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Insights and articles related to knowledge management, information security, technology, data and analytics, business process automation, platform management, and other related topics, from our experienced team of consultants.

Building a Modern Intranet

A well-designed, modern intranet can be a key component of a successful knowledge management strategy. A modern intranet should make it easier for staff to do their jobs,
Abby Clobridge

Abby Clobridge

Abby Clobridge is the founder of FireOak Strategies. She works with clients around the world to enhance how organizations manage, secure, and share their knowledge. You can reach Abby at [email protected].

A modern intranet is a great way to address some common knowledge management challenges. If they’re well-designed and fit-for-purpose, an intranet can:

  • Serve as the system of record for critical organizational knowledge such as policies and procedures.
  • Accelerate new employees’ time to proficiency.
  • Foster a sense of community and connectedness across all departments, divisions, and locations.
  • Support staff members who work from home.
  • Facilitate internal communications and collaboration.
  • Promote self-sufficiency by making it easier for staff to search for, find, and act upon the information they’re looking for, without needing to ask colleagues for help.

But not all intranets are well-positioned to accomplish these goals.

Traditional intranets typically reflect the technologies and tools that were available a few decades ago. They look a lot like craigslist with tons of links, or they’re more reminiscent of the MySpace/GeoCities era in terms of look and feel. We’ve seen lots of traditional intranets that consist of document libraries and lists of links, using platforms that were hosted on-prem.

From a knowledge management perspective, with these types of traditional intranets, staff can’t find what they’re looking for, they don’t trust the information and knowledge they are able to find, the user experience is clunky, and maintaining the intranet is a chore.

Thankfully, technology and tools have come a long way. Intranets may still have a stigma attached to them as a concept, but a modern intranet can help your team to work smarter, better, and faster.

What are the characteristics of a modern intranet?

A modern intranet can be a pleasant experience for users and intranet admins alike, and – even more importantly – can make it easier for staff to work smarter, better, and faster. Well-designed modern intranets share the following features, capabilities, and characteristics:

  1. Useful, relevant, accurate, and curated content
  2. Personalization and contextualization
  3. Dynamic content
  4. Search
  5. Modern look and feel
  6. Mobile ready
  7. Easy to access
  8. Easy to maintain
  9. Security
  10. Governance

Keep reading for more details and ideas for ways to incorporate these characteristics into building a modern intranet.

1. Useful, Relevant, Accurate Content

Having accurate, updated, relevant content can make or break an intranet. Staff expect to be able to easily find what they’re looking for, and they expect to be able to trust the information that they find – which means that it needs to be current.

For example, if staff members look for information about upcoming holidays and find last year’s holiday schedule but not the equivalent information for this year, they’ll quickly assume that the intranet isn’t being properly maintained and will abandon it.

At a minimum, the intranet should be the system of record for:

  • Current organizational policies
  • Who’s who within the organization
  • Which department to contact and departmental contact information
  • Dates for upcoming holidays/office closures
  • Links to insurance providers, retirement plans, and other staff benefits
  • HR information regarding hiring, onboarding, and performance evaluations

A modern intranet will include the latest, authoritative, validated information covering these areas and much more.

In addition to having this information published through the intranet, it should also be curated in a meaningful way. By “curated,” we mean having a human collect and present this information in a useful way – for instance, pulling together lists of links to benefits, creating landing pages for various parts of the organization that present the most-needed information, writing and publishing frequently asked questions (FAQs) that actually reflect information that staff need to know. A modern intranet allows an organization to publish news and updates, share files, and pull together knowledge from disparate parts of the intranet in an easy way.

2. Personalization & Contextualization

A good modern intranet should include at least some elements of personalization and contextualization in order to make it as easy as possible for staff to find, discover, and access content that is relevant. At its most basic level, we mean the ability to display links and content that are accessible to some, but not all, staff.

