The traditional intranet is an employee pain point. It’s hard to access, it’s not personalized and it’s blocking digital transformation. Companies know they need a more modern version of the intranet—but what does that mean in real terms? And, is a modern intranet even enough to digitally transform today’s hybrid workforce? Find out:
The intranet as we know it is changingThe intranet has recently gone from accepted employee pain point to a key corporate priority. C-suite executives, IT leaders and heads of communications are all grappling with how to modernize it to meet the needs of today’s complex hybrid workforce. But the truth is that modernizing the intranet is just one piece of the puzzle, because meeting the needs of today’s workforce requires modernizing the entire digital employee experience. In this article, we take a closer look at what really qualifies as a modern intranet, and what other elements are needed to support a successful digital transformation.
What problems are today’s intranets trying to solve?
Enterprises have spent the past decade adding new tools and platforms to their digital workplaces in an attempt to improve agility. But, because these technologies are all somewhat disconnected from each other, or fragmented, they’re creating more obstacles for employees.
Known as “friction,” these obstacles are eating up valuable time in the workweek. Think about the time your average office worker spends searching for information or wading through messages and pings from different software. Or, consider how long it takes a frontline worker, like someone on a factory floor, to stop doing their work and check a company system on a desktop computer. These issues are proliferating as the workforce becomes more mobile and distributed.
Friction not only makes it take longer for employees to do their jobs, but it can also cause them to miss important company information like new policy changes or business objectives. Additionally, it can make it harder to get workers to adopt larger initiatives like digital transformation
Organizations are now trying to modernize the intranet to address these challenges. Their idea is to give employees one hub they can go to for the information, tools and company news they need throughout their workday. Using a central hub can benefit some employees, but may also increase friction for others—this is why it’s important to consider how the intranet fits into the employee experience. To understand the role a modern intranet should play, however, we first need to clarify what it is.
What is a modern intranet?
A modern intranet is the newest iteration of the corporate intranet designed for the way people work today—quickly, collaboratively, at all hours and in all locations. Modern intranet systems are being implemented in an attempt to help workers access the information, tools and resources they need for work. Companies hope that, by modernizing their intranets, they will help their employees accomplish more with less effort, and that in turn will help the company become more agile and better accomplish its business objectives. Employees can perform multiple tasks with a modern intranet, such as:
- Accessing company information via their web or mobile phone browser
- Reading and engaging with company news, which is sometimes personalized
- Accessing systems and applications they need for work
- Finding resources and documents
So, what exactly makes an intranet modern? The easiest way to explain that is to compare it to the traditional intranet.
Traditional intranet vs. modern intranet
We’ve created a chart to highlight the key differences between the modern intranet and the traditional intranet at a glance. In the next two sections, we’ll take a deeper dive into the characteristics of each.
To really understand the modern intranet, we need to take a longer look at how the traditional intranet came to exist. Examining its use cases, and how those needs have changed for the modern worker, can help us define where the modern intranet is and isn’t successful.
Characteristics of the traditional intranet
The traditional intranet was designed to be a company’s internal network. Its primary purpose was to act as a gateway to the organization for wired desk workers seated at an office computer during the business day. Features of intranet systems typically included—and usually still include:
- Company news from the internal or employee communications team
- A repository for information and linked resources that are maintained by IT
- Linked connections to some company systems, like HR, payroll and expense reporting
History of the traditional intranet
The original intranets of the 1990s were on-premises software solutions that were very costly to maintain. In the 2000s, software-as-a-service (Saas) allowed intranets to become more web-based, but they often still had on-premises elements and were cumbersome to update. For example, when intranet publishing capabilities were first introduced, many enterprises complained of usability issues with the feature.
The result of these challenges was that many corporate intranets were left full of outdated information and broken links, limiting their usefulness. The “gateway to the enterprise” often became a portal to nowhere, and intranets developed poor reputations among employees. By 2012, only 13% of employees were using their company intranet daily, while 31% weren’t using the intranet at all.
The traditional intranet today
IT departments are now tasked with resurrecting the usefulness of the traditional intranet for employees and organizations. That’s challenging, because today’s hybrid workforce works in many different ways across different systems, channels and devices. Think about the mobile essential workers and healthcare workers who have kept the world running during COVID-19. A traditional intranet simply isn’t built to support them, because:
- It’s built as a hub or single destination site. Workers have to navigate to it and can’t just consume information at the endpoint that’s easiest for them.
- It has barriers to access. Often, employees must log in with credentials like an email address, which frontline workers may not have. Intranets may also be secured through a VPN, which can require IT to enable access for each device.
