Most intranets are really bad.
They really are. The content is out of date, the interface is a labyrinth – want to access it using your phone? Don't even bother.
But, of course, this isn't the plan when the intranet is being conceived, and on launch there's a good chance that it 's actually quite a nice system. The problem really lies in how we treat our intranets after we've rolled them out, or rather, how we don't treat them.
The intranet life cycle tends to be thus:
It's a tried and tested method.
It doesn't work.
David Hillis does a good job of explaining why not.
“Many organisations, large and small, approach creating their web presence as if it’s a one-time project” he says. "[An organisation's] products or services may evolve, and they may adapt their product-based content to changes in their market—but they don’t touch the website. Like old bread, their website gets stale"
The same can be said about intranets.
Intranets sit at the heart of businesses processes and are therefore particularly vulnerable to changes in technology and culture. Take the popularity of mobile browsing as an example: people use their phone for everything in their personal lives, but how many can access their workplace tools from their mobile?
Your intranet needs constant attention to stay relevant. We recommend the following to our partners and customers:
Too often, rollout is seen as the end of the project: you scope it, you build it, you roll it out.
When technology and user habits are changing so fast, that's just not an efficient approach. By the time you've launched your design, the things that you've designed for will have already started shifting. A year after rollout, things will start to become dated. A bit like that game 'What's the time Mr Wolf?', if you turn your back on development, you'll find everything will have moved.
That's why continuous, iterative development is essential. Rollout isn't the time to cease development; it’s the time to begin.
Encourage feedback and act on it. Make users groups, grab people in corridors, do whatever it takes. Regularly check in with users, observe them using the system and interview them to ensure that your design works in the field.
If you’re familiar with lean or agile methodologies, this will be a familiar concept. When designing platforms like intranets, we are forced to make best guesses and assumptions. That’s fine, but we should seek to validate these assumptions as soon as possible. This relies on those feedback loops that are frequent and continuous.
And once you’ve found something that could be better, don’t be afraid to make changes.
Maybe you have an in-house team, maybe you run SaaS, this advice still applies. Whilst application might be more obvious with an in-house project, any good SaaS platform should listen to your feedback and constantly be improving the product with that in mind. An incremental, user-led approach means that your intranet will stay fit for purpose for longer.
The work is never finished – that’s why it's so exciting.
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