I have to admit, I had pretty low expectations for this intranets conference. I'm not even sure why. I should have stopped to think about it. It may have been a preconception that it would inadvertently end up being a big SharePoint tutorial. Or that intranets are boring. Anyway, whatever it was, I was wrong. Intranets are quite amazing.
I went to Intranets2014 because I know lots of our customers are using our tools to improve their intranets. I wanted to learn more about the nuances and challenges of designing intranets from the people who actually do it — and to come away with ideas for improving our tools and making life easier for intranet designers. In this regard, it was a win — I returned home with pages of ideas.
Intranets are the best tools for culture change an organisation has
My biggest realisation from the event was that intranets are probably the single biggest culture propagation engine a large organisation can have, aside from the people, of course. Not just propagation either. The design and functionality both seem to have an actual impact on people's attitudes to everything. As it turns out, an intranet is not just a place to submit timesheets, read up on the latest policy revisions, and look for an outdated Word document template. Who knew?
If the intranet is easy to use, it demonstrates that the organisation respects the people who use it. Their time is valued. If the intranet is fun and interesting and personalised, it demonstrates that the organisation recognises the value of the humans who are working together to make something happen. And the inverse is true as well — a neglected intranet can have a negative impact on the people who have to use it.
A truly great intranet means an organisation has put the same amount of effort into employee user experience as they have into customer user experience for their external websites. And that’s pretty cool.
Intranets are going mobile
Of course they are! I hadn't thought about it. When is the best time to submit a leave request? When you're at your desk working hard on important business, or when you're on the train on the way home from a busy day, thinking hard about the family vacation? I think organisations and employees agree that being able to access these things quickly and easily is a win for everyone.
Ben Parson’s keynote presentation illustrated how a mobile intranet had transformed Barclay Bank’s frontline environment. Their mobile intranet received the Platinum Intranet Innovation Award in 2013. You can see his slides through the conference website.
Ben’s talk got me wondering about other developments in the mobile intranet space, so I went exploring and found this interesting collection of slideshare decks, all posted within the last three years. So much interesting reading — so little time!
The people who design and run intranets are awesome
Then there's the people. I'm not talking about the disproportionate number of Rebeccas involved this event. Well, I guess I am now. There were at least 4 Rebeccas, and they were all great. Rebecca Jackson creates incredible sketchnotes and writes about intranet news and design. Rebecca Tambs from Deloitte gave a great talk about the importance of user adoption. And Rebecca Rodgers, Principle Consultant at Step Two Designs, ran an excellent full-day workshop on practical intranet navigation and design — which I’m very glad I attended. The other Rebecca was one of the fantastic volunteers — nice to meet you all!
Gianna LaPin knocked us over with numbers. Gianna works on Mayo Clinic’s intranet team, which supports 8,000 authors writing on 2,000 websites. Their decentralised intranet reaches 60,000 employees and has an estimated 1.5 million pieces of content. OMG. In her presentation, she likens intranets bulging with unused information to houses bulging at the mercy of chronic hoarders. And offered advice for helping the hoarders through a content inventory. Great stuff. Gianna contributes guest blogs to our website — check them out.
The people who think about, campaign for, research for, design and ultimately build intranets are an exceptionally nice bunch of people. They are considerate folk doing a lot of thankless work— often risking their own jobs and sanity to build something big and complex to make the lives of every fellow employee more enjoyable and the company engine more efficient and more effective.
It struck me that it takes a certain type of person to see a project like this through. You need to build a whole lot of support from ‘execs’ who, by default it seems, see an intranet as an expense and a hassle. And we all know, execs are sometimes not people. In huge organisations, they can be more like elusive collector cards — whoever works on a company intranet has to collect them all, or at least the high value ones.
And that's about all I wanted to say. What did you think of the conference?