- It’s pull-based and creates more work for workers. Employees have to go looking for the information they need, rather than automatically receiving the information they need.
- It’s not personalized. Traditional intranets were built to serve the entire organization, so they lack the intelligence and architecture to deliver targeted content and application access to the individual.
Together these drawbacks prevent intranets from being agile enough for digital transformation, and they block companies from meeting their productivity and efficiency goals. That’s why, today, many IT teams and companies are seeking to modernize the intranet.
Characteristics of a modern intranet
While more than 100 vendors in the market claim to be modern intranet solutions, the ones that actually live up to the category name are those that address the challenges organizations are having with their traditional intranets. To qualify as a modern intranet, a technology should:
- Provide a positive employee experience: Companies need their modern intranet to be easy for workers to use, which means an intuitive user experience (UX) that can often be similar to consumer applications.
- Integrate systems and applications: Modern intranets need to integrate corporate systems as well as business and consumer applications, including platforms, productivity suites and collaboration tools.
- Offer true mobile reach and support: A truly modern intranet should be available via native iOS and Android employee apps, rather than just a mobile web experience.
- Complement cloud office solutions: Most enterprises have invested in Microsoft 365 or Google G Suite, and many employees spend their workdays in these productivity applications, so a modern intranet must work seamlessly with them.
- Provide personalization: Information that’s key to one employee may be spam to another in a different department. A modern intranet should personalize the information each user receives, and ideally also the links and applications they can access.
Firstup teamed with Pulse, experts in social research, to generate insights from HR, IT and Comms professionals about the modern intranet. Exploring the limitations of antiquated platforms vs. solutions that address the needs of today’s workforce, we uncovered the essential features and technology leaders want to support their enterprise-wide communications. Get access to the full report to learn what feature 80% of respondents believe to be the most important in a modern intranet solution.
“The combination of Firstup with Office 365 allows our comms team and functional leaders to publish, target and streamline delivery of content and information to all caregivers—across our Microsoft endpoints. Plus, the analytics give us the ability to show how communications are driving our strategic initiatives, including our digital transformation.”
Benefits of a modern intranet
For employees who can easily access them, such as staff employees with a company login, modern intranets place the information and applications they need within easy reach. These are some of the benefits the modern intranet can help companies realize:
- Improved productivity for desk workers: Employees can find what they’re looking for more easily and perform tasks faster, particularly when they use tools in the same ecosystem as the intranet, e.g., Microsoft 365.
- Digital transformation: The modern intranet can help companies promote the adoption of new technologies and processes to all of the employees who regularly use the intranet.
- Greater efficiency working from home: As of March, Gartner reported that 88% of organizations had moved employees to working from home. A modern intranet enables a number of these workers to perform the same workflows at home that they would at the office.
- Little to no training required: Modern intranets use intuitive interfaces, meaning most employees will be able to pick up basic usage naturally, and be able to use the full feature set with minimal training.
- Short launch time frame: Out-of-the-box modern intranet solutions can be deployed in a matter of days, while a full redesign of an older traditional intranet may take months to complete.
Where modern intranets fall short
Organizations around the world are looking to remake the intranet in a new image—but, depending on which technologies they choose, that image can still closely resemble the traditional intranet.
In working with our customers, we’ve found that the main reason for this is that many IT teams believe a more modern interface will increase usage. However, they aren’t considering that a single destination site will always limit usage to some extent, simply due to accessibility.
Employees live in different systems depending on their role, location and access to technology, so a single hub will never meet all of their needs. For example, it might be practical for a desk worker to log onto a corporate intranet every morning, but asking the same of a nurse would likely disrupt critical healthcare processes. This is why we recommend to our customers that they modernize their entire digital employee experience, rather than just their intranet.
How the modern intranet fits into the digital employee experience
What part does a modern intranet play in the digital employee experience? To understand that, it’s helpful to define the term first.
What is the digital employee experience?
In the same way customer experience (CX) has been the guiding North Star for many business decisions in the past decade, employee experience (EX) has become a growing internal priority.
If we consider EX the whole of an employee’s experiences with a company, then their digital employee experience (DEX) is the whole of their user experiences with all of that company’s technologies.
How are CX, EX and DEX related?
Why is the digital employee experience important?
While DEX is a new term, IT, communications and HR leaders have focused on it for some time now, because they recognize that different employee roles use different endpoints and devices to do their work, and therefore these employees have different user experiences.
User experiences can vary greatly depending on how an employee consumes information. A wired worker watching a video on their desktop computer won’t have the same experience as a warehouse worker watching it at lunch on their smartphone. In the same way, some employees live in their email inbox, while others view email as little more than busy work, but live in Slack or Microsoft Teams.
