Company intranets should be unique, and they should help employees and managers do their jobs more effectively and economically. As with any project, you need a strategy to develop an intranet. You must take the time to identify what you want to accomplish and how to get it done.

Devise a strategy
The first step in formulating your strategy is to determine what you want the intranet to do. Your first goal for the intranet might be to distribute company information to employees. Later, you may want your intranet to do more. The great thing about building an intranet is that you don’t need to build everything at once. In fact, your intranet should be an ongoing project, with new capabilities added over time.

You should break your intranet strategy into components. For example, each department in the company has unique opportunities within the company’s objectives. Develop a strategy for each functional entity in the company, and define two or three functions that benefit each unit.

The key is to get department heads and senior managers to think about those aspects of an intranet that truly benefit employees and managers. Find something that improves employee productivity, reduces cost, or creates a sense of pride within the company, and you have a winner. For example, consider these potential intranet uses:

  • Company news, departmental newsletters, or weekly letters from the president
  • Employee handbook, expense report submissions, and so on
  • Operations policies and procedures manuals
  • Client contracts file
  • Addition, deletion, and change of submissions to Human Resources
  • IT Support Desk trouble ticket submission and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
  • White papers
  • Training documentation and schedules for new employees

The key to developing an intranet strategy is to determine its purpose. Most intranets are used to disseminate information, but you need not limit yours to that. In one company, I justified building an intranet simply to eliminate the production, updating, and distribution of employee handbooks. The Human Resources Department saved over $10,000 in production and delivery costs, not to mention the labor and headaches that go with assembling and handling the books. The whole process took little time to set up on our new intranet, and it gave HR a cost-effective way to introduce future changes with minimal effort.

Plan the intranet
When planning your intranet, prioritize the objectives developed in your strategy phase. You should place components like employee handbooks and company news items at the top of your priorities. These create considerable exposure to the intranet among employees and are quickly implemented with immediate benefit.

I always try to include something in the plan from every major department so that pertinent and interesting information is available to all employees. The more participation you have, the more employees will rely on the intranet—and the more they’ll benefit from it.

Approach your intranet development just like any other project. Define the objectives, lay out the priorities, develop the tasks and responsibilities, schedule completion dates, and communicate the plan to company managers and employees.

Implement your plan
Implement your intranet in phases, with plenty of quality assurance (QA). Remember: You have high visibility with an intranet development project, so make it a positive experience.

Select key users in each functional area to help your team QA each part of the new application. Test for content accuracy, ease of navigation, and functionality. Your tests could help you expand the intranet’s benefits and make it more useful to employees.

I recommend adding new functions and content in layers so employees can begin accessing the company intranet quickly and see a continual growth of content and services. Just as with an Internet Web site, frequent updates lure visitors back.

Promote the new intranet
Be sure to promote your intranet to its customers—your employees. Announce every update, and post the news on the intranet’s home page for all to see. You must get employees and managers in the habit of using the intranet as a communication vehicle if they are to benefit from it. It won’t happen all by itself. There are several ways to promote your new capabilities to employees. You can:

  • Post information employees need to know on the home page.
  • Post daily events or news on the home page.
  • Use it for employee activities, such as expense reports or vacation requests.
  • Use it as a portal for IT support and status updates on support tickets.
  • Help managers use it to convey their messages to employees.
  • Promote the benefits of applications in use on the intranet.
  • Use it as an employee suggestion portal.
  • Include company calendars and schedules for training, holidays, and seminars.
  • Get the CEO or president of your company to back it.

Increase productivity and reduce costs
Intranets increase productivity and reduce costs in many ways. Use it to eliminate production and distribution costs of company manuals, such as the following:

  • Employee handbooks
  • Managerial guides
  • Operating policies and procedures
  • Training manuals

Use it to reduce postage in distributing company information, such as the following:

  • Company newsletters
  • Expense reports
  • Management reports (in a secured section)
  • Scheduled company events

Use it to save employees’ time by answering frequently asked questions:

  • Create an IT Support Desk FAQ page that answers the “top 10” support questions.
  • Create a quick reference FAQ page for each department’s employees.
  • Create a company contact list for key issues and/or questions.

Use it to provide employee training material online for quick reference, such as the following:

  • Training class material
  • Policies and procedures

You can also save time and effort by placing project updates online.

Intranet example
The structure shown in Figure A is an intranet my team developed.

Figure A

We started very small, with just a company home page and a small IT section, but as people saw the benefit, we added more functionality to improve productivity, reduce cost, and give our employees easy access to information. Start small, and you’ll begin to realize your own benefits.