An intranet is the backbone of many businesses and in the modern, connected world, intranets are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Whilst once they were just a means of connecting workstations to the main and mail server, an intranet can now contain many components.
This is especially true due to the rise in the use of mobile devices, the increased demand for collaboration across organisational departments and the inclusion of social as a means to further engage employees.
But what makes a great intranet? How do you ensure that your organisation serves the needs of the employers and allows them to work efficiently and productively?
Let’s take a look.
Plan, plan and then plan some more
We all know that sound planning makes for better business and that applies equally to the intranet, which can be a company’s biggest asset. In order to get the best out of this asset, there are several aspects to consider and define.
· Goals – what do you want to achieve with your intranet
· Governance – what policies are you going to put in place
· Connectivity – will you allow employees to connect remotely and/or via a mobile device
· Communications – how will these work across the organisation and how can you implement solutions such as video conferencing and VoIP solutions as a part of the intranet
· Engagement – how will you encourage employees to engage with the intranet, will it have social aspects
· Structure – design will include cabling, so the actual structure of the intranet, its cabling, the type of cabling used and setting up of workstations and servers will be important too
Surveying Intranet Users
Whilst carrying out the planning phase, it’s good practice to find out what those that will be using it on a daily basis think. Survey employees to see which aspects of the intranet will be most important to them; this will help with engagement in the long term.
Suggested survey questions could include:
· How do you think ease of collaboration with other departments could impact on your job
· What would you like to see included as a part of the company intranet
· What device(s) would you prefer to access the intranet on
· If a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) scheme was introduced, how willing would you be to accept company policies surrounding security
· Would you use social aspects of the intranet to get to know and work with employees across departments
The design of the network itself will of course be dictated by the size of the organisation, as well as the building that will be housing it. This will also dictate to some extent the type of cabling required. Whilst fibre optic cabling can be used, it’s only recommended for large organisations housed within a pretty big building, as it remain expensive. Most companies still go for the latest standard Ethernet cable and have a structured cabling system (PDF) fitted so that voice, data and video can be integrated from the start. This future-proofs your cabling system to some extent and with the latest cable standard, can last up to 20 years.
A structured cabling system can also help to manage alarm systems and energy management. So, if you’re creating a brand new network, and your company is relatively large, it’s worth putting the investment into structured cabling for long-term ROI.
Designing the User Interface (UI)
It’s important to ensure that you design the intranet UI so that it’s capable of engaging the user and to a large extent, this is akin to designing a website. The design of the UI should allow the users to be able to find information quickly, with a logical structure and good search facility.
It should also:
· Be uniform across the intranet and all that it encompasses such as social, bulletin boards, wikis etc.
· Be optimised for mobile devices – even if you don’t yet want to incorporate BYOD, this will allow for scalability in the future and also mean that access through VPNs will allow for different screen sizes
· Limit the use of graphics/video to lessen the load on bandwidth
· Limit the use of colour (too many different colours can be distracting)
It’s also a good idea to perform A/B testing; this will ensure that two initial designs are presented to two different groups of test subjects to determine which is more likely to receive the most engagement. It’s important to remember at all times that the UI is for the user, in order to get the most from the intranet.
Whilst some companies remain sceptical about BYOD schemes, mostly with regards to concerns surrounding security, this is something that can be addressed with the use of robust policies and an intranet Mobile Device Management (MDM) system.
Due to the popularity of mobile and tablet devices, even if you don’t want to implement a BYOD scheme, you should really keep it in mind for the future as it can increase the productivity and ease workflows. With the right policies and software in place, there’s no reason that the network can’t remain secure, even whilst employees are connecting to the intranet whilst out in the field.
Many companies are now supplying devices so that they have more control over what their employees can do with mobiles, but this seems slightly counterproductive as employees want to use their own devices and companies can keep down capital expenditure costs with the use of BYOD.
Many modern intranets also utilise the cloud as a part of the intranet and host applications, storage, or even some of the IT infrastructure in the cloud. This allows for less powerful workstations to be used and servers to be stored away from the premises, if required.
Again, the cloud is perceived by some businesses to be inherently insecure, as data is kept away from the premises, but in fact, it is often much more secure than storing everything onsite. This is because good data centres often have far superior equipment and security, making for regular backups and working disaster recovery plans, which many businesses don’t have at all. Of course, it’s not a great idea to store all of your data at the business premises either, as a fire or flood could mean that the business fails in the blink of an eye. Insured or not, lose customer data and it’s unlikely that you will be able to recover it in the event of an onsite disaster.
Cloud can be used for:
· PAYG hosted applications such as office software, CMSs, CRMs, LMSs and more
· Web hosting
· Email hosting (hosted exchange)
· Entire IT infrastructure, with thin clients being used on the intranet
And much more. It’s also a cost effective solution which is highly flexible and scalable, so can grow (or shrink) depending on the needs of your business at any one time. Cloud solutions are often used on a pay monthly basis too, so there’s no capital outlay and for software, licensing for users as and when you need them.
The intranet is the most important part of business, as if it doesn’t perform and engage, then it’s unlikely to allow you to get the best out of employees. Designing and deploying an intranet is a task that requires good planning and the involvement of employees, as well as executives, in order to obtain the best results.
Image: Richard Winchell