Digital Workplace Leaders “Organizations can oftentimes leverage the same skills and knowhow used for their customers to service their internal customer: employees.”— Andrew Bishop

Ever since he designed and deployed his first customer intranet in the mid-'90s, Andrew Bishop has been delighted by the technology’s transformative effect.

“And I have seen this time and again over the ensuing years,” he said. “I also learned that having a successful intranet doesn’t just happen — that there are a number of important facets that made the difference between a great intranet and a ‘Frankensite.’”

Bishop is currently vice president of business development at digital experience platform vendor Unily. He joined Unily in 2017 after a long career as an intranet consultant where he “was able to help many customers navigate the intranet journey, from planning, to design, training, governance and adoption.”

The Shift from Bespoke to Turnkey Intranets

Over the years, Bishop has seen the role of an intranet consultant change as the market has shifted from bespoke, build-your-own intranets to more out-of-the-box, turnkey “cloud-based, ready-made” intranets.

“There was a time — perhaps five to six years ago — when the turnkey market was suffering from maturity issues. The products were lacking in features and were too hard to customize,” Bishop recalls. “As you’d expect, this has changed rapidly and now the leading products are in every way enterprise-ready.” It was that shift that caused him to join Unily and become “very much an evangelist for the turnkey, subscription approach” to intranets.

Bishop’s interest in intranets dates back to 1993 when he watched a web page “slowly” appear on a computer monitor in his home in Australia. “A short time later I started work at an Internet dialup company, then joined a web startup, as their intranet consultant,” he said. “I’ve been working in the intranet space ever since!”

Unily is a sponsor of CMSWire and Digital Workplace Group’s Digital Workplace Experience taking place June 17 to 19 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. Bishop’s colleague, Paul Seda, senior technical consultant at Unily, will be giving a workshop at the conference titled, “Strategic Framework Lab for Designing and Launching Your Platform,” on June 17.

We spoke with Bishop to hear his perspective on how the intranet market has changed; which new trends to look out for; and his best-practices advice on how organizations can reimagine employee experience and engagement.

‘The Disks Still Go Round’ — As Major Changes Occur, the Fundamentals Remain

CMSWire: How have you see collaboration and communication technologies evolve over the years? What’s changed and has anything stayed the same?

Bishop: Back in the late '90s, a former manager of mine liked to say, in regard to the apparent forward march of technology, that “the disks still go round.” I always liked that idea, that while major changes may be occurring, the fundamentals don’t change.

[Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we all know that the disks did NOT continue to go round, thanks to the solid state evolution — but let’s not allow the truth to interfere with a good story!]

I have seen this concept in the field of intranets, where I have been involved now for over 20 years. Changes have occurred, such as new platforms, new labels, even new features, but the central function of an intranet — as the browser-accessed hub for the sharing and discovery of an organization’s information and tools — has, for the most part, remained unchanged.

The key content types have also been surprisingly consistent over the years: policies, procedures, forms and templates (usually Office documents or PDFs), departmental ‘front door’ subsites (pages), blogs (more pages), media stores, and bookmarks.

Still, much HAS changed over the past 20 years. Navigation has bobbed about from being org-chart based, topic-based, task-based, and even just ‘Google-like.’ The social tools evolution shifted intranets from top-down hierarchies to horizontal ‘wirearchies.’ Smart phone ubiquity, along with the cloud, shifted the intranet reach outside the office and the 9-to-5 workday.

The arrival of the first version of SharePoint in 2001 augured an industry sea-change, as the HTML-based intranets of the '90s were replaced with platforms, from IBM, HP and ColdFusion. SharePoint eventually won that battle, dominating the on-premises intranet market. Then, along came Office 365 and a host of other cloud-based collaboration tools, and the digital workplace evolution has been in overdrive ever since.

CMSWire: What current and developing trends are you seeing in the intranet and digital workplace arena?

Bishop: The biggest trend in the intranet space at this time is the shift to the mainstream of turnkey intranets, as the big build projects of the past get replaced with cloud-based, ready-made intranets, offering out-of-the-box (or almost OOTB) functionality, rapid deployments and lower risk, for a monthly subscription.

