A buyer’s handbook to choosing the right intranet software

Tue, Nov 3, '20 •

Topics: Intranet Featured

A buyer’s handbook to choosing the right intranet software

 5 steps to a new intranet 

First things first: What is an Intranet? Simply put, an intranet is software that stores and shares information, and should act as a collaboration tool within an organization. There are different types of intranet, with various features, but one for every company: from an intranet for a small business, to one for a multinational enterprise. 

In this handbook we’ll take you on a step by step journey to find the perfect intranet: an integrated platform that benefits the entire organization. You can download our handbook as a PDF and follow our 5 steps.

To buy an intranet is a process with steps you will find in this guide:

  • Why does your company need an intranet?
  • What are your business requirements? 
  • What intranet features do you need?
  • Assess potential intranet options. 
  • Make a final decision on the best intranet platform.
  • Bonus: Questions you can ask your potential intranet vendor.

Step 1: Why does your company need an intranet?

To find the perfect fit, you first need to pin-point your exact needs to identify what you want from your company intranet. Some of those might be: 

    • Increase collaboration
    • Improve productivity
    • Boost communication
    • Efficient information management
    • Build a strong corporate culture
    • Reduce emails and meetings
    • Avoid information silos

Increase collaboration

Collaboration is crucial in driving employee engagement and productivity. Maybe Karen and Joe are working on the exact same report without even knowing it. If you find there is a lack of working together and transparency, this could lead to stagnation and serious costs increase. But improving collaboration in the workplace is easier said than done. One of the easiest ways to promote a sense of community and to join forces is to create a central place where employees connect, stay informed, share, and collaborate. Like an intranet. Bam. 

Improve productivity

There’s no magic formula here, and even the best of intranets won’t wave a wand and suddenly make everyone ultra productive. But to improve your chances, a well-organized intranet can reduce useless and time-consuming communications, save time searching for information, and create a strong community. All these aspects make for an amazing motivator.

Boost communication

Employees should be heard by leadership and have ample opportunity to voice their opinions. 

Naturally miscommunication will always happen, but often it’s avoidable and unnecessary. It too can be very costly to any organization. Avoiding information overload is a good first step – intranets help. They enable you to target who gets what information and make sure your communications are relevant. 

Efficient information management

Every resource your company has, from onboarding materials, to organizational charts, all the way to office kitchen snack requests. Every bit counts, and making it easy to create and accessible is key. No more playing “Where's Waldo” when you want to find that spreadsheet with KPIs that Tom worked on four years ago. You want a system to not just store all your files, you want the whole package: a magical place to keep your data, to make it easily accessible, and one that allows sharing and collaboration. The sharing function should include the option of either making it accessible to the entire organization, or only to specific members. 

Searchability is also key. This enables a fast, scalable and accurate search experience. Having storage won’t be much use if you can’t find what’s stored. 

Don’t forget automated backups. You never need to worry about your data being lost when your system automatically backs up.

Build a strong corporate culture

In this day and age of remote work, maintaining a strong culture has to be done virtually. The best way to promote culture is with engagement. And the best way to encourage engagement? You guessed it, a user-friendly platform promoting content creation, visibility and participation. 

Such a platform is also a great resource for Human Resources. Any intranet can benefit all departments and also be an “HR intranet” by improving employee engagement and retention, in turn helping with your HR KPIs. 

Reduce emails and meetings

Everyone can relate to an overflowing inbox. Receiving hurdles of emails leads to information being lost, reduced visibility and just plain anxiety. Same goes for an overload of meetings. 

Intranets with social features, or an article feature, make discussions and information flow. You’ll be able to avoid the dreaded reply-all email and have productive conversations away from stuffed inboxes.

Avoid information silos

Information silos. That’s a fun term, isn’t it? Basically it’s vertical communication. It’s what happens when communication can only go in one direction, acting as a management system incapable of communicating with other information management systems. If that still sounds confusing, think of a literal silo used to store grains. The grains only go in one way, and are not easy to access. Unless you're really into top-down communications and reticent to any other types, you want to share your grains. All employees should understand what grains you have, how to use them, and how to access them. Sharing is caring, and goes in both directions.

Step 2: What are your business requirements?

Now the fun part: let’s define your intranet business requirements. Prioritizing your requirements will help find a good intranet fit.

