With an increased number of remote workers and a vast choice of digital tools available for use, it’s getting more challenging to unite your enterprise's people, technology, and knowledge. If your organization relies on a multi-platform approach, you become more vulnerable to silos and the likelihood for miscommunication skyrockets. What does it take to sidestep segmentation and make technology the productivity enabler it has always been intended to be? Savvy leaders are increasingly looking to intranet software to unlock their workforce's fullest potential.
An intranet has become a must-have tool in the arsenal of any successful enterprise. An enhancer of the digital employee experience and facilitator of a truly modern workplace, the intranet has taken many shapes over the years. Today, an intranet can fulfill countless use cases and needs, so what exactly is intranet software?
Simply put, an intranet can be defined as:
"An internal network for sharing information, collaboration tools, operational systems, and other computing services within an organization, typically accessed by a web-based application."
However, as is the case with all technology, this definition is always evolving. Where an intranet was once just a repository of links to other resources, a next-gen intranet is a powerful digital hub – incorporating everything from native video to artificial intelligence – that acts as a comprehensive one-stop shop for all user needs.
An engaging communications platform. A bulletin board for employee recognition. A driver of efficiency and productivity. A space for open collaboration. A modern intranet can be any and all of these things, adaptable to meet the unique needs of your enterprise and configurable to utilize the latest cutting-edge features and integrations.
An intranet is essentially a private network of users given access to a select set of tools and enterprise technology. It is a secure way of sharing information and data between users that, in a business setting, allows your employees to easily and safely collaborate and interact from one central system.
It can help to think of intranets as an internal website, reserved only for members of your organization.
There are three main components of an intranet: Hardware, the platform itself, and the applications.
Intranet hardware refers to the servers upon which the rest of the intranet software, applications, and data is held. There are various approaches to intranet hardware, such as on-premise or cloud-based solutions, or a hybrid of the two. Regardless of the chosen hardware, these servers typically allow users entry to the intranet by accessing a portal and entering their login details.
An intranet platform is a collection of software that enables the rest of the intranet to interact and work seamlessly together. Bringing together communications tools, databases, collaboration applications, and third-party resources to work in tandem, the intranet platform is essentially the framework that the rest of the intranet is built on.
Finally, the applications used within an intranet are basically the different digital tools built into the platform that enable users to do things like collaborate on documents or share communications to the rest of your organization: Think the Microsoft 365 suite or G-Suite of tools.
These are the programs and tools that employees use on a daily basis to get work done, that within your intranet store and share data and work with each other behind-the-scenes to deliver seamless digital experiences.
The intranet has come a long way since it’s humble beginnings in the world of work. There was a time when the intranet was a basic list of hyperlinks to pages of information and, occasionally, web-based tools.
In the years since then, the intranet has evolved and shifted to embody a far more holistic approach to the digital workplace.
Seamless third-party integrations and even artificial intelligence have come into play to enhance the offering of the next generation of intranets. These new solutions are capable of connecting users from two different ends of the earth to work together as seamlessly as if they were sat next to each other.
The internet, as we’ve all come to know, is a global network of computers and devices that enable people to share information and communicate with each other ‘online’.
An intranet, on the other hand, is a closed network of users. Where the internet is ubiquitous, the intranet is restricted, a private group of users that allows data, tools, information, and resources to be shared securely and easily across an organization.
The idea of an extranet can at first sound similar in ways to both an intranet and the internet, but has a few distinct differences and advantages for specific use cases. Where an intranet is a closed network accessible only to those within your organization, an extranet offers more flexibility in terms of your users and what kind of access can be provisioned externally.
An extranet is accessible by both an organization and its external vendors, partners, customers, or any other approved users that are granted access to private information, services, and resources. With an extranet, your organization can host and manage a customer community, partner portal, franchise network or many other services whilst maintaining control over the content and types of information available.
An intranet has become a necessity for modern enterprises, enabling seamless digital employee experiences across many locations and devices. A next-generation intranet brings with it a host of benefits for futureproofing your enterprise technology, with the ability to transform digital experiences, boost engagement and collaboration, fuel productivity, and improve the reach of internal communications.
One of the greatest benefits of a next-gen intranet is its ability to completely restructure the way your organization communicates with your employees.
Armed with a host of powerful communications tools and an array of channels for reaching people, a modern intranet integrates with your wider digital workplace to form a comprehensive center for communication.
Internal social networking tools, for example, encourage two-way communication across multiple channels. Social feeds provide quick updates and create a space for open interaction, taking connectivity to the next level.
7 steps to futureproof your internal communications strategy
As leaders reimagine their world of work, it is internal communications that will lead the way in aligning the workforce against this vision. Future corporate communication strategies will be decidedly inclusive, agile, and digitalized. To succeed in this new era, internal communications teams will move towards an omnichannel approach that brings the consumer experience into the workplace.
