Intranet Innovations 2011: six key themes from this year’s awards
This year the Intranet Innovation Awards are five years old. The global competition, run by Step Two Designs, has uncovered another set of great examples of innovative work from intranet teams worldwide. Collectively they give us a compelling glimpse of where intranets are at this moment in time, as well as an indication of where they are heading.
In 2011 there were over 50 entries, resulting in:
- One platinum award winner: Framestore (UK)
- Nine gold award winners: Queensland University of Technology (Australia), UK Parliament (UK), Lafarge (France), Alcatel-Lucent (France), Lundbeck (Denmark), Malmö Stad (Sweden), ScottsMiracle-Gro (USA), Arup (UK), CRS Australia (Australia)
- Four commended entries: RPC (UK), Vancity (Canada), RSPCA Australia (Australia), CSIRO (Australia)
These excellent entries suggest a number of key themes, six of which are explored in this article.
14 case studies, 200 screen shots
The full annual Intranet Innovations 2011 report features detailed case studies of all 14 winning and commended entries, around 200 intranet screen shots of the sites in question and articles from the judges. It’s available to purchase directly from the Step Two Designs website. At $89 we believe it represents great value.
Here are the six themes we found.
Continuous improvement is a driver for intranet innovation
Continuous improvement is key
An outcome this year that genuinely surprised the judges was that previous winners of the Intranet Innovation Awards have picked up more prizes.
Our Platinum winner Framestore won a gold award in 2010 for the company’s new intranet platform, which included a highly configurable homepage, integrated an existing wiki and introduced a micro-blogging tool called Fritter.
Similarly CRS Australia, a strong entry with its ‘Just In time content’ concept, previously won the Platinum award in 2009 with an ingenious set of business applications all integrated with SAP.
Perhaps the fact that these intranet teams have repeated their success is not so surprising. Teams and the approaches they take are critical for successful innovation. At both CRS Australia and Framestore, there has been continuity in personnel and methodology between previous prize-winning innovations and their entries this year.
Successfully delivering innovative and high-impact projects inside organisations always raises user expectations and the standards of the intranet team members themselves. If you deliver something of high quality, then everything going forward has to be as good, if not even better.
Both these examples, as well as other winners in this year’s awards, strongly show that leading edge intranets thrive when there is a culture of continuous improvement, often driven by the intranet team.
Having an organisational culture which backs innovation also helps. This is clear in the creative and high-tech atmosphere at Framestore, where the majority of the user population are artists working on highly complex computer animation for movies, TV and commercials. The relatively small size of the company (around 600 people) also means that there is a lack of ‘red tape’ which can slow down implementing projects.
Another key factor is having an accompanying platform that can easily incorporate improvements and deploy new applications. For example Framestore deliberately designed its intranet to be able to simply deploy modules, which users can easily add to their own home page as a series of widgets. In fact the intranet team have referred to it as a ‘framework which you can plug other things into.’
What’s also encouraging is that teams are learning from their current projects and applying this knowledge to future projects. The team at Framestore are already planning their next intranet module which will also integrate with a third party tool and play the latest ‘shots’ in a video format. Another example of this is the analysis and findings around UK Parliament’s highly effective mobilisation of its intranet which has given it a significant headstart in a project involving tablet deployment.
Many of the innovations are based on very simple ideas
Simple ideas, quick execution
Many of the innovations in this year’s awards are based on remarkably straightforward ideas. These are not necessarily grand visions or seven-stage complex plans, but they are intelligent concepts.
CRS Australia sought to deliver up-to-date and relevant content at the moment their users needed it, generally during a transaction at some stage of a business-critical process. Malmö Stad needed a way to introduce personalisation based on a user’s business unit and role, but they didn’t have the necessary data. They introduced a simple form to ask users for the relevant information and then used an equally simple cookie to point users to the relevant content.
These ideas are not difficult to grasp. It’s very easy to see the benefits. This inevitably means that these projects are an easier sell to senior management and other stakeholders.
These projects have also been heavily influenced by practical thinking, particularly in how existing data has been used. For example both Framestore and CRS Australia utilised data in their solutions that was readily available. They were aiming high, but what they were proposing was perfectly ‘do-able’.
This pragmatism also shows itself in the way that solutions have been delivered. In some examples the internal teams involved in the project ditched their standard project methodologies to get things done.
This pragmatic thinking is closely related to the agile nature of the projects in this year’s entries. Most of them have been done in very tight time frames — mainly less than four months, most in a matter of weeks.
Some of the deadlines were down to necessity, but it also appears speed helps keep projects focused on results and maintain momentum. It seems the very opposite of the heavy investment required to do an energy-zapping upgrade of your entire platform.
This approach only emphasises the fact that the ‘Ingredient X’ that has made these projects successful is the driven and motivated teams, not the technology. The teams often came up with the ideas, designed the solution and then worked hard and fast to implement them.
Mobility is here and it has high impact
For the past two years we have been predicting that mobility was going to be a key growth area for intranets. This year — at last — it has finally arrived! Three of our winning entries are mobile projects, all of which have had significant impact. In particular the mobile intranet projects at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and the UK Parliament both involve user populations who are rarely deskbound. Being able to access information while on the go via a handheld device has genuine impact.
Organisations have been slow to implement mobile intranets. The vast majority of companies are not even at the planning stage. This is partly due to the challenges around design, a lack of in-house experience in intranet teams and also perhaps a perception that a mobile intranet is a ‘nice to have’ rather than an essential business application.
