Intranet Objectives

Until 10 or 20 years ago, intranets were created either as a result of an experiment (for example in IT), or because there was a need to improve communication within a corporation. In the meantime, intranet capabilities have increased tremendously and stakeholders’ requirements diversified. What objectives are there for an intranet?

A modern intranet is not a single tool  there for just one reason and used only by a small number of employees. A modern intranet is an infrastructure for the entire corporation.

Accordingly, a colourful picture of objectives presents itself when looking at corporations. Joachim Lindner lists the following examples in his German article:

  • Information
  • Employee involvement
  • Optimized search functions
  • Support for employees in daily tasks
  • Faster induction of employees
  • Self service
  • Serving as an archive
  • Influencing company culture
  • Support during decision-making
  • Employee networking
  • External information

These objectives are already very precisely formulated (such as having self service functionality). In 2010, Frank Wolf (who worked at T-Systems MMS at the time, but is now CMO at Eyo) formulated the three most important objectives of Intranet 2.0 and how they can be measured (read his article in German here). Even though five years have passed since then, I believe they are still correct. The three objectives are rather general:

Objective 1: Effective distribution of information
Objective 2: Support for operational tasks
Objective 3: Virtual emotional home

I believe they are especially accurate because of their general nature. For me they are the ‘meta objectives’ of an intranet, from which more precise objectives can be derived and determined in their respective company contexts (as Frank also describes in his article).

To adapt these objectives to current developments and intranets, I reformulated them a little:

1. Distribution and exchange of information

The first intranets mainly served as top to bottom information waterfalls. Corporations (or rather, mostly corporate communication) or organizational units cascaded information to their employees ‘from top to bottom’ (also read ‘From Intranet 1.0 to the modern intranet‘). Later, other information was added that was also important or maybe ‘just’ interesting to employees from other organizational units.

At the time, Frank’s viewpoint echoed the dominant usage. Today, official information is still generated from corporate communications, but various other information is created and distributed by employees without editorial barriers. Besides, employees more often actively look for information published by co-workers (‘pull-mechanism’).  Employees decide to subscribe to specific content (or content by specific people) that is relevant to their work and interests.

Additionally, information is often exchanged in a dialogues, not just in the form of a comment, but in the form of a discussion in communities or chats.

Under this meta-objective, I then also see the following objectives named in the intranet study by Add-All AG in 2015:

  • Improve information transparency
  • Promote exchange and interaction

(Follow this link to read the German article on the 2015 intranet study: What are this year’s intranet objectives?)

2. Support for (collaborative) work

Frank Wolf called it ‘support for operational work’. This definition could also mean ‘support for processes’, but it’s not just about operational work. It’s about documents that are processed by one or multiple people and about organizing meetings.

It is a lot of work to create a strategy. Management of ideas is a lot of work. Projects are a lot of work. Communication with co-workers (or even with external people) also plays a big role in these tasks. Intranets with a browser and ‘apps’ are increasingly replacing the classic desktop and consequently becoming the daily work environment. Storage in directories on some servers is either integrated (so that documents automatically show in apps and in the browser for example) or is removed altogether. So the intranet’s objective is to offer a comprehensive digital work environment for all employees (including the management!)

Under this meta objective, the following objectives from the intranet study by Add-All are suitable:

  • Optimize collaboration
  • Promote exchange and interaction
  • Optimize workflows

3. Corporate identity and cultural foundation

Organizations have gradually realized that ‘the intranet’ has become an integral part of corporations and consequently a part of their corporate identity.

There are two ways an intranet develops a corporate identity. It is possible to communicate via the intranet in order to contribute to the formation of the corporate image.

The goal of good communication between employees is for all employees to envisage the same corporate image and to carry it to the outside. Whether people are addressed in a formal or informal manner can be the deciding factor when it comes to an appealing, valuable system. The manner of communication in departments, teams or hierarchically, and how these groups differentiate themselves, can significantly shape the success of a corporation.

(Read a German article on ‘The objective of corporate communication’)

But the manner in which employees use the intranet also contributes to shaping corporate identity and culture.

Frank Wolf speaks of a ‘virtual, emotional home’,

to build and maintain a feeling of togetherness and identification with the corporation.

Add-All AG’s survey results note that ‘motivating employees’ is one of an intranet’s objectives.

Altogether, corporations and those responsible for the intranet shouldn’t be under any illusions. The control of corporate identity and culture is never officially acknowledged. Attempts to influence corporate culture with instructions and tight control won’t be successful. To achieve considerable influence, those responsible for an intranet and the managers have to participate in the ‘life’ of the corporation and thus in that of the intranet. Otherwise, components categorized below level 1 in Edgar H. Schein‘s model of organizational culture remain untouched.

Is there any room for Return on Investment (ROI)?

When it’s about a new intranet, one of the first questions asked is about profitability. I warn against using financial ‘profitability’ of intranets as a decisive criterion and especially against relying on ROI. ROI stems from capital revenue and recognizes only the capital invested. This means that other inputs are ignored and also that (the above mentioned) objectives cannot be measured by it.

More suitable are Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), but even with these you should exercise caution. For example, how can corporate culture be measured? Maybe with a fluctuation rate? But how can a correlation with the intranet be established and how can other reasons be excluded? Especially when an ‘indicator’ as a definitive figure is only an indicator, a clue. And that only in the course of time.

Quantitative key numbers (at least without clarification) are not very meaningful. Over time, qualitative ‘measurements’, for example with storytelling, offer better options to understand and present improvements achieved due to an intranet. At least in corporations, a rather critical attitude developed in view of monetary objectives. Consequently, a mere ten percent state ‘cost optimization’ as an objective of their intranet in a survey done by intranet advisers.

Thomas Renken also expresses his concerns in a German article on the Namics weblog:

Mathematics models are gladly called on to find valid arguments for budgeting for a new intranet and to convince the management of it. This is good, but one should not stop there, because many aspects and reasons that speak for implementing an intranet cannot be justified with simple cost savings. KPI results often are especially inaccurate when it comes to the topics of ‘social’ & ‘collaboration’, and the management often becomes quickly aware of this.

Frank Wolf mentioned various measurement criteria in his article. As an analyst and from experience, I know how clear it is to interpret figures that seem definite at first glance, such as ‘numbers of active group and project rooms’. But they can also serve as indicators for change, as assessment of and impetus for further analysis. I believe they should be used with this reservation in mind.

Conclusion

With these described meta-objectives, specific objectives can be determined for any corporation and be realized with an intranet.

This means that the objectives named by Joachim Lindner get assigned to the following meta-objectives:

Distribution and exchange of information

  • Information
  • Distribution and exchange of information
  • Accelerating induction of new employees
  • Archive
  • Supporting decision-making
  • Employee networking
  • External information

Support at work

  • Optimizing search functions
  • Supporting employees in day-to-day tasks
  • Self service functionality
  • Employee networking

Foundation for corporate identity and culture

  • Employee participation
  • Influencing corporate culture
  • Employee networking

Get to work on these corporate objectives and then research and identify how you can support them with individual meta-objectives. Then step into the individual organizational units and ask employees and leaders where they are struggling with problems. By doing so you learn quickly about individual application scenarios and how you can best assist colleagues.

This article is translated from the German article written by Frank Hamm.Frank Hamm

Frank Hamm is a consultant for communication and collaboration who supports companies in their digital transformation. He has written for INJELEA-Blog about social business, intranets, enterprise 2.0 and company communication practices since 2005. Frank is an avowed nexialist and writes about this at Der Schreibende. If you are interested in other articles Frank has written for us, check out our intranet special.

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