As someone who made a living for many years building bespoke intranets, (usually on SharePoint), the shift to turnkey solutions has been as sudden as it is logical.

As far as other trends in the market go:

  • Look for more sophistication in search and recommendations technology, where the AI engines are solving the problem of ‘don’t know what we don’t know.’
  • You’re going to see the traditional employee-centric intranet being extended to include other key stakeholder groups like suppliers, partners, customers, and alumni.
  • Along a similar vein, intranets — traditionally, portals for corporate information workers — will extend to encompass all employees, including the hourly workers.

CMSWire: Which best practices and lesson learned should organizations apply from customer experience and engagement to employee experience and engagement? Why should companies leverage digital workplace partners?

Bishop: Creating an intranet can seem deceptively simple. But a great intranet takes a lot of planning and activity, covering topics like rollout sequencing, content preparation, navigation, communications, change management, training, information architecture, governance and adoption.

Organizations can oftentimes leverage the same skills and know-how used for their customers to service their internal customer: employees. For example, a user-centered design approach puts the employee at the center of the process, using personas, surveys, interviews, etc. to ensure that the intranet is fulfilling real and valuable needs.

Analytic tools provide the means to refine the message and hone the content. Gamification techniques can be used to encourage users to complete profiles, interact, and engage.

The other thing is you can’t beat hard-won experience and, if you don’t already have it — i.e., if your internal team is new to intranets — then it makes sense to leverage the experience and ‘battle scars’ of a partner.

In the case of turnkey solutions, the experience you want to look for is the vendor — and your client success manager (CSM) — having successfully implemented the platform and having followed up with excellent adoption afterwards.

CMSWire: Where do you see organizations struggle in enabling employees to collaborate effectively with each other? How can firms encourage employees with less than optimal prior experiences to re-engage with intranet tools?

Bishop: Organizations are spoilt for choice when it comes to collaboration tools. The downside of this proliferation of tools is that employees are often faced with a myriad of tools, many of which have overlapping functionality, which can be very confusing.

At Unily, we advise our clients to clearly differentiate between 1) personal productivity — e.g., using Outlook, OneDrive; 2) working in groups — e.g., using Teams, SharePoint sites, Slack, Jive, etc.; and 3) your enterprise intranet, which is the central hub for sharing and discovering corporate knowledge.

Figuring this differentiation out will lead to a clearly defined tool strategy — what tools to use and when — as well as a content strategy — ‘a place for everything and everything in its place.’ Once you have those strategies in place, you can use communications and training to get the users onboard.

CMSWire: What advice do you have for organizations on how to measure positive employee experience and digital workplace success? What are some of the key metrics companies should be using to track employee engagement?

Bishop: When our CSMs meet with their customers for their monthly review, a key topic is gauging the success of the intranet and the primary tool for this is analytics.

In the first instance, we look at key metrics, that indicate the overall adoption — number of active users —- and engagement — e.g., page dwell times.

We provide a LOT of data that can be used to drill into the reasons behind the overall shifts, like mobile vs desktop usage, preferred browsers, popular documents, common search terms, etc. 

CMSWire: Which sport or sports do you enjoy participating in and why? Do you see any parallels between the communities that come together around sports training and events and the formation of digital workplace communities?

Bishop: I rediscovered hiking several years ago. In the early days, hiking was a solo escape, days in the wilderness providing a cathartic break from modern life. At some point, I decided I wanted some company in these adventures.

The social platform Meetup was a great help at this stage, letting me instantly find and connect with hiking groups in my area. It was fantastic to meet so many like-minded people, many of whom are now close friends. Facebook too, played a part, providing a channel for ongoing connections with the people I met on Meetup.

Tools like Meetup and Facebook service one of the great human needs: To connect with other people. And this need is as equally applicable in our working lives as it is in our personal lives.

The modern work-a-day world is fast paced … and getting faster. Change is constant and rapid. Organizations, more than ever, need agility to move with the changes, but they can be hampered by hierarchical, siloed structures.

Social tools, like Yammer, help us to make connections outside of work groups. These are connections that can lead to insights and serendipitous gains. And, communities of practice provide opportunities to work with people with common interests and to double-down on gnarly problems.

Learn more about the Digital Workplace Experience.