Nine Mistakes That Turn Your Corporate Intranet into a Ghost Town

You want an intranet that helps staff collaborate and share information. But, advises Martin Amm, there are several process errors that can keep your intranet from success.

Organizations look to CIOs for help making sense out of the massive information they collect, and for innovative solutions to everyday challenges that result from working in a large, globally-dispersed company. In response, CIOs turn to the corporate intranet: a platform that can safeguard the company's prized assets, connect disparate teams and improve process workflows.

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Whether you're looking to launch a corporate intranet, or simply have plans to improve an existing one, here are some words of wisdom from others who have traveled this road before you.

Mistake #1: Assuming a one-size-fits-all home page will meet everyone's needs.

The idea is noble: One universal home page that gives everyone a bird's eye view of the company. But practically speaking, it just doesn't work. Ultimately there will be some content that is relevant for most, but not all users. And each department will be at odds, vying for limited real estate on the home page where they can display department-specific information.

Don't force users to mentally filter content displayed on the corporate welcome page. A product that lets them create personalized pages—with optional, irrelevant content already filtered out—keeps everyone focused on "what's new for me," not "what's new for everybody."

Mistake #2: Creating a one-way communication platform.

Intuitively, it doesn't make sense. Tight controls around who can publish, and strict policies and heavy approval processes only stop people dead in their tracks. If you make it easy for people to contribute and publish information, they'll gravitate towards the intranet, not away.

And while you're at it, be sure to ask people for feedback. Use questionnaires and polls to solicit suggestions for improvement, or new ways to leverage the intranet's power. When you ask, you send the message that the intranet project is an ongoing process, and that the company is committed to continuous improvements.

Lastly, it's another way to keep users engaged. And active, engaged users will foster ongoing improvements and guarantee long-term intranet success.

Mistake #3: Delaying deployment until absolutely every department's requirements are met.

A phased approach-starting small and expanding the user base over time-will help ensure your intranet community continues to grow, not shrink.

"Start small" doesn't imply a small number of users, though. Your first phase should be simple and should demonstrate the power of the tool, but it should also have a big impact on a large user community.

Select an HR or corporate communications activity for your first phase, because both groups have a need to share information with a large community. Or select a remote workforce as your first step, because business processes within this community can yield dramatic improvements.

Whichever you choose, build upon your successes, continuing to add other high impact, high usage groups. Focus on departments with very specific, localized needs in later project phases.

Mistake #4: Having multiple sign-ons.

Users are already accustomed to managing their own secret list of login credentials: usernames and passwords that get them into the company's CRM, ticket tracking, ERP and other systems. So what's one more login/password combination to enter the corporate intranet?

It's an unnecessary barrier to entry, which may give users the impression that the intranet is isolated from the existing company infrastructure. Look at each login as a potential point of abandonment, which is precisely what you don't want. Take the opportunity to make your user's life simpler and let them focus on the task at hand, by eliminating their need to know mundane details like pathnames and login credentials.

Build a corporate intranet that serves as a bridge of sorts, linking users in each audience to the wide assortment of tools and systems they use on a daily basis. Once they cross the bridge (i.e. sign onto the corporate intranet), their credentials automatically open up the door to other resources they need to do their job. No additional passwords required.

Once users realize they can toss their secret list of login credentials, and erase all memory of directory paths, they'll come to the intranet every time they need a tool.

Mistake #5: Downplaying the importance of integration.

Many CIOs say that data integration significantly slows down their efforts to improve business processes. Yet when evaluating an intranet product for purchase, ease of integration is oftentimes underrated, the problem trivialized with the mistaken belief that web services, SOA or regularly scheduled data refresh can quickly fill the gaps.

Nowadays, tight integration with these systems is critical for company strategists. Real-time, on-demand information is needed by supply chain managers who must respond to inventory fluctuations, and sales/marketing teams tasked with increasing revenue and identifying new opportunities to cross-sell and up-sell. Since the primary value of an intranet lies within its ability to integrate data from a variety of applications for easier management, accepting anything less would give you little more than a fancy Web interface.