Put into practice, this could mean links in the intranet’s navigation (or on a specific page) for:

  • Managers
  • Durham Staff
  • Chicago Staff
  • Remote Staff

For links such as these, only staff who meet the criteria of being a manager or remote would see the relevant links.

This type of personalized content should carry over to news posts as well – in some cases, it is useful to post news that only managers can see. For example, a news post reminding managers that their team members’ performance evaluations are due in 2 weeks should only be shared with managers.

Not all platforms can easily handle this type of personalization or contextualized content targeting. In terms of an intranet, it can be particularly helpful to tailor news, updates, and links to those who have access to those resources. It highlights the relevant content to those who need to know it, and it avoids cluttering up real estate on intranet pages or creating unnecessary noise for staff for whom this information isn’t relevant.

3. Dynamic Content

In addition to serving as the home for high-quality, curated, trusted, validated content, a modern intranet has the ability to generate dynamic content for users. Dynamic content and personalized content can be closely related, but they’re not exactly the same. By dynamic content, we’re referring to updates, notifications, recommendations, and other content that is created dynamically by the platform rather than by a human.

For example:

  • Updates to home pages/landing pages that surface new content published elsewhere on the intranet.
  • Widgets that update themselves – such as real-time weather or the current time at all of the organization’s offices.
  • Real time notifications for new messages.
  • Notifications when new content of interest has been published.
  • Alerts that personally selected content (i.e., bookmarked, favorited, starred, or flagged content) has been updated.
  • Recommendations for other content that might be of interest, based on the user’s activity, interests, or relationships with other users.

Many of these examples of dynamic content work hand-in-hand with personalized content and make for a more engaging experience for users by steering them towards content that is most relevant.

By including dynamic content in an intranet, intranets stay fresh and avoid the pitfall of becoming static repositories of information.

A good search experience is at the heart of any modern intranet. In a true modern intranet, search should be able to index and return results from the intranet itself (sites and pages), but also personal files, documents, and other content created by staff during the normal course of business and based on access/permissions.

Search plays a critical function by helping staff find exactly what they’re looking for within this mountain of information. Search needs to help by surfacing the most relevant content and making it as easy as possible for staff to find the right information.

A modern search experience includes features such as:

  • Keyword in context in search results – i.e., highlighting parts of search terms in results
  • Searching within documents
  • Prioritizing search results based on relevance
  • Displaying date of publication/last update date in search results
  • Advanced search operators

5. Modern Look and Feel

Most modern intranets have a clean, uncluttered look and feel. They use a consistent and minimal set of:

  • Logos and brand elements, for example, using a specific logo in the navigation for all intranet sites/pages.
  • Colors that align with the organization’s brand.
  • Fonts, often sticking to 1-2 fonts.
  • Elements on pages, so pages don’t get cluttered.
  • Layouts – pages typically look quite similar to each other, which makes it easier for staff to navigate and know what to expect, where to look for links.

Another consistent feature that impacts look and feel: the incorporation of metadata elements into pages, for instance, the page author and a publication date. Including these elements in page design helps make it clear to users that a page is current and is actively maintained.

6. Mobile Ready

A modern intranet should be mobile ready. All pages and sites should follow responsive design principles – in other words, they should be designed in such a way that they automatically scale and look good on devices of all shapes and sizes, including phones and tablets.

The platform used to house your intranet should automatically incorporate responsive design. If not, it’s likely time for a change.

7. Easy to Access

For staff, the intranet should be extremely easy to get to.

From work machines, a best practice is to make the intranet landing page the default home page for all managed browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge, etc.). If staff see the intranet whenever they first open a browser, it will encourage adoption.

In terms of mobile devices, all modern intranets have an app that is designed for super easy access. For example, if your organization is using Microsoft 365 and the intranet is built in SharePoint, staff can use the SharePoint app for 1-click access.

If your platform doesn’t have a mobile app that allows for easy access from a phone or tablet, it will limit the intranet’s utility and how often staff will access the intranet.

