Setting Up an Effective Company Intranet

Last Updated May 2, 2007 7:18 PM EDT

An intranet is a Web site for your employees that can combine internal and external resources in a one-stop information shop. It can become the intellectual capital library of the organization, capturing staff knowledge, facilitating teamwork, and providing an excellent introduction for new employees. It can also allow people to work remotely and still access key information.

Unfortunately, many intranets have evolved in an ad hoc manner, with few clear objectives and minimal input from senior managers. Instead of becoming valuable information resources, they have become information dumps. It takes careful planning and implementation for an intranet to become an organization asset.

What You Need to KnowShould employees using intranets be required to follow central standards?

Yes, or the intranet will become almost useless. Some larger organizations now have hundreds of intranets, each with different standards, creating an environment that's impossible to navigate and very expensive and time-consuming to maintain. The best approach is to set standards centrally, while giving as much responsibility as possible to individual departments for the publication of relevant content.

Should we allow employees to develop personal content?

Allowing staff space to create their own personal home pages can gain acceptance for the intranet and deepen the sense of organizational culture. You must ensure, however, that such pages do not interfere with the organization's objectives for the intranet and that they do not take up too much employee time.

Should an intranet incorporate security measures?

Yes. Invariably, intranets will be accessed by staff from outside the physical organization—from home, hotels, and other locations—so a robust security system is crucial. Passwords need to be changed regularly and access to certain types of information managed properly. At the same time, don't make the intranet too complicated to access or people won't bother and the benefits of the system will be lost.

What to DoAchieve Management Buy-in

Unless there is genuine management commitment to an intranet, it will quickly develop into a mess: under funded, under-resourced, and underused. If management does not commit adequate resources to creating the intranet and keeping it vital and up-to-date, employees who visit will find weak content, and it will be hard to convince them to visit a second time.

Develop Return on Investment Models

Intranets are often inadequately funded because no one has proved to the finance department that the extra budget should be allocated. Proving that a quality intranet can deliver a quantifiable return on investment (ROI) can loosen those purse strings. For example, ask some typical employees how much time they spend searching for important information. Based on how much these employees cost the company, calculate the cost of their searching time. If a well-organized intranet can reduce searching time by half, calculate how much money will be saved. The results may surprise you—and the finance department.

Launch With Impact

The first content to go on the intranet should be information and resources most likely to further the organization's objectives. Do salespeople require faster access to more accurate information? Do technical staff spend too long looking for documents that often end up being out of date? Are employee contact details kept in a little green book that nobody can find when it's needed? Do support staff find that they're always asking around for answers to customer queries? Ask yourself questions like these to determine where to start with your intranet. When you launch the site, do so with a manageable amount of content that delivers an obvious benefit to employees. Make a good first impression on employees, and they'll be much more excited about participating.

Get Staff Involved

Some intranet content will come from the organization's leadership and from outside sources in your industry. But much of it will have to be created by people within the organization itself. You will need to encourage people to create relevant and appropriate content and make it easy for them to see their material posted on the intranet. If you expect people to contribute content as part of their job function, then you will need to set standards for content, deadlines, etc. These employees will need to be given time to research and write quality material. It will be important also to provide financial rewards and/or professional recognition for quality intranet content.

Encourage Collaboration and Interaction

Consider setting up discussion forums, chat facilities, and email discussion lists that get people sharing issues and ideas. Encourage collaboratively created content, with several authors working on a document. Always monitor these areas of the intranet to encourage positive interaction and prevent posting of inappropriate material.

Put an Editor in Charge

An intranet is really a publication: it will live or die by the quality of its content. In the same way that a printer is not in charge of the New York Times, a programmer should not be in charge of an intranet. Put in place an editor who understands content—what staff need or want to read, and how to write it in an accessible, readable way.

Get a Proper Commitment from the IT Department

Even though the central focus is quality content, there will always be technical issues that crop up from day to day with an intranet. Ensure that the IT department has made a commitment and assigned enough resources to keeping the intranet smoothly operational. Talk to your IT specialists about whether content management software will be worth the funds to purchase it.

Make it Usable and Reliable

Forget about fancy gimmicks and bandwidth-hungry applications. Remember that people will be accessing your intranet over those very slow lines from hotel rooms, or from home, and just want to get to the facts. Direct your IT team to make the intranet easy to find and easy to search.

Promote It!

If you don't actively promote your intranet, many employees won't even know it exists. Use newsletters, posters, emails, and other communications to encourage employees to get involved in the intranet.

What to AvoidYou Don't Get Buy-in From Managers

In the early days, intranets grew in the wild, fed by the enthusiasm of a few dedicated staff. Now, however, an intranet is doomed to failure unless management provides enough support and resources to make it an organizational asset. It's especially important that the people who are expected to develop and maintain the intranet are properly recognized and rewarded for quality results.

You Launch Big But Failing to Follow-Up

The intranet launch is the beginning, not the end. Too many organizations make a big effort to launch their intranet, only to ignore it and allow the content to get stale and out-of-date. Or they offer no encouragement to employees to visit the site and get involved in the conversation.

Your Intranet Suffers from Poor Navigation and Standards

Without proper graphic standards and well-planned navigation, intranets can be confusing and unusable.

Where to Learn MoreBooks:

Colby, John, et al. Practical Intranet Development. A-Press, 2003.

Denton, D. Keith. Empowering Intranets to Implement Strategy, Build Teamwork, and Manage Change. Praeger, 2002.

Web Site:

Intranet Journal: www.intranetjournal.com