Make sure your new intranet will easily integrate with the company's core systems. And plan to deliver a cohesive, well-integrated platform that will automatically refresh company dashboards whenever underlying data changes.

Also, make sure to integrate the intranet with external sources. RSS feeds that deliver current stock price, news, press release alerts, local traffic and more, will enhance the perceived value of your IT investment, and provide users with a full 360-degree view of the world, helping them make better, more informed decisions.

Mistake #6: Overlooking the importance of workflows.

Business Process Intelligence (BPI) is commonly ranked the number-one priority for CIOs. What's driving these changes? Improved productivity, reduced cost and accelerated processes, to name a few.

Companies everywhere are eager to turn time-consuming, paper-pushing tasks into streamlined, online processes that help to eliminate paper forms, file folders, manual forwarding and the inefficiencies associated with them.

Pick an Intranet product that supports workflows, and plan to offer a few streamlined workflows as part of your initial launch. Automating common processes like vacation requests, expense report reimbursements and purchase approvals will catch the user's attention, and give them a vested interest in using the intranet.

Mistake #7: Dismissing Web 2.0's role in the enterprise.

Corporations struggle to see how social networking can have a positive impact on the business, and they're fearful of lost productivity. But a growing number of companies (Dow, Wachovia, and even Uncle Sam) have jumped in with high expectations, after realizing the power of social sites like LinkedIn.

It's important to recognize the underlying reality that business is social. When employees feel more connected to the people they work with, they are more connected with the company as well, which is good for business. A social network allows employees to discover people, workgroup associations, trends and resources that help them become more effective in their role.

Ideally your intranet will become a massive collaboration platform, driven almost completely by the community. Users will flock to the intranet to access a high volume of quality information, appreciating the simplicity of the experience.

Furthermore, an intranet that enables cross-enterprise collaboration can also have an immediate, positive impact on productivity. Workgroups give employees, business partners, suppliers and customers an online place for the work to happen. Central online meeting places make it easy for people to connect to share ideas, store project-specific information, establish procedures, review and discuss documents and deliverables, resolve issues, make decisions and get work done.

Let them use the intranet as their meeting place, and you'll avoid the "ghost town" syndrome.

Mistake #8: Designing the intranet in an IT ivory tower.

It's been said before but it's worth repeating: Involve and engage your users throughout this project.

There's no way you can begin to understand the practical concerns of everyday life for every single department in the company, nor are you expected to. The intranet should serve the entire community, so involve them from the very beginning.

An intranet team comprised of power users from every department will yield a robust system that works for all departments, not just a few.

Or, put another way, ask yourself, "If the HR department designed the intranet for the entire company, will it match how IT works and thinks?"

Mistake #9: Minimizing the importance of robust search.

How many times have you failed to find an important document; one you were absolutely certain you saved in a folder on the file server? If you can't easily find content that you personally filed, how will others find files on the corporate intranet?

Pick a product that provides users with several options for search, including traditional search (by specific words or phrases) via an online catalog organized by company-defined categories; or by filtering through content they've personally tagged or to which they've given custom labels.

By demanding a product with multi-faceted search, you can pull together all content and people connected to one other in some fashion: keywords, tags, categories, author, department and more, to make your intranet even more valuable.

Now you have it: the secrets to launching an intranet that your community will love. There's a lot of power to be harnessed from a corporate intranet: streamlined workflows, community-building and collaboration tools. It's up to CIOs to show their companies how.

Martin Amm is the CEO and one of the founders of adenin TECHNOLOGIES, providers of IntelliEnterprise, a fully-integrated intranet suite for mid-sized to large organizations. The suite includes collaboration, knowledge management, content management and Enterprise 2.0 capabilities, delivering a virtual workspace where people inside and outside the organization can work together more effectively. Mr. Amm has more than 26 years of hands-on experience in the software industry, both in management and software development. Before founding Adenin, he was the CEO of Amasis Software Corporation, an ERP vendor, and of Two to One Consulting Ltd. Mr. Amm speaks at industry conferences and has authored articles on the topic of intranet best practices for IntranetsToday and TechRepublic. He can be reached at martin.amm@adenin.com.

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