps can all surface content. This follows on from the Hub and Spoke model and means that people get the right information where they use it. Outlook, Salesforce, Dynamics and others all have the ability to integrate info in to their main areas to show the content in the right hub for each staff member.

hub and spoke

Things change so keep adapting

The beauty of these flexible components is that you can maintain existing components while still bringing in new ideas. Monitoring the success allows you to gradual phase out unpopular components and build on the successful ones. In the personal space, people are more comfortable with the ever increasing change and updates taking place and this can now be supported in the workplace too. Communicate, support new ideas and keep what works going.


May 11, 2017