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Plus16 Webinar Transcript "Enterprise Intranet Best Practices: How to Deliver a Personalized Intranet Experience"

By Cathy Dew on October 11, 2016

Good morning / afternoon. Welcome to the Plus16, our monthly live webinar series. Thank you for taking the time to join us. We know that you are busy – as always we intend to pack meaningful data into an efficient 30-minute window.

Today we’re talking about the Best Practices to Deliver Relevant Intranet content to employees…

Personalizing the Enterprise Intranet... Why bother?


intranet_personalization_02.jpgIn todays’ webinar we will walk through

  • The case for being strategic about global versus local with your enterprise intranet
  • What exactly do we mean by local versus global?
  • Five Best Practices for Enterprise Intranets – Delivering Meaningful Content and Features
  • We’ll include real life examples along the way
  • And make a case for why technology matters

Your organization has committed to an Intranet. You’ve made a significant investment in the technology. You’ve got management’s commitment and you have tons of content and features. But on top of that, Personalization requires more investment of resources, time and commitment. So why go the extra mile? Because you want your Intranet to be valuable to your employees – you really do.

Organizations are complicated. They can be highly structured in terms of departmental hierarchy, but often also have an overlay of initiatives, people, products and services that cross departmental lines. Probably the biggest complaint we hear from our clients’ Intranet users – aka employees -- is “I can’t find my stuff” and it’s easy to understand why. Couple this with the fact that employees have a broad range of what is important to them. Staff employees don’t care about the same things that management does. Finance staff have different needs and interests from manufacturing personnel that primarily work on the production floor. Sales reps in local offices don’t share the same set of goals or information needs as global marketing located at corporate headquarters. On top of that, without an automated way to filter content, email is still the go-to platform for many of the exchanges that happen on a local level. You know, the baby shower, the Fun Run for a local charity, the discount at a local gym.

Having a “one size fits all” approach can easily (and often does) result in a feeling that the Intranet isn’t relevant to me.

Instead you want an Intranet that is valuable to employees, supports their workflow and delivers a personal experience. That is exactly why you go to the next level and deliver personalized content and features. That is why bother!

But how do you do that? Great question. But before we go there, let’s talk about what exactly is “global” versus “local” in terms of the Intranet.

What is global? Company-wide content for everyone

When we say global versus local we are really talking about common information that is shared across all staff (global) and information that specific to groups or individuals (local).

In the context of an Intranet, when we say “global” we mean information and features that are important and relevant to everyone – all employees. You can think of global as relating to the Company as a whole. This includes:

intranet_personalization_03.jpgCorporate communications

  • Letters from the CEO
  • Newsletters – company-wide, from HR, Wellness, etc.
  • News in general, such as customer success stories, new product launches
  • Corporate strategy, mission and vision

Another class of content is what I call Company-wide “evergreen” content

  • Per department
  • Products & services
  • Global policies and procedures
  • List of locations or offices

Tools

  • Staff directory
  • Core functions and systems, e.g., HR, Finance and IT

You can think of “global” as content that is Public within the organization. This information provides a starting place for organizing your Intranet.

Now let’s talk about “local”

What is local? My news, my events, my colleagues, my stuff

Let’s contrast that with “local” content

Local, in the context of your Intranet, encompasses anything that is specific to a subset of employees. It provides a way to start identifying and organizing information that is meaningful to a group. This is the beginning of making the Intranet experience more personal.

intranet_personalization_04.jpgThe first and most obvious definition of “local” content is indeed based on location or where the employee is physically located. Geography pays a significant role in defining local when your organization has multiple physical presences, and especially if your organization is international.

As an employee, your local office has its own

  • News
  • Events
  • New Hires
  • Help desk – IT support
  • Emergency contacts
  • Facility information
  • The “always popular” lunch menu

Employees have other affinities that can be used to define what is meaningful or local to “me”

The Market or Region the employee works for (e.g., Canada, Latin America) which is similar to but more of a roll up of location. There may be a messages or events or other announcements that are specific my region. There may also be distinct differences in HR information that is solely based on geographic location. For example, one of our clients has several offices in the United States and while the 401K benefits are the same across the nation, health benefits differ in carrier (provider) and in actual coverage, e.g., California offers a benefit for military spouses as well as special commuter benefit programs.

The Division or Product line the employee works for, e.g., one of our clients has two primary divisions – Garden and Pet – that provides a high-level focus that may be across locations and functional departments, which leads us to…

The Department the employee works for, such as IT, HR, Sales and Marketing. Within a department or group, there is information that is really only relevant or of interest to people who actually work in that department. In many Intranets, this can also be a jumping off place for team sites, which are completely private to a team.

It’s important to remember that this is the employee’s professional dimension. As such, it includes processes and knowledge sharing specific to that dimension. This information is probably not helpful or interesting to people outside of that department.

