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2010 is the fourth year of the Intranet Innovation Awards, the global competition run by Step Two Designs. The awards were created to help uncover the work and achievements of intranet teams worldwide, and every year they give unparallelled insight into the leading edge of the field.
In 2010 there were over 50 entries, resulting in:
- One Platinum award winner: Bennett Jones (Canada)
- Eight Gold award winners: Airways Corporation (New Zealand), AMP (Australia), Arup (UK), Framestore (UK), IMF (USA), MITRE (USA), Omron Europe (Netherlands), Shepherd and Wedderburn (UK)
- Six Commended entries: Arup (UK), Coca-Cola Enterprises (USA), Monash University (Australia), Rijkswaterstaat (Netherlands), University Medical Centre Groningen (Netherlands), Ziggo (Netherlands)
These examples present a number of themes, and signpost the next stage of evolution for the majority of intranets, which I’ll explore in this article.
Case studies and screen shots
The Intranet Innovations bundle features detailed case studies of all the winners, for every year of the awards.
Here are themes that emerged this year.
Content is no longer king
For the last decade, intranets have been considered to be an internal website for staff, but the innovative intranets of 2010 have thoroughly dispelled this misconception. Instead, they’re showing that intranets can be business tools that streamline processes and deliver new ways of connecting with staff.
Intranets can be streamlined business tools that connect staff
When intranets were first created, they took on the publishing metaphors of websites (and books), focusing on the one-way delivery of static content and corporate news.
The focus was on having ‘good content’, and keeping usability in mind. Both of these principles are now taken for granted by successful teams, who have realised that usable navigation and content only scratches the surface of a successful intranet.
Intranet innovation is now focusing on transforming how staff work, using new technology to rethink traditional approaches.
For example, Bennett Jones, the Platinum Award winner this year, uses smart technology to revitalise the way knowledge is shared within their law firm. The IMF combines content with data to provide their staff with critical information about the countries that they are operating in.
Airways New Zealand and Omron Europe are both using their intranets as platforms for delivering key business tools, and reaping the efficiency gains that are delivered as a result.
As the awards have consistently shown over the last few years, these improvements are often the result of small-scale development, conducted within organisations of every type.
The most important change hasn’t been the technology platform; it’s been the mindset of intranet and project teams. Core to this has been letting go of the self-limiting metaphor of the intranet as an internal website.
This has allowed successful intranet teams to broaden their focus, finding new ways of delivering business outcomes.
It has also meant that intranet teams can move on from the seemingly endless war for ‘good content’, which has opened up a rift between central teams and decentralised content owners within many organisations.
Of course, intranets should contain good content, and this is still worth striving for. But innovative teams are finding that content is just one (smaller) part of truly successful intranets.
The awards give unparallelled insight into leading intranets
Social media is ‘standard’
In 2009, we recognised the establishment of social media, calling it ‘critical’ to successful intranets.
A year later, we’ve undoubtedly witnessed the ‘tipping point’ of social tools; site-wide commenting, the integration of blogs, micro-blogging, wikis, and social staff directories, and free-ranging contributions from all levels of an organisation, from the CEO down and frontline staff up.
For intranets in 2010, basic social tools are no longer ‘nice to have’, differentiators, or even ‘critical’ to intranets, they’re now standard. If a site doesn’t have extensive social functionality, built in from the ground up, then it’s significantly behind the curve of intranet development.
For those facing cultural barriers to adoption, including senior management’s fear of losing control or employees wasting time, the message is clear; an organisation still holding back its employees, intentionally or not, from contributing to and discussing all aspects of the business, is a dinosaur.
Thankfully, what’s also clear is that there are fewer and fewer organisations still holding their employees back from internal online discussions.
Reflecting the progression of all things ‘social’ on the web, socially oriented examples in this year’s awards are comprehensive, detailed, and highly sophisticated. They take the core mechanics of the social web, and use them to augment applications and services, and catalyse intranet participation.
Personalisation that works
Personalisation, where staff can configure the intranet to match their needs, has seen a resurgence on intranets in the last year. Philosophically, the idea of treating staff like adults and letting them set up ‘their’ intranet themselves, is a sound one.
Personalisation has seen a resurgence on intranets
The challenge has been the ‘5–10% rule’, which says that in typical organisations, only 5–10% of staff will make use of personalisation or social features. This has been seen across the globe, in the private and public sectors, even in major technology and consulting firms.
Many organisations deployed personalisation regardless, on the assumption that ‘Generation Y’ staff would expect (or even demand) these features.
Unfortunately, with market research consistently debunking the myth of any generation having a single group behaviour, adoption has remained at the 5–10% mark.
Several winners of the 2010 Awards have shown, however, that much better results can be obtained. The key is to make personalisation critical to the daily work of staff.
Framestore is a leading animation house for films and commercials, with a constantly frantic production schedule. Their extraordinarily personalised homepage works not because the staff are young and innovative, but because it provides key tools to support the production process.
This includes tracking production tasks, software bugs, and coordinating within teams. Used across the organisation, the intranet is a business tool with a clear ‘what’s in it for me’ factor for staff.
Similarly, the portal-like interface at Shepherd and Wedderburn, a law firm, goes beyond the out-of-the-box widgets like ‘my documents’ and the weather. Instead, they list recent calls, current matters, and client search, all core tasks for time-pressed lawyers.
Along with winners from 2009, such as IDEO, these show that personalisation can work if the ingredients are right: a proactive culture, and features that deliver real benefits beyond just novelty value. This gives all organisations something to aim for.
Shepherd and Wedderburn’s site goes beyond widgets
Using extensive databases to underpin intranets and serve employees with critical business information, right at the point of need, is a powerful theme that has emerged in the 2010 Awards.
Organisations typically have terabytes of raw business data and information sitting in folders, files, documents, spreadsheets and so on. The actions of customers — purchases, complaints, support, feedback and more — add a further and growing element to the gold mine of intelligence available.
For many businesses, and for numerous reasons, such data and information is poorly understood and barely used to its capacity, and it’s often impossible to sort and filter without advanced technical knowledge. Essentially, it’s wasted, and endless opportunities are missed.
Just as ‘social’ improves the innovative, and collaborative capabilities in a business, the effective mining and simplified presentation of data can help organisations extract every last cent of value from information that’s invariably idling away on servers. Making use of such a resource is not an easy task. Coca-Cola’s team write that ‘hundreds of hours’ were spent researching the metadata classification scheme for their Global Reports Centre.
However, as this entry and others demonstrate, it’s a challenge worth the investment, and of long-term benefit.
Consider the experience
In 2009, the awards introduced the idea of an ‘enterprise experience’ for staff. This looks at the overall environment and tools that are provided to help staff do their jobs.
It’s interesting to compare public websites and intranets in this regard. The best websites are recognised as providing customers with an easy, effective and seamless experience that hides underlying complexity.
No major website would consider giving customers multiple usernames and passwords, or presenting six different applications with differing look-and-feel.
Yet this is exactly what we provide to staff within organisations: a disjointed collection of applications that often feels thrown together rather than designed.
Last year, the awards highlighted the benefits of creating a seamless experience, with winners showing how it is done.
Winners this year provide compelling examples
This year continues the theme, with all the winners showing polished, professional and effective interfaces. Regardless of the technology platform behind the scenes, winning approaches have crossed boundaries and silos to deliver experiences that are a pleasure for staff.
Winners this year should set the level of ambition for intranet teams, and will provide compelling examples to help senior management understand what great intranets look like.
SharePoint versus all others
It’s impossible to read through the winners and commended entries this year (and many of those entries submitted but unrewarded too), without coming to the conclusion that Microsoft’s SharePoint has become a significant, and perhaps dominant, intranet platform.
Without exception, SharePoint-based entries this year — Bennett Jones, IMF, and Coca-Cola Enterprises — involved Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007, which has now been superseded by ‘SharePoint 2010’.
As in previous years, these entries often included reference to the sheer level of development this platform requires. SharePoint is powerful, but only with enough development time, resourcing, dollars and effective communication will it meet many of the more complex requirements and become a success in a business. Put simply, it’s not a lightweight intranet solution, and yet it seems to be permeating through all and any types of business, whether suitable or not.
In other entries, notably Framestore, Arup and Omron, much has been achieved with different platforms. In Framestore’s case specifically, extensive engineering has been done with a team of just three. SharePoint may be on the radar of many intranet teams, but it’s certainly not the only solution out there. Teams that go down this path must ensure they have the funds, resourcing, skills and time to make it work.
SharePoint is not the only solution for intranet teams
Garnering support and buy-in
Whether launching a new or replacement intranet, a considerable amount of time and effort should be invested in communicating and engaging with staff on the changes ahead. From user-centred research, to testing, launching and developing the site post-launch, it’s vital to have support and buy-in from all levels of the business.
This year’s entries from AMP, Rijkswaterstaat, IMF and others include references to the work put in on change communications and staff engagement. This includes extensive internal advertising, roadshows, and professionally crafted promotional videos.
AMP and Bennett Jones outline the work done to secure senior management support and emphasise that, without it, their projects would likely not have been successful.
The key message is: Don’t forget this vital component when planning your site’s development schedule. A failure to engage and communicate with the business will often lead to a failed intranet, whether the breakdown occurs during the development phase, or post-launch.
An intranet that does it all
Consistent throughout the themes above is one recurring name: Bennett Jones. 2010’s Platinum Award winner, a law firm headquartered in Toronto, Canada, has been recognised for an intranet that includes many of the advanced features and functions illustrated this year.
A failure to communicate will often lead to a failed intranet
‘BenNet’ was a two-year project from research to launch. It’s an incredibly social, comprehensively designed intranet. It’s powered by business-critical databases, sophisticated classification and search capabilities, and provides users with an unparallelled level of quality resources and tools that actively enhance the business. This is an intranet that sets the standard in the 2010 Intranet Innovation Awards, and as such it’s more than a worthy winner.
Time to innovate with your intranet
Whether these examples excite, daunt or even disappoint in their scope and vision, above all else, the most exciting and incontrovertible point to be gleaned is that the opportunities for intranet teams to innovate are many. Software is embedded in the way we work and play. With the technology and capabilities available, it’s a time to challenge what you know, and what you’re working on, and help push the field further.
In 2011 and beyond, we look forward to discovering and demonstrating more of the great work of intranet teams worldwide, and recognising their achievements in the Intranet Innovation Awards.
Read more about the winners
Intranet Innovations bundle is the must-have annual resource for all intranet teams. Use the report to build support with senior management, and to guide planning for the intranet team’s next steps.