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Intranets Still Play an Important Role in the Digital Workplace

July 26, 2022 Digital Workplace
Siobhan Fagan
By Siobhan Fagan

With the proliferation of communication tools across organizations, it would be a reasonable assumption to think intranets are a dying technology. Yet, the emergence of hybrid workplaces requiring workers to move between physical and remote work sites has made the role of intranets all but obsolete.

Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g) has been picking the 10 best intranets of the year since 2001, and this year’s Intranet Design Annual shows that far from giving up on the intranet, many enterprises have adapted it to manage the new work models that are now part of the digital workplace.

In fact, in one of the introductory posts to this year’s research, NN/g noted that one of the notable features of this year’s selection was the ability for teams that were “relatively small” for the size of the companies they were working in to produce “excellent designs” quickly.

While speed in execution is always a welcome bonus in developing online properties, agility and adaptability are fundamental to running a good intranet today. All of the top 10 companies rounding out the top 10 of 2022 demonstrated these qualities:

  1. Banner Health (US), one of the largest nonprofit healthcare systems in the US.
  2. BNY Mellon (US), a global investments company.
  3. DBS Bank (Singapore), a leading financial services group.
  4. The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. (US), one of the world's leading manufacturers and marketers of quality skin-care, makeup, fragrance and hair-care products.
  5. International Business Machines Corporation (IBM, US), a technology leader for over 100 years, currently focusing on AI and hybrid cloud technology.
  6. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual, US), a leading financial services company that provides financial solutions, guidance and education.
  7. Princeton University (US), a global research university with a distinctive commitment to undergraduate teaching.
  8. Publicis Sapient (US), a digital business-transformation company.
  9. Sorigué (Spain), a leading business group working in the fields of construction services, water, energy and materials.
  10. Webuild S.p.A. (Italy), a global company that specializes in complex, sustainable infrastructure construction, including projects for mobility, hydro energy, clean water and green buildings.

So, what makes a winning intranet, and what lessons can companies take away for theirs? 

The Importance of Agility

The winning intranets came from eight different industries, highlighting a cross-sector need for efficient communications and collaboration.

While this is an interesting highlight from the research, other details are also worth noting. Among them, the time these companies invested in building their intranets: 22.7 months on average, up from 17 months the year prior. According to NN/g, the longest it took one of them to build an intranet was 45 months — and the quickest turnaround was six months. 

Despite the reported increase in average time this year, NN/g's more than 21 years of historical data shows there is a significant downward trend in design-and-development times used to create winning intranets. Some of the factors contributing to the shorter design-and-development time include larger teams, more outside-agency help and the use of agile development processes.

More to the point is that the winning teams have been using an agile development methodology for nearly a decade. This year alone, nine of the 10 winning teams used an agile approach.

Intranets' Raison D'être

Thomas Randall, senior research analyst at the Toronto-based Info-Tech Research Group, said that while there are a lot more moving parts on intranets today, the tool's purpose is pretty much the same as it's ever been.  

“Intranet solutions provide a central hub for employees to keep up to date with the company, its initiatives and employee recognition/stories,” he said. “If one is scattered across various communication/collaboration tools, there is no opportunity to have a single reference point for important organizational news.”

But companies today have an array of much more "current" tools at their disposal. So, why continue using intranets?

The fact is, while intranets are a type of communication tool, they are also an employee engagement tool — unlike more modern communication tools aimed specifically at facilitating collaborative work.

And in the era of the Great Resignation and hybrid and remote work environments, employee engagement has become critical for building employer/employee relations. Intranets assist in solving that problem.

Related Article: What Purpose Does Your Intranet Serve?

An Interconnected Hub

Palo Alto-Calif.-based Glean CEO Arvind Jain said the original purpose of intranets was to collect all company information in one place for employees to find easily. However, with the proliferation of SaaS apps, including the collaboration and communication tools we have all come to rely on, intranets somehow dropped out of the limelight. 

In the modern enterprise, the web of apps, documents, messages, microsites, people and teams make up the “broader intranet.” This is the reality most employees live and breathe on a daily basis: shifting from one tool to the next depending on the team and task at hand.

“What they need is a single place where they can easily search, find and discover personally relevant information from the broader intranet,” Jain said. “The modern intranet is not so much a single place, as a layer of connective tissue over everything else.”

Related Article: Applying the Why, How and What Model to Your Intranet

Harnessing Collective Knowledge

The role of the intranet plays an important role in the hybrid workplace, where sharing information and ideas may prove more challenging.

When knowledge is shared verbally or in Slack or Teams chats, for instance, it can easily get lost amid the high volume of online conversations or with the departure of the gatekeeper, creating delays, bottlenecks and a significant drain on a company's resources.

Employees as a group possess a great deal of information about the company, its clients, processes and approaches, but harnessing that collective knowledge is difficult without the right tool. That's where intranets come in.

Related Article: Why Asking Employees What They Want From an Intranet Might Not Be the Best Idea

Added Security

Another benefit of using intranets is the added layer of security. The information shared on an intranet remains within the confines of the organization, unlike the many other apps and tools that may let employees connect directly with other organizations outside the firewall. 

Volodymyr Shchegel, VP of engineering at Dubai-based cybersecurity company Clario, said the hybrid work environment is a prime example of how a company intranet can be an efficient and secure way to exchange information.

Instead of relying on all employees to have a secure network of their own when working outside of the office, intranet technology is inherently secure as it is its own contained network.

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