Top 10 must-haves for your intranet

An effective intranet is like the combined brains of your entire business. It's a resource that makes it easier for your staff to do their jobs, and it's a songbook that supports staff in their decision making and the way they talk to your clients. It surfaces key metrics that provide the executive and employees with highly visible measures of the company's performance, and it's much more than just a feel-good place.

With this in mind, let's run a checklist over your intranet: how many of these does yours provide?

1) Mobile compatibility

Many organisations are either exploring or have embraced BYOD principles, making mobile accessibility for the intranet essential. A single, standardised client and operating system for the organisation are much less common with the inroads that consumer devices have made into many businesses, and with this comes an expectation from staff that they will be able to connect to office systems with their iPhone or iPad. There are a plethora of platforms available that make device management and security much more straightforward for your IT team, so it follows that the intranet should not be left out of your mobile strategy. In fact, organisations that don't make it easy for staff to use their device of choice could be facing a perception problem, particularly with post Gen Xers.

2) Collaboration and discussion

This is work in progress or assets that are under development. It can include multiauthored, draft documents, discussion groups, team or project minisites, and open suggestion boxes. Ideas and initiatives that develop in these environments might evolve into other things that are more structured and governed by business rules, but here they are likely to be freer and possibly less formal as they're refined. This approach does not dispense entirely with defined process, but it may be more conducive to creative thinking. An example might be a post in a discussion group seeking comments from other staff about great events they've been to, from which lists of venues and caterers are compiled. The next time the company holds an event, there's a ready list of suitable options to choose from. The value of this crowd sourced knowledge is the hidden nuggets of information it yields, the positive sense of ownership it generates among staff, the low entry barrier that informal discussions channels offer to first-timers, and the way it can break down information silos within the organisation.

3) How-tos

These are descriptions of the best way to accomplish a specific task. Examples are procedures for connecting a new notebook to the office network, locking the doors and arming the alarms, or replacing a spent water filter in the kitchen. They may take the form of step by step instructions or they might be written at a higher level, but ideally they can be created and updated by any staff member and they're often brief and informal. On face value, they help non-experts get things done, document procedural refinements and capture new ideas as they're integrated into the business, but their hidden talent is their power to propagate knowledge within the organisation and the upskilling effect this has on staff.

4) Forms and templates

These are tools that capture structured information for processing or aggregation. They may be web applications, online or printable forms, or templates in any format. Examples include an expense claim application, an equipment requisition form, and an Excel pricing calculator template. They're typically single-purpose time saving tools that are sometimes role-specific, design to efficiently collect information that will facilitate another process such as getting reimbursed for out of pocket expenditure. Superficially, they help staff get things done faster by prompting them to supply information that's required and collecting it for use in a subsequent process, but at the same time they're ensuring that the information that enters your systems is correct and consistent, which cuts down time wasted on manually correcting poor or incomplete data.

5) Reusable resources

These are resources that staff can modify and adapt to save time. Examples are presentations, successful sales proposals or tender submissions, workshop plans, or anything else that is structured and repeatable. Diagrams, checklists, graphics and well written text can all potentially be 'upcycled' and there's typically no justification for recreating these from scratch each time. Documents like this will usually be refined and evolve over time as they're used, which means that the reusable content they provide will be continually improved. This ongoing fine tuning of your organisation's communication pieces is the underlying value of reuse, and adds to the simple time saving potential of this type of material.

6) Performance measures

These provide feedback for staff about business or staff performance. It can be represented in reports, dashboards or key statistics, and it might quantify the company share price, sales figures, or other client or staff related metrics. Ideally, they are ingested directly from other systems by the intranet, so there is no need to maintain them once the feeds have been set up, and high level statistics such as a net promoter score that measures client satisfaction might be highlighted and visible to all staff, but a detailed report on regional sales figures might only be accessible to the business development team. The type of organisation and its culture determine which measures are important, but staff that have visibility of the organisation's performance have both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation to see the business achieving its goals.

7) News and updates

This is material that is published frequently and might have a limited shelf life. It may be company news and events, media releases, staff or project spotlights, and it may be generated internally or come from outside the organisation if it's relevant. This information is normally added by designated staff within the organisation, and might be a marketing function. It won't be consumed by everyone and normally it's information that's not considered critical for staff to perform their work, but it has value in communicating concepts about organisational culture, competitive positioning or other developments in the organisation's operating environment. Ideally, consumers of news will see an additional, intrinsic value in gaining a deeper knowledge of their organisation's values and position in the market.

8) Structured content and data

This is information that is broken up into a consistent format and labelled to make it easy to find. At a basic level, a staff directory fits into this category - the information is the name, contacts and role of each staff member and the labels make it possible for us to find and use what we need in the information, like a staff member's phone number. They can also make it possible to filter or search the information efficiently. Other examples are records of client interactions, which would be labelled with metadata such as the staff member and the date and time of sending so a manager can view an organised log of communications, or a searchable database of FAQs that are tagged by topic so customer service staff can quickly locate answers to clients' questions. This type of information can be added to by all staff members, or can be automatically captured from sources such as emails. The value it creates is twofold: information is easily located and can be used in all kinds of different systems that might be integrated with the intranet, and it can provide intelligence that supports analysis and decision making within the organisation when it's aggregated and processed.

9) Reference materials

These are articles, white papers, case studies and research texts that is collected to help the organisation. They can help to develop employees' skills, improve processes or inform decision making for purchases or strategic planning. Examples might include article on writing a good headline, a white paper comparing intranet software or an infographic on the best times to post on social media - anything that contains useful information that can be used by staff for their own learning or research. These materials can be collected by anyone in the organisation and could be organised by job function or level, or any segmented another way that makes them easy to locate for your organisation. With the sheer volume of content that's generated through current content marketing practices, it's valuable to have a peer-reviewed collection of material that is curated by colleagues and relevant to your business.

10) Archives

This is less about what's on the intranet, and more about what isn't. The accumulation of materials over time means that some of that material will become dated, and it's critical that outdated information is retired so it doesn't make searches inefficient and misinform your staff. Intranets are not best suited to serve as de facto records management systems, so once information has passed its expiry date, it should be removed. As with performance measures, some automation in this area is ideal: whether it's a simple notification for someone to review aging material, or a date based archiving process, removing information that's no longer relevant or useful provides a better experience for everyone using the intranet. It's also important for staff perception and engagement: an intranet that looks like it's cluttered with irrelevant information will quickly be labelled as useless.

Your intranet is a process

This is not a list of software features, and it's intended to be a system agnostic view of what's most important for the intranet to perform its role: to serve staff and help them do their jobs. Starting with a decision about which software to use based on features that sound great, or a choice based on your experiences with a previous system, is likely to restrict your options when it comes to making the intranet really work for your business.

What's needed is an approach that takes in all of these and fits your organisation's daily processes, business rules and culture, and a recognition that your intranet is a process: it is an enabler that should always be evolving and staying one step ahead of your organisation.