What does a good intranet mean? From experience, I know that different factors define a good intranet for the management or maintenance team, and still others for the ‘ordinary’ employees who use the intranet (or not).
In contrast, the category of intranet maturity does not tend to function in the minds of users, but is a frequent evaluation criterion for decision-makers. This is fostered by the numerous published rankings of intranets and the systems on which companies’ intranets are based.
So how do we measure the quality and maturity of an intranet? And above all: what for?
From this article you will learn:
- What does it mean: a quality intranet?
- What should a mature intranet be like?
- How to define a good intranet?
- How to set goals for a good intranet?
- How can you be sure that the intranet meets expectations? How do we measure it?
- If we want to compare our intranet with others – how do we do this?
- What should we pay attention to?
What does it mean: a quality intranet?
How would you answer this question? The Digital Workplace Program Manager, with whom we have been working for three years, recently mentioned that benchmarks are important to his bosses and how the system he manages compares to other companies’ intranets. This is not an isolated incident. In many companies, benchmarks act as a kind of reference point for management, providing an answer to the question: what do others have and what does it give them?
However, on further reflection, it is clear that an investment such as a digital implementation in the Digital Workplace area must bring benefits to the company and its employees. Such desired benefits, while similar to some extent in many companies, will be somewhat different depending on the structure and size of the company, the management model, the culture of the organisation, and other factors. A good analogy for determining the quality of an intranet by confronting a benchmark is to buy a car like the neighbours have, without considering where we will drive it, how often, who, or what we want to drive it too.
An alternative approach is to ask ourselves: why do we need an intranet? What objectives does it need to fulfill? What level of indicators will tell us that we have achieved the goal or are moving towards it? And this is the approach in which DEEN – the Digital Employee Experience Navigator – is built.
What a mature intranet should be
Can we then treat ‘intranet maturity’ as a baccalaureate for intranets? Is it possible to define a single common benchmark for a mature, quality intranet and, on this basis, assess whether our implementation is mature?
I associate this with the infamous question from a parent to a student who got a B on a test: “What did the others get?”. One may be indignant, rightly arguing that such a question undermines the student’s responsibility for his or her own performance (because maybe the teacher didn’t explain it well enough) and the value of his or her own ability and effort (implicitly “you got a grade lower than the best, you didn’t do your best”).
Meanwhile, if we go back to the root meaning of maturity, this analogy can guide us to a more useful definition: an intranet will be mature when, after sufficient effort, it has developed enough to meet its objectives to our satisfaction.
In this approach, benchmarks can be used to help us estimate what level of goal achievement is possible in companies similar to ours, in what time frame, and with what methods and tools.
How do we define a good intranet?
Over the past 12 years, we have worked on hundreds of digital change projects at EDISONDA, both in the Digital Workplace and in external customer service solutions. We have noticed that the changes companies want to achieve are concentrated in 10 areas:
And while each of these areas is extremely important (as you can see by reading the following paragraphs), you should refrain from giving them all a high priority. As with most endeavours, it is important to select those areas where change is most relevant to our business and employees. Think: which of these aspects are important to your business and which are not so important?
If you were to draw a line connecting the different areas (like on a radar chart) and compare the resulting shapes for different businesses – you would notice that they differ. And this is very good for your company (because such a graph reflects its priorities), but worse for the benchmarks understood as “the intranet with this set of features is the most mature”.
How do you set goals for a good intranet?
Based on our project experience, we have developed a list of goals for each area that our clients usually have. This list is our starting point for defining the specific objectives of the project we are working on together.
- Adoption – the uptake of the solution by users. An example of an objective (which needs to be defined in terms of the organisation and implementation) would be an increase in the number of returning users (frequent visitors).
- Productivity – how the new solution improves work. Example goal: Employees spend less time finding the information/documents they need.
- Quality Assurance – defines the reliability of the performance of the tools, as well as the information provided through them. In the case of an intranet as a knowledge base, a fairly common goal is ‘The current version of the document is the easiest to find’. This objective needs to be parameterised by the document whose findability we will be monitoring (e.g. a holiday application form or a health and safety procedure for mining machinery operators).
- Engagement – an area that is particularly relevant if we are dealing with the implementation of a social-type platform. For example, the aim may be to increase user-generated content (in specific languages, formats, or meeting specific quality criteria).
- Connection – for DEX tools (for example, an intranet), a common implementation objective is to integrate employees into the company, to inform them about procedures, successes, or changes in the organisation, and to create a platform for sharing knowledge and achievements.