Employees aren’t just having different experiences, though—they’re having different struggles accessing information. Wired desk workers are inundated with messages in email and Slack, and also have to manually log into different systems to find the information they need. Meanwhile, frontline workers, contractors and other employees without a company email address are often left in an information vacuum because they don’t have login privileges.
Why organizations should transform the digital employee experience, not just modernize the intranet
Modernizing the digital employee experience means making information and applications accessible for every worker, no matter what systems or endpoints they normally use for work. It also means giving all employees the same features and functionality. At Firstup, we call this “unifying the digital experience.” Think of it as giving equal opportunity information access to all employees.
For example, if your team spends a lot of time in the Microsoft 365 product suite, while your coworker’s team spends a lot of time in Salesforce, you should both be able to access information from those locations with the same ease.
A modern digital employee experience also drives efficiency and consistency when it comes to publishing. You should be able to publish information once and have the system intelligently deliver that content to the right person on the device or channel they prefer.
Providing a modern intranet plays a part in helping employees access key information and tools. But, remember that not all employees will find it convenient to go to a central hub to get their information.
So, a modern digital employee experience brings intranet functionality to the employee, within any endpoint or system, instead of the employee having to go to the intranet.
Here’s a visual example of how this works:
A digital employee experience that works for every worker
Top 5 benefits of a modern digital employee experience
Modernizing the entire digital employee experience provides better ROI for companies than modernizing the intranet alone. This is important to note, because modernization can require significant budgetary resources to complete, and organizations will want to make sure their budget goes as far as possible. A more holistic modernization can offer:
- A robust experience for every role: A digital employee experience shouldn’t be designed solely around workers at desks. Modernization ensures that every employee in today’s hybrid workforce has an equally effective user experience, including mobile, frontline, essential and distributed workers.
- Campaign automation and targeting for employee communications: Internal communicators can target content to specific groups or employees, including frontline and deskless workers. They can also set specific goals for their communications and automate notifications and follow-ups that ensure those goals are achieved, simplifying their workflow and making their messages more effective.
- Decentralized publishing features: Employees can publish via both web and mobile interfaces, so any user can be granted permission to create and post content.
- Multiple methods of deployment and consumption: Users have access to the same content and capabilities across all endpoints and channels, including the corporate destination site, mobile, applications, newsfeeds, and both company-issued and personal devices. New content and features can be deployed across all of these endpoints.
- Greater agility for the organization: Not only is the workforce able to be more productive, but companies can get employees to act rapidly during critical organizational changes. For example, at the start of COVID-19, a company with a modern digital employee experience would have been able to quickly align employees with new policies and procedures.
These benefits can make companies significantly more competitive. According to IDC, 47% of organizations that had longer-term digital transformation strategies and investments before the pandemic are showing strong signs of business growth.
How do a modern intranet and modern digital employee experience impact an organization?
When an enterprise holistically modernizes both their intranet experience and digital employee experience, it creates change across workflows, processes and corporate systems. Here’s how that can impact some of the most high-priority areas for enterprise companies:
Modern intranets with strong personalization capabilities will be able to boost employee engagement by increasing the relevance of content, links and apps. The more relevant and important the content is for each user, the more likely they are to engage with it. However, to really excel at personalization, an enterprise needs advanced targeting features. These will enable the company to personalize by role and location, and also by employees’ interests and preferences, as determined by their behavioral and engagement data. This is not a capability of most modern intranets, but it is a capability of digital employee experience solutions.
Many older iterations of the intranet had issues with their publishing features. A modern intranet should eliminate these challenges for internal communicators and enable them to seamlessly create and publish content. At a minimum, communicators should be able to publish to the intranet, but a solution that considers the digital employee experience should also offer omnichannel publishing. This capability allows communications to be published to every channel and endpoint at once, such as to email, mobile, and collaboration tools. Omnichannel publishing saves time and simplifies workflow for communicators, while also reaching employees even when they can’t access the intranet.
Modernizing the intranet and the digital employee experience should create cohesion across the digital workplace. Right now, 78% of employees are using 6 or more tools, channels and systems just to communicate internally,1 which 74% of IT leaders agree is too many.1 A modern digital employee experience makes the digital workplace less fragmented and more streamlined by connecting all of its elements.
A modern intranet and modern digital employee experience together will help accelerate digital transformation, because IT teams will be able to promote adoption across any system, channel or endpoint employees currently use. If their digital employee experience includes unified analytics, they’ll also be able to measure the progress of their transformation by tracking the actions employees have taken.