This issue isn’t specific to intranets but is applicable for any kind of member or client portal. It’s quite simple: if there isn’t an app, users won’t check the site anywhere near as often as they will if they have an app installed.

For example, we’ve seen some organizations that have built an intranet using Salesforce’s Experiences Cloud product (formerly Salesforce Community). But Salesforce doesn’t offer an out-of-the-box app for community members/portal users for this product without purchasing yet another product, their Mobile Publisher, which has additional fees associated with it. Instead, for most communities, users are given a lengthy explanation on how to create a bookmark to the portal’s URL and then log in from the browser, which results in lower-than-expected usage.

A modern intranet makes it as easy as possible for staff to access intranet content so they can check the intranet frequently and with minimal friction. If the barrier to entry is high, people simply won’t log in.

8. Easy to Maintain

One of the biggest distinctions from intranets from the early 2000s and today’s modern intranets is how easy they are to maintain.

For content that has already been built, FireOak’s rule of thumb is that the platform should be easy enough to work with that a new intranet site owner/editor should be able to get up to speed with an hour or less of training.

The platform should be simple enough that minimal training is required, and content editors shouldn’t need to do any HTML or CSS coding to update a page, add a new page, or make basic changes such as adding links, text, or images.

9. Security

Within a modern intranet, people have access to what they need and to other knowledge that might be useful for them to know. From a knowledge management perspective, “need to know” and “access to knowledge” aren’t the same. For instance, staff probably need to know about when performance evaluations are due, but they don’t need to know what projects other departments are working on. However, it might be useful for them to know what projects other departments in the same division are working on, at least at a high level as it might prevent duplication of work or reinventing the wheel. Alternatively, if staff members in two different departments know that they are working on similar or related projects, they might be able to accelerate innovation or progress.

In a modern intranet, we see this approach to intentionally balancing security and sharing put in place within an organization’s intranet.

Another critical security consideration that should be incorporated into modern intranet design is around external sharing. If your organization has granted access to some external partners or other key stakeholders, what should they have access to within the intranet? How often is this access reviewed? Who is in a position to grant or revoke external access? All of these questions should be addressed in intranet governance and security procedures.

In terms of securing the intranet platform itself, it’s important to apply the same technical controls to the intranet as should be in place for all of your organization’s platforms – controls such as requiring multi-factor authentication and strong passwords, enabling the audit log, cloud-to-cloud backups, ensuring the intranet is part of your organization’s single sign-on implementation, and more.

10. Governance

One of the hallmarks of a good intranet – traditional or otherwise – is governance for managing the intranet, its contents, and expectations for staff on using the intranet. Intranet governance typically includes:

  • The purpose of the intranet and how it will be used by staff.
  • Roles and responsibilities to define who is responsible for creating new content; maintaining, reviewing, updating existing content; adding new intranet site owners/editors; serving as system administrators; and other high-level decisions regarding managing the intranet, its content, and its platform(s).
  • Information architecture: managing the intranet’s overall navigation, structure, components.
  • Policies and procedures covering content creation, maintenance, and review; procedures for vetting and adding new intranet sites; processes for decisions regarding navigation, look and feel, and branding.
  • Change management and expectations for staff related to using the intranet, checking the intranet before asking colleagues, how often staff are expected to check the intranet.
  • Compliance issues.

Most organizations with highly successful intranets have some type of governance group who is responsible for providing high-level oversight for and ownership of the intranet.

A successful intranet needs to be powered by a platform that is fit for purpose, but it’s equally about having high-quality, content that is properly maintained and curated and having the right people, processes, and approach to governance in place. Maintaining a successful, modern intranet takes time, effort, and organizational commitment.

Need help building a modern intranet?

Interested in reading more about maintaining or building a modern intranet? Check out our other articles in this series. Or sign up for our newsletter to get tips and tricks for managing, sharing, and securing your organization’s knowledge delivered straight to your inbox.

If you’re looking for an external expert to help with building a modern intranet or to take your intranet to the next level, get in touch. The FireOak team is here to help!

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