- Reach – who you want to reach with your solution. In the objectives, you will specify how many and which locations/countries/branches you want to be present with the tool. In the case of DEX solutions, we can specify for which part of the workforce you want our solution to be the first channel for dealing with the core tasks we enable. This area is complementary to the area of Usage (because sometimes the fact of having access to a solution (=Range) does not mean that users use it (=Use)).
- Accessibility – understood as the adaptation of features on the intranet, as well as content and its form, to the needs and specific requirements of users. Is the intranet accessible to people with visual and hearing disabilities? For people using mainly spoken language? For people who do not use the company’s written working language? Are the published documents comprehensible to everyone in the workforce or only to educated office workers?
- Attitude – what attitude do users have toward the new tool? Are they satisfied with it? Do they see it as a necessary evil or as the first source of work-related information? Are they willing to recommend it to colleagues?
- Cost reduction – the new implementation is likely to be another tool in the company’s portfolio. It is worth choosing a solution that will give savings and – rather than duplicating the functions of other tools – replace at least some of them.
- Management – a common reason for implementing a new tool is to improve cyber security. If employees are using tools outside the company’s portfolio (e.g. WhatsApp or Google shared drives in a company that bases its ecosystem on Microsoft solutions), it is worth considering offering them solutions and procedures that solve their problems without losing the company’s control over data flows.
A second important aspect of management in the context of new implementations is the ease of use of the new tool. This is particularly important when the management of content, the acceptance of documents, or the processing of requests will be handled by people for whom this is a side task or who have an intermediate level of digital competence (and, in the context of their work, their expertise in other areas is more important).
How can you be sure the intranet is meeting expectations? How do you measure it?
Setting objectives and parameterising them are only the first steps. To check whether we are meeting them, we need to look for indicators that are accessible and measurable.
The optimal solution is to choose indicators that are easy to feed – we can extract data for them from system stats, such as demographic and behavioural data.
Sometimes data will be available but will need to be processed or completed (e.g. feedback or abandoned paths when analysing Accessibility). However, in some areas, data will need to be collected (user feedback – in the Approach and Connection areas).
Another important aspect is the stability of the data sources for the metrics. Data should be collected and analysed at specific intervals, according to the same criteria and definitions if possible. This will allow legitimate comparisons to be made and trends to be spotted. Frequent changes in tools, questions, reconfiguration of data collection points – will make it difficult for us to obtain reliable conclusions.
A dangerous temptation will be to pay attention only to measures that confirm success or only show problems.
Finally, the impact on metrics of factors outside our control or area of operation should not be overlooked. Negative reactions on an intranet may be due to the content of the information published or to the instability of the digital environment as a whole. An influx or outflow of users can be a reaction to wider phenomena. During the pandemic, we saw an influx of employees into Digital Workplace solutions, customers into e-commerce, e-BOKs (electronic customer service desks), and booking systems. Now, at least in e-commerce, we are seeing the opposite trend. Therefore, it is important to flag events and phenomena that may have an impact on the indicators we monitor.
Periodic reviews of metrics help to properly manage implementation and maintenance. They also provide an answer as to whether we are heading in the right direction and whether we have already achieved any of the goals we set.
If we want to compare our intranet with others – how do we do this? What should we pay attention to?
We cannot avoid comparisons with others. And probably – we should not try. As I have already mentioned, the experiences (and mistakes) of other companies can teach us a lot. So which intranet benchmarks to look at? And what for?
The Norman Nielsen Group (NNG) has been organising a competition for the best intranets since 2001. It does a review of the intranets submitted and highlights 10 of them. So far, three Polish intranets have been awarded: in 2015, the Tauron Group’s intranet (Tauronet), which EDISONDA had the pleasure to design based on its research and support the implementation, was awarded.
In 2018, the intranet of PKP Energetyka received an award, and in 2020, the intranet of Bank Spółdzielczy in Wschowie.
Why is it worth reading? The annual NNG competition report presents trends in the design of this type of solution, without overlooking the purpose for which the intranet was created.
Other benchmarks offered by research, design, and implementation companies are often based on surveys or other research methods completed by interested companies.
The questions in such surveys are more or less standardised. Depending on the benchmark, the survey is completed either by the teams responsible for implementing or maintaining the intranet or by its users (employees). Usually, surveys include both factual and opinion questions. There is a benefit in being able to benchmark against other companies, but we usually do not have insight into the objectives their implementations were intended to serve. The data was collected over several years or even several decades. This means that it is likely that the evaluation criteria and questions have changed over time. In addition, some of the data in the benchmarks may already be very far away from current standards and trends.
If you want to take the time (and money) to complete a survey and get an idea of how your intranet compares to others – start by carefully reading the survey methodology. Judge for yourself whether such a comparison will be of value to you.