Corporate Intranets Find New Life on Collaboration Networks

 

By Dave Zielinski March 1, 2019
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​The venerable corporate intranet is at an inflection point. Long the go-to central hub of company news and HR information, legacy intranets are now competing—and merging—with internal collaboration networks that not only contain the same kind of information but that also feature modern peer-to-peer collaboration and data-sharing capabilities.

Experts say that while intranets still hold value as a central site for employer-to-employee communications, they don't help employees interact and they have lost relevance. As a result, many organizations and HR leaders are faced with either modernizing their intranets or watching them die out from lack of use.

"The way that employees access and use information is significantly different than in the past, and many intranets haven't kept pace," said Wayne Kurtzman, research director of social communities and collaboration at advisory and research firm IDC in Framingham, Mass.

Forrester Research principal analyst Cheryl McKinnon said that her company's clients across industries are reporting that their intranets are struggling to find relevance with employees. Organizations are rethinking and refreshing their sites to place a new focus on collaboration, knowledge sharing, curation and automation, she said in a video blog post.

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Merging Intranets with Collaboration Networks

Organizations can opt to embed their intranets in enterprise collaboration networks. Systems like Slack, SAP's Jam, Microsoft Teams, Google's G Suite, Workplace by Facebook and others now have millions of corporate users around the globe. Smaller new players regularly enter the market.

These internal platforms are designed to facilitate peer-to-peer communication, speed knowledge sharing, and make it easier for teams to share or modify documents. For those purposes, they employ tools like video chat, instant messaging, document management and more.

These functionalities address what experts say is one of the biggest drawbacks of legacy intranets: They rely only on unilateral, top-down communication and don't have modern collaboration or data-sharing features. In the workplace now, employees are accustomed to receiving push notifications, rather than having to seek out information.

"Workers expect relevant company news to follow them, the same way general news from the world follows them on their phones or tablets," Kurtzman said. "The best collaborative platforms engage employees from all regions, are more personal and in line with how people want to receive and share information today."

But there is still a need for a place to store policies and information. Jam was originally developed to accommodate these intranetlike capabilities, said Daisy Hernandez, global vice president of product management for SAP who oversees the Jam collaboration platform.

"In addition to the collaboration features on the platform, customers also told us they wanted an option to post static information that originates from management or HR, not only user-generated content from employees," Hernandez said. "They wanted a place to present company news [and] information about strategy and to use it as a resource center. Many of our customers have now placed their intranet functions on the platform and see it as a natural extension of the system."

There also can be cost savings to moving intranets to cloud-based internal collaboration platforms. In a Forrester Consulting study on the total economic impact of using Jam's collaboration network, conducted from 2015 to 2018, researchers found a 73 percent reduction in IT labor and infrastructure costs when companies moved to Jam.

Companies often can eliminate many on-premise servers needed to connect a stand-alone intranet to a corporate network. Individual company departments can manage their own content on the network with only limited IT support. One of SAP's goals was to make creating and modifying content on Jam and intranets easier for lines of business so those changes wouldn't all have to be funneled through IT or HR, Hernandez said.

When content is disseminated through a central channel, there can be a lag between when the information is created and when it first becomes available on the intranet.

"IT departments also usually don't want to be in the business of having to customize the intranet to the demands of every line of business," she said. "The way we designed our system was to allow IT the governance it needs to delegate and safeguard the administration of pieces of the platform in a way that is easier for it to manage."

Increasing Adoption

Regardless of whether intranets remain in their traditional stand-alone form or are folded into a collaboration platform, HR still faces the challenge of ensuring employees regularly access the content and resources available there. That requires not only good internal marketing, but also the use of "cultural accelerators," Kurtzman said.

Executives and managers should use the platform, creating a sense of shared purpose and fostering trust and openness when communicating on a platform.

"If, for example, leaders decide they're going to keep using e-mail to communicate instead of the tools available on the collaboration platform, it gives employees license not to use the platform, as well," Kurtzman said. "Modeling is one of the most important cultural accelerators organizations have at their disposal."

Megan Barbier, vice president of people operations for the collaborative work management platform Wrike in San Jose, Calif., said collaboration systems can help to reshape work culture.

"It's a much more connected and interactive way of working, and we find it can shift the way people perceive their jobs," Barbier said. "A sense of belonging and shared purpose are the cornerstones of happiness, and the right technology platform can help create that."

Collaboration platform adoption will also depend in part on how easily those platforms integrate with other technologies in the company. "The most effective platforms I see is where the technology has enough integrated solutions necessary to support work across the enterprise," Kurtzman said. "Those integrations create the all-important benefit of time savings for workers when communicating, accessing information and getting their work done."

Dave Zielinski a freelance business writer and editor in Minneapolis.

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