Perhaps the most striking outcome which emerges from all three entries is that mobility can have a real impact on the intranet as a whole.
At the UK Parliament the proportion of MPs who used the intranet every day leapt from 48 per cent to 75 per cent once it was mobilised. At QUT the mobile intranet was even seen by prospective students as an indicator that the university was the type of progressive place where they wanted to study.
In short mobile is not a ‘nice to have’. It is a delivery channel in its own right that will be used by an increasingly mobile user population. Work is no longer deskbound, so intranets need to adapt.
Work is no longer deskbound so intranets must adapt
Critical for a successful mobile implementation is a thorough knowledge of the user population. All three entries took their users as the starting point for their projects rather than their existing intranet.
The teams carefully selected applications and content to take over to the mobile environment that would make a real difference to the users. It was not a ‘desktop lite’ intranet they were delivering. The UK Parliament entry summed this up perfectly when they said they wanted to make the intranet work harder for their MPs, not the other way round.
Designing for the mobile environment is also key. Not everything is suitable for such a small screen, and there are also unique features to take advantage of. For example QUT Virtual’s bus map appeared with the timetable when the device was rotated horizontally. It was also sensible to design the solution as browser-based, allowing for compatibility with a wider range of devices.
Clever use of data delivers real value
One of the elements we have seen in the entries this year is the use of different combinations of data to improve the user experience.
As a general rule, there are mountains of unused and unextracted data which sit deep within organisations, representing opportunities to exploit for both CRM and business intelligence (BI) purposes. While none of this year’s entries covered this, we did see efforts to improve search and deliver personalised content, both very effectively.
One of the barriers for many organisations is that it is just too costly or difficult to get to the data in the first place. Two entries detailed how they had overcome this problem and described the process of getting valuable data to enable improvements. We’ve already mentioned how Malmö Stad simply got users to fill out a form to drive personalisation. A commended entry, Vancity, asked users to rate their search experiences, also via a simple form. This happened just after each search was completed, with the information collated used to improve findability. These straightforward approaches both had high adoption.
Combining the right data can bring major business benefits
Once you have the data, it can sometimes be used cleverly. Perhaps the best example of this is CRS Australia. Armed with the knowledge of which documents a user has visited, what users are doing at a given time, which documents are related to a particular process and the last time each document had been changed significantly, the company delivered its ‘Just in time content’ solution.
When a user carries out a process via the intranet such as booking travel by completing a form, a list of relevant links to appropriate documents now appears in a separate box.
In isolation the information used to bring about this innovation does little to improve the user experience. Bring it all together and the outcome is a major business benefit — both saving time and reducing risk.
The centre of gravity is now social
In 2010 we declared that basic social tools were now standard in intranets and were no longer innovative. We have continued to see this trend, but what is clear from the entries in this year’s awards is that the ‘social’ element is starting to gradually change the whole tone of the intranet.
For the past 20 years or so the old rigid office structure based on hierarchies and ‘command and control’ has been gradually fragmenting. Ties have been taken off, the walls have come down to go open plan, and now workplace technologies have started to imitate some of the experiences from the consumer world.
Within this larger context, the most obvious changes to intranets have been the proliferation of social tools and the appearance of user-generated content on the home page, either in the form of comments or actual stories submitted.
In some respects this has highlighted the self-importance and over-formal style of many corporate communications. Now the centre of gravity of intranets is not about company news, it’s much more informal. It’s about the people, what they do, and how they communicate.
It’s about people, what they do and how they communicate
We can see this in many of the entries in this year’s awards. For example Arup created a novel intranet microsite to support their Amazing Race initiative, set up to benefit the SportsAid charity. Here competing teams could log their real world exercise efforts which were then displayed as placeholders on a virtual world map, charting teams’ progress across different continents. The microsite gave a vibrancy to the initiative and really helped to channel the friendly rivalry between teams.
Social tools are also being used more liberally. This is perhaps most marked in the adoption of the video sharing platform ALU TV at Alcatel-Lucent. There the platform is now in what the organisation describes as its ‘DNA’. Some of the research scientists have used this as the natural platform to share knowledge about their activities.
Blending the inside and outside
This year’s awards have shown solid examples of how bringing the external world into the intranet can deliver major benefits.
Danish pharmaceutical company Lundbeck used the LinkedIn API to develop a clever but very simple device to bring in LinkedIn profile data to act as its internal expertise directory. This not only provided instant rich content but also saved staff considerable time by not having to create and then maintain two overlapping professional profiles.
As more third party tools — sometimes hosted or in the cloud — make decent APIs available, in-house teams will be able to further develop innovative solutions that suit the needs of their organisations.
What is more unusual about the Lundbeck example is that it also brings externally facing content into the intranet.
There is an even more pronounced example of this at ScottsMiracle-Gro. Here the intranet team took a mass of content about the firm’s consumers, much of it externally facing or generated, and saturated the intranet with it for a sustained period. This content included customer personas and recordings of live calls to the firm’s call centres.
This was a real campaign to create internal awareness about its external customer-base, an idea which will bring various commercial benefits to the firm, some of them intangible.
In a world where social media has created opportunities for direct dialogue between firms and their customers, the intranet does not necessarily have to be the internal-facing environment it has traditionally been.
Looking towards 2012
So the big question is, can you do better? Often intranet teams themselves don’t recognise they’ve done something truly special. If in reading this article one of the winners echoes one of your own initiatives in any way then please do consider entering next year’s awards. We’re open for business again in April 2012.
Get the case studies and screen shots
You can purchase the full Intranet Innovations 2011 report online: