Telling someone to use the company intranet is usually like telling them to “go to hell.” In most companies the operative business model seems to be to build the legendary library at Alexandria
Ironically the worst intranets are often in software companies where the shoemaker’s son syndrome is at play. But the problem of internal communications is a by-product of trying to create a comprehensive archive of stuff without a communications strategy in the face of many departments eager, and often incented, to publish to the site. The result is usually a mish-mash of hard-to-find stuff which ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime thrown together without the benefit of skilled information architecture or interface design. Every one clains that whatever you need is "in there" and no one ever wants to use it.
This too is partly the fault of software companies who madly tout and sell portals as a tool for cutting costs, reducing cycle times and empowering employees by forcing them into self-service. The software guys hint that all the big issues have been pre-thought, pre-digested and will be solved by buying their code. The reality is usually the opposite.
To get an employee portal right and get it used requires three basic steps:
1. Determine the Primary Mission
What should this portal do? Everything is NOT an acceptable answer. Do you want employees to make transactions like selecting or adjusting their benefits, sick days and vacation requests or filing expense reports? Do you want it to be a beacon for your mission statement, your vision and your corporate blab? Is it a communications channel for reaching and interacting with employees? Is it a workbook for setting MBOs, doing performance evaluations and hiring or firing? Is it a workgroup collaboration tool? Is it a delivery mechanism for added employee services and benefits? Is it a document storage system or knowledge-sharing device?
You can’t build it right if you don’t know what it should do. And even if you aspire to a multi-functional portal, you can never afford the time or money to invest in state of the art features for each element. So you must choose what it should do first and best and then rank order by priority the other functions that get built in.
2. Don’t Leave it Solely to HR
Too many bad intranets are run by HR departments alone. They rarely get the IT, marketing or communications part right because they are all about processing paperwork and keeping records. In fact the modern HR department is mostly about automating employee interactions not necessarily encouraging them.
You have to create a cross functional team and bring all the relevant disciplines to bear. And you have to start out by thinking of your employees with the same care and concern that you think about your customers. From the beginning you have to assume that personalization, preference setting and straight forward presentation are mandatory. Intranets that are the oracle for corporate big brother and those that are relentlessly rah-rah generally fail.
Also you need to decide up front on the definition of success. Is it usage? Is it the number of transactions? It is manager compliance with instructions? Is it time and money saved? Understanding that metrics motivate most corporate behavior means that what you measure is what will get done. So laying out what you want to happen will directly influence what gets built and what gets used.
3. Think in Web 2.0 Terms
The best websites and the best portals have abandoned the page-serving paradigm. Web 2.0 is about anticipating information needs and usage patterns and staging information so that it comes to the user rather than forcing the user to find whatever he/she is looking for. This requirement ratchets up the technology needs and the necessary advance thinking about information design, site architecture and interface construction. But ultimately it’s well worth it since without it your realistic chance of stimulating widespread use and any ind of ROI is severely diminished.