As a hub for all employee needs, a modern intranet doubles as a place where your people can connect and collaborate with one another. Removing physical boundaries and limitations to teamwork, features like people directories, enterprise search, and integrations with other applications from your digital workplace make collaborating on projects seamless and straightforward. Regardless of location or department, employees can take to your intranet to locate people with specific experience and connect with the expertise they need.
The Hershey Company unites a global workforce with Unily
Spreading goodness across a global market in the internet age required Hershey to adapt its workplace so employees could continue inventing, manufacturing, and marketing snacks that tempt us. Tune in to Hershey's video case study to find out how they united disparate employees, contractors and partners with a powerful, modern intranet.
A go-to hub for tools, resources, and information makes it easy for employees to find what they need, when they need it. Optimize routes to applications with apps and tools directories and take advantage of customizable widgets to allows users to pin their most-used tools for streamlined access. By saving your employees' time, intranets save your enterprise money.
Several Unily clients have seen dramatic productivity gains since implementing their intranet platform. Shell, for example, save over $41m annually thanks to the ease of access and functionality of their intranet.
Shell powers employee experience with a Unily intranet
Shell, one of the largest companies in the world, has served as an oil and gas “supermajor” since its founding in 1907 and has become one of the most recognizable brands on the planet. Watch Shell’s video case study to discover how their Unily intranet transformed the employee experience for over 82k staff worldwide and drove savings of over $42m a year in productivity gains.
Given the wide array of benefits that a modern intranet promises, many leaders are eager to launch their solution. One of the first choices most will have to make is whether they should build their own platform in-house or buy something ready-made. And on a similar note, if you do decide to partner with a service provider, which vendor will offer you the best product and the highest caliber of support?
If you opt for a turnkey intranet, vendor selection will undoubtedly become a major decision. Below are some key factors, differentiators, and questions to keep in mind as you make your selection.
Build vs buy: has the war been won?
While the benefits of an intranet are essentially common knowledge, opinions on the best implementation path have posed a longstanding dilemma. Enterprises seeking to implement a new solution have traditionally been faced with two choices: build a custom-made portal or buy an Out-of-the-Box intranet product.
One of the key decisions anyone considering an intranet platform needs to make is whether to build their own bespoke platform from scratch or seek out a third-party vendor. Build versus buy has been an ongoing debate for technology leaders for quite sometime. However, rapid innovations in the SaaS space have recently tipped the scales in favor of turnkey solutions.
Historically, proponents on the build side argued that it would be near impossible to find a bought solution that could be tailored to meet the specific needs of a given enterprise. These on-premise devotees pointed to the complete control associated with building. However, competitors on the buy side were quick to argue that cons such as the need for constant support and lower functionality far outweighed any potential benefits associated with an on-premise option.
As it stands now, a bought solution carries several distinct advantages. Out-of-the-box intranets are always evolving to ensure your solution is future-proof and teams have access to round-the-clock support via third-party experts.
Much like the build vs. buy debate, the contest between cloud-based intranet hosting and on-premise options has become less of a difficult decision thanks to some key developments in enterprise offerings over the past few years.
Cloud-based intranet solutions, where your intranet and data is hosted offsite and made accessible via internet access to the cloud, typically incur far lower upfront costs and place the burden of hardware and infrastructure on a third-party manager. On-premises hosting, on the other hand, requires significant investment and leaves you to deal with any technical problems that arise.
With the significant advances in cloud technology over recent years, cloud-based intranets have surged to become something of an industry-standard, proving itself as the premier choice for any modern enterprise.
Eliminate time spent switching between applications by bringing everything under one roof. A next-generation intranet should include integrations with the following:
Maximize your existing investments by selecting a vendor that includes seamless integrations with the Microsoft stack. Ideally, the Microsoft Office 365 suite should be brought together within a single unified space.
Unleash the power of Microsoft 365 and SharePoint with an intranet
Microsoft 365 and SharePoint are a popular choice for the foundation of a modern digital workplace, yet many global enterprises struggle to unlock the full potential of the Microsoft stack. This comprehensive guide outlines the role of Microsoft 365 within the digital workplace, offering examples and steps that your business can take to maximize the return on your Microsoft investment with an intranet.
From accessing files in Google Docs and Google Drive to collaborating and sharing materials on Sites, get the best out of your Google tools through deeply configurable integrations with Workspace applications.
Get the most from Google Workspace with an intranet
You’ve invested in Google Workspace to power efficient and collaborative work. What’s next? It’s time to consider the role an intranet plays in bringing the various workloads in Google Workspace together, putting your Google content into a wider context for even greater ROI. If you’re truly looking to maximize your investment, make delivering a single pane of glass experience your top priority.
