What is an Intranet?
We’ve recently touched on Intranet systems in our article ‘How a Bespoke Software System Could Supercharge Your Business’. In that article, we looked at many types of bespoke software systems available for organisations. A bespoke intranet was one of these, but what exactly is an intranet?
An intranet is a type of software system that enables businesses to create a secure network that is only accessible to staff or employees from the organisation. The network created is completely private and offers a space for employees to communicate and share information effectively. It fosters an environment of community for employees, and can be a great place to inspire creativity, ideas and collaboration.
Is an Intranet right for your business?
Deciding whether an intranet is right for your organisation is a decision that should be based on the needs of the business. Think about the problem areas and sticking points currently facing your business. Could these potentially be resolved through the use of a company intranet?
Intranets are known for their ability to improve employees’ communication, collaboration and sense of belonging to a team, so if these are areas where you feel your business has room for improvement, an intranet solution would be worth considering. Below, we go into detail about how to build and implement a great intranet, so if you decide it’s the right solution, this resource should help you to begin the process.
9 Steps to Building a Great Intranet for Your Business
1. Prepare for how the intranet will be implemented
Once you have decided that creating an intranet is the right step for your business, preparation for how it will be implemented is key. Change, especially lasting change, can be hard to effect in a business where people may be set in their ways.
Staff may reject or feel ill-at-ease with a new system if they are unsure of how to use it or how it will benefit their work, so communicate clearly with them in advance the reasons why this system is going to be put in place and how it will help both them and the business in the future, and schedule time in training them on how to use it. Rolling out the system will be far easier if you have prepared your staff for it beforehand and they know what to expect.
2. What's the purpose of the intranet?
Arriving at a clear vision of the purpose of your intranet and the reasons behind your decision to create it will help in the design and build phase of the process. Throughout the design process, you will then be able to refer back to the rationale and objectives you had identified previously, and assess whether what is being created helps to solve the issues you seek to have addressed.
Having a point of reference will be especially helpful if you are outsourcing the design and build of the intranet. A design team will be able to refer back to the points in your statement of purpose throughout the design and development process, and they can also be used as a checklist on completion of the project to ensure that all specifications have been met.
3. Crowdsource input from employees on their thoughts
Once you have highlighted to your staff the importance of implementing the intranet, a wise move would be to ask for their thoughts and input. After explaining the issues you are trying to solve, you may find that they have useful suggestions or ideas for how it should best function in order to achieve those aims. After all, they are the ones that are going to be using it during their working day, and their ideas, informed by their experience of doing their jobs, can be extremely valuable ones, so be receptive to the ideas they can provide. Your employees can offer valuable insights that you may otherwise be unaware of, insights that might change your perspective on the features your intranet should adopt to help your business succeed.
4. Find the correct solution
In this step, your business will need to assess what it is capable of and where it needs to outsource skills in order to create and publish the intranet. There are two possible options here.
The first solution would be to use SaaS (Software as a Service) intranet software, which means that your company would pay an SaaS provider for a standard intranet. The provider would generally host this.
The second option would be to use open-source software. In this case, you would have to make your own arrangements for hosting. This would mean either hosting it yourself (which generally you would only be able to do if you were a web agency or if you had an in-house development team) or paying a company to host it for you. Open-source intranets allow for the development of bespoke features that you might want to use in the future so they have the distinct advantage of infinitely programmable flexibility over SaaS intranets.
Think about what your intranet needs to be capable of and what features you might like it to have. If this is your first time using an intranet and you’d like to ease staff in slowly or want it to be up and running quickly, perhaps using a standard intranet that is hosted for you is the way to go. However, if your needs are particularly niche and getting it right is more important than getting it working quickly, perhaps an open-source option would be best so you and your developers have the ability to fully customise a system to your exact specifications and to continually add new features as required in response to organisational demands and staff feedback and requests.
5. Who will build the solution?
Once you have decided upon what type of intranet software you would like to use, you will then know who would be best suited to building it.
The SaaS option generally offers a packaged intranet ready to be implemented – an off-the-shelf product in various configurations. Some providers offer custom design features that can be completed either on a do-it-yourself basis with the help of the provider’s support teams or by working with the provider’s design team if you are short of time or resource in this area. In all cases, the SaaS option tends to be time-efficient as the core software has already been programmed and error-checked, and it can be put in place relatively quickly so your teams can begin using it.
The initial start-up cost for SaaS tends to be lower than for a fully bespoke open-source intranet, but you will then pay an ongoing monthly per-user fee for accessing the software, and covering hosting and support, and this needs to be budgeted for.
With open-source, generally the best option would be to hire a web / software development agency to build your intranet, incorporating all of the bespoke features you require. There are also some providers that offer open-source software intranets packaged up with a range of standard features that they have developed for other clients.