Then there are Initiatives, Projects and Special Interest Communities that cross departments and possibly locations. This becomes another attribute that can be used to identify content and features that are “local to” or “specific for” an employee.  These are a little trickier to model and sometimes get missed because they don’t show up on the org chart, but they are a vital part of an intranet feeling like it is relevant to someone’s work. An example is one of our clients has several UK locations that span functions from production to inventory and manufacturing to corporate office functions. Their intranet features a “manufacturing” community where staff from any of the physical locations can get involved with that subgroup. There are regular meetings, elected representatives and ongoing communications and events.

Ok, what about language + culture?

intranet_personalization_05.jpgCulture is not Location

We’ve talked about global and local in the context of information relevance to the overall organization (global) versus what is specific to a smaller group of employees (local). Now let’s spend a few minutes on global and local from a culture and language perspective.

The general rule is think about location first. A location may indeed have a different language. But, don’t confuse the two. Be sure to separate your global corporate intranet’s language from the physical location of the employee.

Now let’s talk semantics. In the world of the web, the term culture encompasses language, but it also includes date and numeric formatting. One of the many challenges in building a global corporate intranet is even if a set of employees share the same culture they don’t always share the same physical location. For example, the United States employees of the company may live in Los Angeles, Austin or New York. While they share the same culture (ENG-US) they don’t share the same geographic location, and therefore have different display needs for departments like HR, Finance and IT. These geographic demarcation lines can scale between State, County, and even buildings / campuses and while your CMS can display content based on the culture code provided by the browser, it has no way of knowing the physical location of an employee without an assist. Your Intranet should track each employees home office. (We’ll talk later about how to do that.)

#1 Deliver relevant content + features

My location, my groups, my apps, my mates

The biggest factor in pulling off this seemingly impossible task lies in personalizing the experience for your employees. Note the term personalize and not customize. Personalization happens automatically. Based on a few key user attributes, the system delivers the content that is specifically related to employee. Customization, on the other hand is up to the user. The system allows the employee to set colors, rearrange content on the screen or indicate interest in specific topics. 

Personalization is the most important – we’ll talk about this more in a minute. But customization can definitely contribute to the employees feeling of ownership and engagement.  For one client, their brand includes six vibrant colors. For their Team Sites, we implemented a warm theme using orange, red and yellow. Then we developed a cool theme using greens, purples and blues. Users can easily flip between these options. 

intranet_personalization_06.jpgBack to personalization and how the system can be designed to automatically deliver “Relevant, Meaningful” content and features.

As we discussed earlier, the employees physical location is probably the most significant opportunity for personalization. Based on the home office the system can be configured to deliver:

  • Local news and events that are happening in my office or nearby. With local editors, the intranet can become the forum for social activities, employee milestones, charity initiatives, new employee introductions, and even the local lunch menu
  • Local variations of any of the core services, specifically benefits, which often vary based on geography

Other information about the employee can be used to filter content and deliver value:

  • Department news can be specific to the employees department
  • The employees Role or Tile may also result in more or less content, for example, managers may have access to specific tools that support evaluations and career paths
  • Another angle or targeting content for each and every employee can be purely based on opting in to a feed based on interest

Of course if your organization is multi-national, then local content will also be delivered in the local language. Depending on the size of the organization, global content may also be translated into the local language. We have some clients that deliver all local content in the local language, but global content is in English. Other clients have the budget and commitment to deliver even global content in the local language.

Most Enterprise-level CMS platforms have special workflows to support translation, whether it’s internal to the organization or outsourced to an external entity.

#2 Establish a schedule for publishing

Engage editors and commit to a schedule

intranet_personalization_07.jpgNow that you have committed to delivering content that is personalized, you need to commit to actually developing that content. The other aspect of making this happen is to nurture a diverse group of content editors that will push content on a regular basis. If possible establish a local editor for each office or region, each department, each initiative, etc. This accomplished two major goals:

  1. The effort to publish good content on a routing basis is not shared among a larger group of content developers
  2. By having someone local you are practically ensuring that the content will be interesting and meaningful

Keeping employees engaged and giving them a reason to sign on to the Intranet depends on knowing that there will be new information on a reasonably regular basis. Setting up schedules for publishing ensures that there is a constant stream of new and engaging information.