With today’s enterprises more widespread and globally dispersed than ever, the need for digital experiences that cater to each and every type of employee has grown. The employee experience has changed drastically over recent years and the digital experiences that employees demand has shifted with it. A social and mobile-first platform has emerged with these developments as a key facet of a modern intranet.
Give all your users a true voice in your portal, with powerful and intuitive social networking tools. Embedded across all content, familiar social features drive high levels of engagement, helping you to keep your platform alive and abuzz with valuable conversations. Empower social interactions with @mentions, #hashtags, and bespoke social reactions that make participating in the conversation instinctive.
Empower your employees to stay connected wherever they are in the world, from whichever device suits their needs. Your forthcoming intranet should enable your staff to access knowledge, collaborate, and stay informed whenever and wherever they choose. To ensure this becomes a reality, prioritize a mobile responsive intranet that will deliver a powerful experience across all devices, which can be tailored to specific audiences.
With so many features, integrations, and use cases made possible by next-gen software, it can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to designing and developing your intranet. With this in mind, we’ve laid out four key areas that should be top of your list as you look to develop and launch a successful intranet:
#1. Define your goals and objectives
Ensure your technology delivers ongoing business value and tailor your approach to your digital goals by laying out a clear plan for your intranet. Define your goals and objectives and create a vision statement for both your intranet and digital transformation project. These goals will set a benchmark for success that you can measure performance against, allowing you to make informed decisions and changes to ensure your intranet continues to hit your targets.
Life after intranet launch
The first step always seems the biggest, but there’s still a long road ahead. Episode 6 of the Unily podcast sees our very own expert in life after launch, Customer Success Manager Sanika Gentles, join Paul Seda, Kaitlin Auriemma, and Matthew Boyd to talk about the key drivers of your employee experience platform’s success; now, and long into the future.
#2. Understand your users and their needs
Each member of your organization has different needs and requirements from your enterprise technology. For a truly user-first intranet, your platform needs to be personalized and targeted to ensure that the digital employee experience meets these priorities. Prior to designing and launching your intranet, take stock of your user base and gather feedback on what they need most from your new solution. With this information, tailoring your intranet to remain relevant and valuable to your people becomes much easier.
#3. Plan your adoption strategy
As with any enterprise technology, one of the greatest hurdles in implementation is achieving widespread user adoption across your organization. When an intranet platform fails to gain traction, its benefits remain out of reach.
Next-generation intranets come with a host of features designed to reach and engage even the most isolated and dispersed workforces, such as mobile-first design, intuitive and familiar social features, consumer-grade search experiences, and many more. What is key for ensuring these features draw in your audience is planning and defining your adoption strategy: consider your launch plan, how you advertise the solution, how intuitive it is for new users to pick up and use, and how you’re communicating this new technology to your workforce.
10 essentials for staging the ultimate intranet launch
Launch activities are an essential part of maximizing returns on an intranet investment. Planning an effective launch gets new sites buzzing from day one, resulting in faster adoption and increased engagement. Whether there’s budget available – or just manpower and internal communications – the key to a successful intranet launch is having a solid plan backed by reams of enthusiasm.
#4. Analyze performance, test, repeat
The best intranets withstand the test of time by adapting to suit the evolving needs of the workforce. As you launch your intranet and beyond, maintain consistent tracking and analytics. This will make it easier to measure the performance of your platform against your strategic goals and allow you to identify areas for improvement as you look to develop your platform to reach new heights.
Before, content was king – now, context is king. Keep in the know and futureproof your solution by tracking and analyzing performance, testing changes and enhancements, and repeating this review process regularly.
With adoption key to your intranet’s success, your top priority needs to be ensuring that your intranet caters to your users’ needs and delivers an unparalleled digital employee experience.
The design of your intranet is as important as its functionality. UX can be make or break for your users, as a clunky, hard to navigate intranet will deter employees from making your intranet their go-to hub. To truly drive engagement and use of your platform, everything from its theming and color scheme down to its page structure should be optimized for your users. The key is simply to keep your users’ needs at the front of your mind as you consider intranet design.
There's no one-size-fits-all model when it comes to designing your intranet. Instead, every organization needs to research and evaluate the specific uses cases and priorities that will be most relevant to every sub-segment of their workforce and launch a platform with these needs in mind. However, it can be helpful to look outside of your organization to gain inspiration for your forthcoming platform. If you're eager to see what some examples of top-performing intranets look like in action, check out our round-up of design options that are both functional and easy to recreate.