Consider the requirements of your intranet. Will its original purpose be adequately served by an off-the-shelf option, or does its design and functionality need to be bespoke to meet the needs of your company?
The start-up costs for a bespoke open-source intranet are higher because of the custom design and development work required, but once it has been created, your ongoing costs thereafter should be limited to hosting and support, as the intranet will be your intellectual property and not subject to any ongoing hire charges of the kind that are to be expected with SaaS. So in the long run, an open-source intranet could save you money as well as giving you greater flexibility for customisation.
6. Staff training to ensure confidence in using the system
Staff training is paramount to the success of your intranet, helping to ensure that it is universally adopted and used efficiently and productively. People will generally shy away from new software if they don’t feel confident using it, as they feel more comfortable sticking to the existing processes they know.
Once your intranet is ready to launch, training sessions should be compulsory so you know that all staff will have had at least an introduction to the new system before it goes live. Offering additional small group or one-to-one sessions to employees who want them can also help. Some may feel they need more help than others getting to grips with new software, and you want to give those staff the confidence to use your intranet, so offering a further training where needed is recommended.
You could even offer incentives for use of the intranet once it is live, in order to get people to see what the new system can offer them. For instance, a monthly award to a member of staff who is judged to have made an outstanding team contribution through the Intranet. As with any new system being implemented, it will take time for a full adoption of the new processes and changes to working habits, so remember to be patient with staff. Offer training, make them feel comfortable, and regularly check in with them to ask how they are finding it and whether they need any further support in order to get the maximum benefit from it.
7. Go live
Picture the scene: the intranet is built, your staff have all been trained, and you are now ready to go live. This is the exciting moment you have been building up to ever since you first outlined your vision for your company intranet. Regardless of how long the intranet idea has been in the pipeline, seeing any project reach its end goal is an occasion to celebrate. Use the launch as another way to get staff on board by promoting the go-live day and getting them involved.
You could do this by ensuring that staff have time allocated in their calendar on the day of launch to access the intranet and set up their personal profiles, and then to explore it and refamiliarise themselves with the features they previously glimpsed in training.
Perhaps throw an office party to celebrate the launch the Friday after – that could help to build positive associations with the system in employees’ minds, as they will understand that it is being perceived by the directors as a positive milestone in the ongoing development of your organisation.
8. Test and review
Once staff are using the platform day-to-day, you should find you get immediate feedback on what is and isn’t working, so long as you have extended an invitation to staff to provide this. Any issues that are causing problems for staff should come to light fairly quickly this way, even if some simply relate to the different way the new system works.
The significance of each issue raised will determine what priority to give to addressing it and how it is best resolved. Some, such as typing errors, may be minor enough to be fixed in-house, whereas others, such as features failing to work or reporting error messages, could
require the help of the development team that built the software. In the latter case, it is usual for the company that built the software to have allocated hours for snagging – that is, the fixing of operational faults and other serious problems that come to light after the system goes live.
It is completely normal to experience teething issues when implementing anything new, and resolving these will make the system better. Problems may continue to be revealed over an extended period of weeks or months after the software is first launched, as staff use it more and more frequently to carry out different tasks. As inconvenient as this will seem at the time, identifying such issues early will have benefits for the lifetime of the system. Constant testing through use will mean that most if not all problems will be picked up quickly, opening the route to their resolution.
9. Refine the solution
The final step is one of ongoing refinement of the system following the launch and test stages. Once the software has been in place for six months to a year, there will normally be enough data and feedback from staff to review it at a more fundamental structural level in order to refine the solution. There may also be additional features identified that the intranet needs to deliver.
The best way to view a solution like this, similar to a website, is that it is something that can be incrementally improved and modified in order to continue to serve its purpose and deliver on the specific requirements it needs to meet for the business and its employees even as their needs or the company’s goals change. If the intranet system is sufficiently adaptable, it can evolve and grow as the business does, keeping it relevant and fit for purpose.
Although the process of researching, planning, building and implementing an intranet can take considerable time and money, the benefits to both employees and staff will tend to outweigh these expenses, provided that the organisation is large enough to justify the initial outlay and ongoing maintenance costs, and a significant long-term return on investment can be expected.
An intranet might be harder to justify for a small business where everyone works in a single shop or office or around a single factory floor. But with its inherent potential to increase staff engagement, facilitate teamwork and idea-sharing and build a greater sense of community within the workforce, an intranet becomes an attractive system for a business to adopt in the interests of communicative efficiency and productivity when it reaches a certain size.
At GWS, we help companies and organisations build bespoke intranets that serve teams with a variety of organisational structures and support them in their day-to-day activities. Get in touch with us if you want to tap our expertise and have a project you would like to discuss.