#3 Support employees workflow

Critical systems and docs are a click away

So far we’ve been focused on content. But there is more than just keeping up with local news and events. There is also an opportunity for making the Intranet personal and relevant in the features and functions that can be easily accessed by each employee. This can be as simple as providing links to the applications and tools that I am most likely to use based on my department. This might be a combination of internally hosted applications and external resources.

intranet_personalization_08.jpgGoing deeper into workflow, we haven’t talked yet about “team sites,” which are very focused collaboration sites that support a department, project or initiative team. The top features of team sites are:

  • Documents, often ones that are work products for the team. Theses are typically not accessible to anyone outside of the team
  • Calendars of events that are specific to the team including team meetings, training, conferences, etc.
  • Tasks, which are typically not as detailed as a project plan but are coordinating tasks that can help with the overall function of the team
  • Announcements, or short items that keep the team apprised of activities within the team

Depending on the platform and culture of the organization – the Intranet might serve up a combination of teamsite content along with company content – global and local, on the employees home page. Imagine seeing the latest from the CEO, meeting a new employee in my office and also seeing task assignments for this week. And don’t worry, teamsite information is “security trimmed” down to the individual’s related security groups.

#4 Build a global community

intranet_personalization_09.jpgConnect your team across the globe

While it’s great to have all of this very relevant local content, you can also provide visibility to the full scope of the company by allowing employees a view into other “locations”. This is easily accomplished by including a location drop down which in effect allows employees to see the Intranet as a colleague in another location, another country, another language. Note that team site information is only available if the employee specifically has access to that content.

The mechanics

Invest in a CMS that can deliver your stuff. So what does it take to make this happen?

In order to provide geographic or location dependent content personalization on your corporate intranet, the first step is to analyze your company’s structure and design a location hierarchy that makes sense. A location hierarchy allows content to be tagged at the appropriate geographic level and provide a “roll-up” of content, if needed. E.g. content tagged for Los Angeles (City) can also appear on pages tagged with California (State), and on pages tagged with United States (Country).

Once you have a location category designed, you need to set this up in your CMS so that content editors can tag the content appropriately. You will need to make decisions about inheritance (both up and down the location hierarchy). Our experience is that the most flexible option is to not inherit and instead tag for each level explicitly.

Within a corporate intranet, the authentication of the employee has taken place before they visit the Intranet, therefore your CMS knows who is visiting along with the culture code provided by the browser. The next step is to identify if your corporate authentication service contains physical location information about every employee. If so, you can import the location information directly into your CMS. If not, you’ll need to request that information from the user on their first visit.  A simple one-time pop-up to collect that information works great. This information is then saved in their CMS user profile for use in content filtering and data aggregation.

Now that you have geographic information about the employee you can display content specific to their region / location. Besides company news and events, you can provide weather, traffic and other location dependent features. But the real win comes with the ability to serve up very specific content within a page that is targeted for a location. For example, now you can display “local” departmental contacts in a sidebar for each department. Note that the primary content of the page can be global (same for all locations). The same is true for health benefits which usually differ by geographic region within a country.

Even if there is only one culture for your website or corporate Intranet, you can leverage a well-designed location scheme to greatly increase the value and meaningfulness of content for your audience.

#5 Make it sustainable: take the time to design a system

intranet_personalization_10.jpgAs your organization starts on his path it is critical to have a flexible and extensible design for tagging content and features.

You also need to have a repeatable way to identify employee attributes that are used to build the filters. Many of our clients have Active Directory for authentication. In some cases the information in AD is correct and reasonably complete. This makes it straightforward and easy to tag each employee with the key attributes that will be used to drive content delivery.

Most projects include an full scale import of AD for the initial launch of the Intranet, but then this becomes part of an ongoing process as new employees are hired. Depending on how accurate AD is, there may be a need for an ongoing update employee attributes in the Intranet, for example to update the role or position of the employee. A promotion to manager might result in different or additional content and features on the Intranet. Likewise if an employee changes locations, geographically driven content will change.

Now you have employees identified with key attributes. The other side of the equation is actually tagging the content. You will want to take advantage of categories already in use within the organization – for example departments, business units, service lines, etc. The design of the taxonomy should be thoughtful and reviewed by key stakeholders. You may also want to have governance around adding new values. 

The mechanics of implementing the taxonomy will be determined in large part by your CMS. Make sure that you have a platform that is both extensible and discreet enough in the way that content can be tagged. Most enterprise-level CMS tools provide a rich categorization scheme that can be configured to reflect your organization and metadata design.

In conclusion –

Spend the time to get it right. Design a taxonomy that makes it possible to personalize the content and features that are displayed for employees. Base your Intranet on an enterprise CMS that is flexible, extensible and easy to update.

Thank you for your time today.

Any questions. We hope you will join us next month Tuesday, November 1st at 10 am PT, 1 pm ET. Register now for the next Plus16 webinar – Avoid the Document Tsunami: Creating Information Management Policies in SharePoint.

Cathy Dew
Cathy Dew – CEO + Information Architect
Cathy focuses the company on our mission – Real results. Every time. Information architect and strategist, Cathy is passionate about making software work well – the function, the feel, the result.