Social Business, Today's Intranet Has 5 Key PurposesIs the intranet dead or evolving into a new form? Posts to CMSWire over the last year have argued both cases and many options in between. Debates about if social, collaboration and business intelligence are legitimate parts of an intranet have divided the intranet community.

When it comes to this space, it doesn’t much matter whether you call it a digital workplace, an intranet, a portal or something else entirely. The real-world intranet has a wonderfully broad scope, and organizations must look at the whole picture to create a business tool that is an essential part of day-to-day work.

The five essential purposes of an intranet:

  • Deliver content
  • Be a key communication tool
  • Enable collaboration
  • Support the culture
  • Create efficiencies through supporting business activities

This article features examples from the winners of this year’s Intranet Innovation Awards, organized by Step Two Designs. These global awards celebrate the most innovative intranets from around the world.

Let's see what some of the winners did to deliver on essential requirements. 

Content: The Intranet as Information Repository

Intranets traditionally started at this point, with someone, somewhere, saying "hey, let’s have an intranet" and everyone piling content into it. With no dedicated resource to manage content, this organic growth easily got out of hand and quickly filled the intranet  with out of date, poorly written, unfindable or untrustworthy content.

While often left out of redesign projects in the past, organizations now identify writing and delivering accurate, up-to-date, trusted and secure information an essential part of redesign projects. This content supports decision-making, business planning and processes, and helps staff find the answers to their questions or perform tasks.

Intranet teams with great quality content are putting in the time and resources to help intranet authors write quality content while being rewarded with great quality content and an engaged authoring community.

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At PwC, intranet content aligns closely with the user experience of PwC’s external website. Across both environments there is a common use of webparts to display content in an interactive way, as well as use of consistent and simple language to make finding information easy. Screenshot courtesy of PwC.

Future of content:

  • Consistent writing style in a decentralized authoring model
  • Supporting user needs rather than author wants
  • Easily read and understood, enabling users to get the trusted answers they need quickly and easily

Communication: The Intranet as Communication Channel

Managing email continues to be an issue in many organizations with staff feeling overwhelmed not only by the amount of information being pushed to them but also by the amount of information that is not relevant. When email is the primary communication channel, there is little weighting of importance of information, which means an important email from the CEO carries the same level of importance as a morning tea notification in a single office location.

More organizations are recognizing the importance of delivering key messages targeted to staff who aren't traditionally in front of a computer all day.

This year’s awards saw mobile news and communication being delivered at Virgin America with their chatter platform, at Barclays bank with key messages to frontline staff in branches and at Coca-Cola Enterprises, providing quick access to the news and HR tools their staff needed.

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Three local news stories and three global news stories are presented, specially selected via the SharePoint content management system. The ‘send-to-mobile’ solution in the back end means content can be specifically targeted for smartphones and tailored for mobile employees. Screenshot courtesy of Coca-Cola Enterprises.

Future of communication:

  • The key online platform for communication to and between staff
  • A conversation rather than a one-way channel
  • Available to staff when they need it on their chosen medium (e.g. mobile on the bus on the way to work, in the coffee line)
  • Weights information depending on importance
  • Delivers key messages to frontline staff
  • Disseminates real time and crisis communication

Collaboration: The Intranet Helps Staff Work Together

Collaboration tools are changing the way we work. Team-based collaboration allows projects and other small groups to share information, activities and documents.

Wider discussion groups and collaboration spaces provide opportunities for ideas to be shared and debated.

Social tools allow staff to connect, reinforcing existing networks. The challenge in this space is to avoid the fragmentation and confusion which occurs when valuable insights are lost among thousands of separate spaces. Essential intranets help to bring everything together, playing an even more important role as the starting point for all staff.

Calgary Board of Education (CBE) created a learning environment for teachers and students based on a philosophy of personalized learning. Students can create their own personal learning plans, adding details of goals and other learning-related content. Teachers can view learning plans and access the profiles of the students they teach as well as being able to create workspaces for lesson planning, share resources with other teachers and access curated learning resources from CBE.

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The learner profile of each CBE student is a communally created environment where educators can write and categorize information about a student’s learning. Teachers can see what kinds of experiences other educators have had with a student, reducing the amount of time a teacher needs to get to know a learner. This has increased the quality of interactions between students and teachers.

Future of collaboration:

  • Supports and enables existing collaboration in an organization
  • Matches the way staff wants to collaborate
  • Supports the move to a more virtual way of working

Culture: The Intranet Supports the Organizational Culture

Intranets hold up mirrors to the organizations they serve. This means that intranets can help to communicate and reinforce the current culture. At a basic level, this recognizes that staff have emotional responses to their intranets. An ugly intranet says "we don’t care," while a professional and modern site builds confidence and shows consideration for staff.

Intranets can also support culture change initiatives, particularly during periods of great organizational upheaval. Through both actions and words, intranets supplement management-driven changes.

A great example of an intranet team that is fully in tune with the company culture is Virtuos, a Chinese-based gaming company. They designed using social features that appeal to their younger workforce. uses gamification techniques to encourage both formal training and knowledge contributions. With a game-loving and youthful workforce, this has significantly increased the uptake of formal training within the firm.

Before the new intranet was launched, users complained frequently that there was no visibility on how to advance in the company. The screenshot above shows training paths and relevant certificates needed for a Software Programmer. Since this is constantly being developed, created this area as a wiki, with links to the calendar for booking training, to materials and to the certificate pages. Screenshot courtesy of Virtuos.


Another great example of aligning an already strong brand with its intranet is Virgin America’s intranet VX Connect. With a striking design, the intranet closely aligns to the public-facing site. With the majority of employees being mobile, VXConnect has been available on mobile since it was launched. Screenshot courtesy of Virgin America

Activity: The Intranet as Place for Doing Things, Not Just Reading Things

One of the key themes from this year’s Intranet Innovation Awards is that intranets are now core business systems. To be truly successful, leading intranets need to position themselves as core business tools automating key tasks and processes, and supporting the simplification and automation of internal processes and work practices.

Intranets should offer simple interfaces for core business systems and common tasks. By streamlining business processes and simplifying access, intranets can deliver huge benefits. Delivering this type of functionality is the most direct and powerful way to demonstrate ROI.

Hansen Yuncken’s intranet HYway is an outstanding example of an intranet as a core business system. It combines electronic forms, project methodologies, documents, data, workflow and reporting options, covering end-to-end processes from the management of opportunities to site inspections.

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Forms are an effective way to support the information gathering, knowledge transfer and approvals process at Hansen Yuncken. The example above is a form relating to opportunity registration, just one of a number of forms within the business development roadmap. Screenshot courtesy of Hansen Yuncken.

Future of activity:

  • Supporting the way staff work, speeding and simplifying administrative tasks to leave more time for the interesting work
  • Integrating with core business systems, and
  • Delivering highly integrated environments which interface with important systems using workflow

Regardless of what name you give to your intranet, to become a core business tool it must automate key tasks and processes. These highly integrated environments will interface with important systems, contain workflow and deliver critical functionality relating to the organization’s business operations while delivering great content and a collaborative environment that encourages two-way communication.

Sounds like a great intranet to me.

Title image courtesy of Stocksnapper (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more of Rebecca's thoughts on intranets see her Collaboration and Communications on the Intranet