Easy intranet design examples to get you inspired
Design plays a crucial role in influencing intranet adoption and engagement. Specialized tools and critical updates are virtually meaningless if the layout of your digital workplace is non-intuitive and difficult to navigate. Luckily, an array of new Widgets, configuration options, page layouts, and additional features are at the ready to help stakeholders ensure their intranet maximizes employee engagement by providing the best user experience possible. In this blog, we highlight some new features leaders can turn to in order to optimize their digital workplace.
Looking for more information on how the right intranet software can pave the way for widespread success? Check out our Case Study section to learn how enterprises of every size and sector leveled up workplace experience through digital transformation.
Whether you're launching your first solution or redesigning a legacy platform, there are a host of priorities that leaders must weigh throughout the design process. To streamline your to-do list and ensure your forthcoming solution truly delivers, keep the following must-haves on your radar:
Whether fully cloud-based or through a hybrid build, the scalability and flexibility that the cloud offers make it the go-to choice for a next-generation intranet.
A cloud intranet provides employees with secure access to all the tools and resources they need to work anywhere, at any time, from any device. As our workforces become more mobile, cloud-based intranets are providing enterprises with the technology to communicate, collaborate, and drive productivity effectively.
Today's modern enterprise is globally dispersed, with employees spread across various sites and locations. Your intranet must be flexible to accommodate users in head office, those working remotely, and colleagues on the frontline. Each of these employees will need different things from your platform, and while desktop access may suffice for office workers, those working on the move or the frontline will require mobile-first design to ensure they are kept in the loop and made to feel a valued member of your organization. Push notifications, offline reading, and intuitive and seamless UX extend your full intranet to mobile users, ensuring your entire workforce remains connected.
The key to an engaging and lively platform is giving users the opportunity to make their voice heard and shape the digital experience themselves. Content and communications go a long way towards this, but nothing can match the interactions and connections that a social intranet creates. Whether its an all company feed where users can stay up to date with news across your organization or private feeds for teams and departments to collaborate together on projects, enterprise social features empower people to get involved in valuable conversations on your platform.
You should expect your platform to meet the highest benchmarks for data control and security, adopting internationally recognized standards for the management of Business Information Security with both ISO27001 and SOC 2 accreditation.
Security runs deeper than just technology and platforms. Being able to effectively manage who has access to what in your enterprise portal ensures secure content stays that way. Group users into easily managed security groups and then set their access rights across your entire portal for both viewing and editing different content.
Your solution should have a powerful integrations framework that makes it quick and easy to pull your existing enterprise technology through into your intranet. Third-party applications should be integrated seamlessly into your platform, reducing the need for users to switch between multiple systems to leverage tools and find information, ultimately boosting employee productivity. You should also prioritize a unified search experience that makes it easy for users to get their eyes on crucial information near instantaneously.
One of the keys to ensuring high adoption is designing your intranet to be as intuitive and familiar for your users as possible. Having to train for and learn a new platform is often detrimental to adoption as it places a wall between your users and your technology. A platform that is easy to use straight from the start invites all your people to incorporate it into their work processes, allowing your platform to become a go-to hub for employee needs.
Focus on designing and building out your intranet to be as straightforward for your users as possible, so that when it comes time to launch you need not worry about adoption or retraining people to use your platform.
3 insights for launching an intranet with superior UX
In an age when employee experience reigns supreme, launching an intranet with user-centered design has never been more critical. Leaders mistakenly believe that the key to designing unparalleled workplace technology lies in eye-catching graphics or cutting-edge features. The simple truth is that a superior UX comes down to discovering what matters most to end-users.
Communications for global enterprises can be tricky when users from various countries and regions use your platform. To maximize reach and engagement, you need an intranet that is convenient, relevant, and tailored for your users, so ensuring that your platform is available in their preferred language can make a big difference towards upping participation levels. Look for AI-powered multilingual translation to slash the time and resources needed to publish your content in various languages.
The only way to continue to derive ongoing value from your intranet is to ensure that you maintain an agile approach to development and adapt your platform in-line with the evolving needs of your organization. Track and measure the use and engagement with your intranet to better understand the trends and needs of your users, allowing you to make informed decisions on the future direction of your platform.
An analytics dashboard lets you keep track of the performance of your intranet with ease. Either use a preconfigured dashboard or build your own custom dashboards to report on the metrics and data you value. Benchmark your success against other enterprises of similar size or industry to see how your intranet's performance stacks up.
The first step to digital transformation starts with finding the best intranet software for your organization. If you're still working on making your own selection and beginning your design process, check out our guides and blog content on launching your solution. For those eager to get started, reach out to our digital workplace experts to begin your intranet journey.
How to decide what intranet software is best for you
There is little doubt of the benefits of modern intranet software over an aging, static legacy intranet. But with so many options out there, how do you know where to start? Download our comprehensive guide today to understand the questions you should be asking before deciding upon intranet software.