Robust intranet platforms: the truth most large companies don't want you to know

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It’s sometimes tempting to assume that if anyone knows what makes an effective, well-designed intranet tick, it’s large companies. They have distributed workforces and massive data footprints, so they’re in a good position to understand the importance of digital collaboration, document management and search. Not forgetting, of course, that they have budgets and IT resources that smaller businesses could only dream of.

Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? And yet the reality is, more often than not, rather different. There’s a truth that most large companies don’t want you to know about their intranets: they’ve got a lot wrong with them.

The barriers to effective intranet design

To elaborate on this, let’s talk about one of the biggest barriers faced by businesses of all sizes when it comes to setting up a fit-for-purpose intranet: the difficulty of getting everyone to want to use it. Like all enterprise applications, an intranet is doomed to failure if it doesn’t offer attractive solutions to the users’ problems. If you have a dozen users, then you need to solve a dozen problems – preferably in a way that matches each stakeholder’s vision.

Now, imagine you have 10,000 employees from a dozen different departments, plus external collaborators and consultants, all ostensibly using a single intranet. It shouldn’t be difficult to see why large companies struggle!

Then there’s the challenge of ownership. Big businesses often have large, well-resourced IT departments, which ought to be a major boon when it comes to intranet implementation – after all, development and maintenance are no less important than planning. However, the mistake they make is to silo the entire project through IT, taking control away from the business managers who are best placed to call the shots.

The result is that you end up with an IT department’s interpretation of what the organisation needs and how it should work – not necessarily what you set out to accomplish.

Finally, large companies often take the swiss army knife approach to intranet design. Daunted by the sheer number of users they have to satisfy, they offer up as many components as possible in the hope that something will stick. The end result is an intranet teeming with needless features that serve only to confuse the user base.

What makes a truly robust intranet platform?

As the above suggests, many of the best intranets today don’t belong to big businesses – they’re the ones used by small and medium-sized enterprises. With smaller staff, fewer individual problems to solve and a more judicious attitude to technology sourcing, they’re more likely to succeed in coming up with robust platforms that workers want to use.

That’s not to say that large companies can’t have top-shelf intranets, but most of them need to take a closer look at the principles of speed, adaptability and quantifiable return on investment that guide the best small-scale implementations.

An intranet shouldn’t be siloed through IT – it should belong to the business and have buy-in from each employee who uses it.

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