    • User experience
    • Strong branding and personalization
    • Integration to third party apps
    • Intranet analytics to see results
    • Mobile intranet app
    • Reliable intranet security
    • Great customer service 
    • Intranet pricing


User experience

You want a user friendly interface. No one will use your intranet if no one loves your intranet. Posting a message shouldn’t take more than a click, reading the

news should feel like reading a blog, and finding information should be as easy as one-two-three. If it’s not, forget success, unless success means less than 10% of your business using your intranet on a daily basis. A well done User Interface also helps increase adoption rates. 

Tip: Ask your vendor how many User Experience and User Interface designers they employ. Then ask how much a percentage they make up of the total development team.

Strong branding and personalization

Your intranet will be your company’s home. It should be the first thing people see when they open their internet browser. Imagine how strong a role this intranet plays in making your (employer) brand visible. That’s exactly why an intranet should be adjustable to your brand. Branding goes further than just your logo – your house colors are important too. Companies that invest in branding their intranet have higher adoption rates than companies that don’t – that recognizability makes even your new intranet seem instantly familiar. Check for intranets that have add ons for branding. 

Integration to third party apps

What’s the main use of an intranet? Communication and collaboration. Whether it is to inform, engage or entertain, an intranet is a powerful communication ecosystem. So what if it can play a role in bridging the gaps that isolated digital tools usually form? What if your intranet is the umbrella under which all your organization’s most important digital tools hang? If your organization has a vast digital toolset, start thinking of how they can integrate with your intranet. What better way is there to increase adoption?

Third-party intranet integration is indispensable if you already heavily rely on certain digital work tools. Instead of adding yet another software, find an intranet that can integrate with what you already know and love. For example, integrations with Slack or Zoom.

If you’re already using either Google Workplace (formerly G suite) or Office 365, look for intranets that fully integrate with those. These integrations will make life easier.

Intranet analytics to see results

Whether or not analytics float your boat, there’s gold in numbers. An intranet that provides easy to read and accessible data will let you know how employees are communicating, what information they are searching and consuming, user adoption, who within the company can be considered an “influencer,” which departments are most active...basically quantifying all the many ways in which the platform can be used. You may not be able to directly see the benefits of watercooler chat, but an intranet analytics dashboard grants meaningful insight into your company’s levels of engagement.

Mobile intranet app

Mobile intranet access is key to the success of intranet software usage and adoption rates. 72% of employees access internal digital channels through business-owned mobile devices; 43% through personal mobile devices. If you know your teams to be especially phone savvy, you want to make sure your intranet offers an intranet app as well. 

Reliable intranet security

This is a big one. We all have our secrets. And you should do with those what you please, but when it comes to an organization’s confidential material, there’s no joking around, secure intranet access is a must. 

There are different types of security to be on the lookout for, for example SSL encryption, single-sign-on (SSO authentication), secure storage such as Google Cloud, security certificate such as ISO 27001 (an information management security standard), and GDPR compliance if your company is based in Europe, or has offices there. A really secure intranet software should have all of those.

Great customer service 

This should be a requirement for all. Customer service will ensure you get your money’s worth. Even with the most user friendly of intranets, implementation and usability won’t come naturally to everyone. Some friendly and knowledgeable agents can make a world of difference. Bonus points if you find a vendor that acts as a true partner and consultant, and not just a support hotline. 

Tip: find out what your vendor’s SLA is. An SLA is the commitment a company makes to answering any problems you might encounter, or complaints you may have. For example, an SLA could be 24hr, meaning you’re promised an answer within that time limit.

Intranet pricing

Now there is no magic number. Since intranets come in all shapes and sizes, the price range varies. You can start by figuring out a rough budget. This will depend on which requirements and demands you have, and how big your company is. An intranet used by two people won’t cost as much as one used by a few thousand employees, as intranets are often priced per user. Once you find suitable vendors, you can request a personalized quote.

Step 3: What intranet features do you need?

Now the really fun part: deciding which features are an absolute must and which are a bust. Different intranets come with a wide variety of features. Based both on what you are already using and what your employees are either lacking or want more of (you can find this out with a survey), you can make a list of features essential for your needs. 

The most common features of an intranet are:

    • Messaging tools
    • Search functionality
    • Social features
    • Activity stream and news feed
    • Document management 
    • File-Sharing
    • Organization chart
    • Employee directory 
    • Multi-language support 
    • Customized look and feel
    • Mobile app

Messaging tools

Communication is paramount. The basics include a good messaging function, similar to those you already know from using social media platforms. An intranet can have its own messaging tool, or offer an integration with apps such as Slack.

