For far too long intranets were viewed as the poorer relation to the website. This downgrading of the intranet was due to a fundamental issue with the way intranets traditionally operated which made them ineffective and redundant to a productive workforce.

Intranets were managed by one person, who made the decision on what and when information is pushed out. The problem with this approach is too often the information is not tailored for employees with different needs. Recently there has been a massive step change in both the perception and use of intranets. Consequently, intranet investment levels have increased significantly relative to corporate websites.

One of the biggest developments which kick started the intranet evolution was the ease by which anyone can upload content. Many organisations have introduced ‘Intranet Champions’ in departments such as marketing and HR. It has made the updating of intranets less of a technical nightmare, meaning an up-to-date intranet is no longer dependent on the IT department.

This has led to the next step in the evolution of the intranet, as many organisations have begun to realise the benefits a collaborative intranet can bring in helping people to get work done.

The evolution into a social intranet

A report from evidence-based user research company, the Nielsen Norman Group, shows social features within an intranet are essential for supporting employee collaboration and knowledge management. As organisations adopt a ‘social’ intranet, it is not uncommon to have hundreds, if not thousands, of people contributing to intranet content on a daily basis, through blogs, comments, ‘Likes’, ‘Shares’ and status updates.

An intranet’s social capabilities not only aid knowledge sharing, but are important when someone leaves an organisation, taking with them their valuable knowledge and experience. A social intranet makes conversations more public and structured so knowledge is maintained internally.

However, the social intranet has in turn created a problem; namely an abundance of information which employees have to sift through to find the content relevant to their specific query.

This not only causes frustration and leads to a lack of employee engagement, but also individuals are likely to miss vital information which help them do their work. The creation of this ‘noise’ can therefore have great detrimental effect on productivity.

Increasing productivity through people-focused communication

When an employee requires information to do their job effectively, knowing who to approach in an organisation to find relevant information can be a minefield, whilst searching on intranets can be time consuming. McKinsey recently reported workers spend approximately 28 hours per week searching and collaborating.

The report from the Nielsen Norman Group shows knowledge within a social intranet must be carefully managed to effectively support employee collaboration. An integrated search functionality which searches the entire social layer on the intranet in addition to other content is essential. The report also highlights how social intranet projects must be driven by business needs to make them most effective.

Too often intranets are technology-focused, when to be most effective they must focus on the specific requirements of the business, the employees and the tasks they need to do.

In a business world where time is critical, the demand for accurate and relevant content which supports specific employee requirements to enable people to get work done efficiently is more crucial than ever. I believe for a modern day intranet to become essential to an organisation’s success relying on social alone is not enough.

Blending social and productivity tools with intelligent communication is key

Statistics from Mckinsey show productivity within an organisation can increase by 25 per cent with the right technology and culture. However, a number of my customers have shown that this increase in productivity levels can be surpassed.

This can be achieved by utilising a blend of social and productivity tools which aid internal communication, collaboration and carry out key business processes. This reinvigorates employee engagement, empowers staff and increases productivity.

The benefits of a social intranet are numerous, but for the collaboration it brings to be both effective and efficient, the noise must be intelligently filtered to make content targeted to its intended audiences. For example, Amazon recommendations make suggestions to consumers based on previous searches and purchases.

To truly aid productivity, intranets must take the same approach and use data from social tools to study an individual’s connections, interactions, intranet behaviour and profile data to construct a unique profile DNA for each user and filter the most relevant content accordingly. The result is a social, intelligent intranet which makes the right content find the right people.

As the intranet has evolved, it has become a powerful digital workspace which constantly accumulates content, people, collaboration and services. Whilst the power of intranets continues to grow, the task has got even tougher to ensure an intranet is equipped to play an essential role in aligning itself to an organisation’s long-term success.