How do you know if your employees actually read or engaged with your CEO’s latest announcement, particularly if that message was sent to multiple channels? A unified digital employee experience allows you to measure your workforce’s response to content across channels and dig deeper into the trends that actually drive employee engagement.
Overall, modernizing the digital employee experience can bring about many positive changes. Yet some companies have invested heavily in traditional intranets like the SharePoint intranet, and now are reluctant to abandon them.
People often ask, “Is SharePoint dead?”, but the Microsoft intranet is still used worldwide
In the enterprise world, SharePoint is still very much in use—by more than 200,000 organizations according to Microsoft—but which version of SharePoint is in use at these companies is another matter.
Here at Firstup, we’re seeing many companies shifting away from the on-premises version, called SharePoint Server, as part of the move to cloud platforms. Several of our customers have already made the switch to SharePoint Online. Yet, across the enterprise landscape, many organizations are sticking to SharePoint Server, because they are not yet ready for cloud migration.
Microsoft has recently added new integrations between SharePoint and the rest of the Microsoft 365 ecosystem, making moving between Microsoft applications more frictionless for workers. However, these integrations don’t have the ability to integrate apps and tools outside of Microsoft—so a company that uses both a SharePoint intranet and Slack, for example, would not be able to have users access both via the same interface.
This is another reason we recommend that customers modernize their entire digital employee experience, not just the part within a productivity platform like Microsoft 365 or Google G Suite. Our modern intranet solution is designed to integrate with these platforms, but also any other system or application, so employees can work seamlessly throughout their day.
The FirstUp Orchestration Engine
5 steps to a digital employee experience that works for every worker
We track every user interaction with the platform, across all endpoints, channels and systems, in one unified analytics dashboard. This allows companies to tie user engagement back to business initiatives and measure their results. It also means the platform can continually optimize its personalization and targeting.
The use of our orchestration engine results in even more differences from the traditional intranet:
- One gateway to the organization
- Information must be pulled by employees
- Hierarchical information structure
- Desktop UX
- Links out to systems and services
- Manual, heavy reliance on IT
- One-off communications
- No or limited analytics
Intranet Modernization Alone
- Web and mobile entry to the organization
- Information must be pulled by employees
- Information structure may be personalized
- Consumer UX
- Some integrated systems and services
- Self-service at a passive hub
- One-off communications
- No or limited analytics
Digital Employee ExperiencePowered by FirstUp
- Omnichannel entry to the organization
- Information pushed to each employee
- Hyper-personalized information structure
- Consumer UX
- Personalized, integrated systems and services
- Self-service for users at all endpoints
- Campaign automation
- Workforce intelligence across all endpoints
Employees and companies get visibly more out of modernizing the digital employee experience compared to just modernizing the intranet—but just what do the bullets in the above table mean? Here’s a quick rundown:
- Omnichannel entry to the organization: Instead of just a web and mobile “front door” to the company, FirstUp creates multiple side doors via any channel or endpoint, including email, mobile, desktop, collaboration tools like Slack, and enterprise systems like Salesforce.
- Information pushed to each employee: Information is sent to whichever endpoint(s) each employee uses most, rather than forcing every worker to search for it on a central hub.
- Hyper-personalized information structure: A smart inbox and digital assistant prioritize content based on each worker’s needs and role, rather than relying on a multi-level folder structure that gets unwieldy for end users.
- Consumer UX: The intuitive user experience requires little or no training for employees to use it.
- Personalized, integrated systems and services: Each employee can read from and write to any application or system they use to do their job, right within the platform.
- Self-service for users at all endpoints: Workers can find the tools and resources they need, wherever they’re already working. Additionally, organizations can set up permissions so certain users can create channels and target content to specific groups.
- Campaign automation: Communications are sent with key goals, and automated follow-ups prompt users to take action.
- Workforce intelligence across endpoints: Unified analytics provide a clear picture of which communications and business initiatives are working.
To sum it up, FirstUp brings the modern intranet to every employee, wherever they are.
Is your organization considering modernizing the intranet? If so, make sure that initiative is part of modernizing your entire digital employee experience. This will allow your organization to:
- Offer an intranet that is better designed for how employees work today
- Meet the needs of all employee roles, even those that can’t access the intranet
- Give each employee a more personalized, intuitive experience
- Make employees more productive and companies more agile
- Accelerate your digital transformation
If you’d like to learn more about the modern intranet and the digital employee experience, we’d recommend taking a look at these recent reports from IDC and Pulse. Or contact us to learn why companies like Amazon, Boeing and Ford use FirstUp as their modern intranet solution.
1. Firstup data study, September 2020