Search functionality

The best intranet-search engines are those which can search through content universally throughout the platform. Think of searching for keys in a house. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to search the whole house at once, rather than having to explore each individual room? 

Social features

Do you want to know which content your employees like the most? A simple “like button” will do the trick. The more social features an intranet offers, such as emoji reactions to posts, receiving notifications and the ability to comment the more people can interact and the more insight you’ll get on employee activity. 

Activity stream and news feed

One central place for all company news. This allows users a quick overview of all that’s happening and keeps them up to date. 

Document management 

A database to store all your information and materials. This can either be native to the intranet software, or can be offered as an integration. For example, an integration with Google Workplace if that’s where you already store all your documents. 

File Sharing

The option to share files with colleagues selectively. Choose to make it available either to all, or only to a select few. 

Organization chart

A well designed organization chart offers visibility and clarity. This is especially useful for newcomers and helps with onboarding. An efficient organization chart can show in a glance who works in what, how teams are constructed, and who to contact for department specific inquiries. 

Employee directory 

An employee directory to find people by name or roll. A more detailed directory can also include a photo, contact information, skills, hobbies and more.

Multi-language support 

If you work in multiple languages, a platform that supports each of your regions is essential. You can also check to see if customer support is available in different languages.

Customized look and feel

The option to customize your intranet. This can be a powerful tool to spread your culture and image. Have your intranet branded with your logo and chosen colors.

Mobile app

Some intranets will only offer a desktop version, while others will also have the option to download an intranet application for your smartphone.

Step 4: Assess potential intranet options. 

So...what is the best intranet software? It’s certainly a difficult question to answer, as many solutions offer different focuses and feature sets. You've now considered the features you want and your business requirements. Besides pricing and customer service there’s one main differentiator when considering vendors: choosing between a traditional or a social intranet.

Choose a traditional intranet (Intranet 1.0)

As the name might suggest, this is what people normally think of when they hear ‘intranet’. This is similar to an internal web page, where there are top-down communications commonly with company news, and some basic self-service web apps. Due to the static nature of these setups, there is a big focus on content quality to generate interest and engage people.

Choose a social intranet (Intranet 2.0)

So what happens when the Traditional Intranet and the Enterprise Social Network (ESN) get together? Well, that’s basically what the social intranet does. You have the benefit of both the social communication aspect, and the more static web pages which can be used together to create wikis, blogs, and forums, and encourage both top-down and bottom-up communication. Overall this gives employees access to information, and communication options, but there is normally not much of a focus on automation or working collaboration.

Once you’ve defined all the elements involved in finding the perfect intranet, examine how long it will approximately take to build, implement and launch for each intranet option. Make sure it’s in line with your organizational planning. Research and evaluate other solutions that have been implemented at companies similar to yours, and consult with professionals who are experienced with intranet design and implementation.

Step 5: Make a final decision on the best intranet platform.

You might still be wondering, what is the best intranet platform? Finding the perfect intranet software for your organization is a daunting task, but not an impossible one. Once you’ve identified what you want out of it, the features most important to you, and your business requirements, you’re free to fly. 

Although choosing and implementing an intranet isn’t permanent, you don’t want to waste precious time having to change providers down the line. Make sure you invest in the research now so your decision fits your criteria. 

Tip: Find a vendor that offers a demo, so you can test it out before committing. 

Bonus: Questions to ask your potential intranet vendor.

If you meet with intranet vendors, here’s a list of what you can ask them.

  • How long does it take to launch your intranet?

  • Do you offer discounts for commitment terms?
    Some providers will offer discounts if you commit to using their platform for X amount of time.

  • What are the most loved features from your customers?

  • Do you have any customers from the same industry as us?
    Depending what industry you’re in, your needs will be different. Seeing if the provider works with similar clients will be a good indicator as to whether or not you’re a match.

  • Do you have case studies or customer testimonials?

  • What is your user adoption rate?
    This number won’t be the same for every organization that uses this particular intranet, but the average should give you a good idea as to how likely your employees will be to use this intranet.
  • How will we be able to measure the impact the intranet has on our business? 

Some intranets provide detailed analytics offering insights on activity and usage. 

Author:

Emilie Lomas

Date:

Tue, Nov 3, '20

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