A functioning intranet as the cornerstone of internal communication and information sharing

Wapice involved its staff in the development of the new intra and utilized the principles of service design in the design process.

The importance of information sharing has grown in the corporate communication culture, where the increasing amount of information remains a key challenge in communication. The increase in data is well illustrated by the number of channels used to transmit the data and communicate, which includes chat groups, video and file sharing services, public version control, and intranets. Among these, an intranet is typically at the center of information sharing, through which a company can share news, instructions, documentaries, or links to other systems used by the company. Information sharing is mainly a question of how to build a functioning platform for internal communication that is interesting and engaging to its users. The solution is a company-wide intranet that acts as a hub for an inclusive organizational culture. A smart and communal intranet like this must be based on applicable and familiar technology, careful content design, shared responsibility for content, and the right targeting of information.

A functional intranet

  • builds a more open communication culture
  • enhances daily work and information sharing
  • stays up to date as update responsibilities are more widely shared
  • requires more effort in the design phase, but pays for itself in functionality

Internal connections

Corporate intranets were initially largely focused on file sharing, but today the focus of the intranet is on sharing information and knowledge. Above all, a functioning intranet requires that the information available is easy to find and up-to-date. The intranet is a portal from which an employee can spontaneously search for information or solutions to their problems. The company must be prepared to invest resources in keeping the information on the intranet up-to-date and its information architecture intact. At Wapice, the intranet also focuses on data sharing and the majority of employees use some aspect of it on a daily basis. We implemented our own intranet reform, which has made it possible to build an open communication culture and streamline day-to-day work and information sharing.

Underlying assumptions about good intranet

The most important feature of intranet is the reliability of information it holds. The way to enhance this is to clearly share the updating responsibility. It is not wise to burden just one person or even IT-department with the responsibility. It is better to slice the content into smaller pieces and assign one person to make the updates to one relatively small area that fits his or her expertise. When using this approach, it is also wise to show the name of the person responsible for the content or editing. This helps the reader to directly contact the right person for additional information or to make corrections to possible errors. The content of the intranet should be carefully thought over. This covers both the type of information and the level of detail. Constantly changing information is generally not advisable. Information easily accessible in other electronic platforms is also redundant in intranet. Regardless of the content, the underlying assumption is that adding new information to intranet is very easy to learn.

A functional intranet requires allocated resources to not only maintenance but also planning. A poorly designed intranet does not encourage employers to be self-guided in searching for information. The main factors in intranet usability are the structure and accessibility of information and ease of navigation. Sufficient investment in intranet pays off. Quite often we end up searching for a colleague who could help us solve a problem. A prolonged search wastes time of all the people along the search chain. A well-functioning intranet can reduce time used in the search of right information or person.

What is innovating and renawal of service and how to execute it internally?

Our specialists are experts in planning, designing and developing digital services. This development work is always made in co-operation with the end-users, for they are the correct persons to define their needs and tell what they would like to see in the service designed for them. Innovating services is not only about brainstorming and prototyping. It is also validating the need and usability of the planned service. This is to make sure that the new service will not only solve the identified problems, but is also feasible and meets the set goals. In the process of designing the new intranet for Wapice, it was important to give voice to as many different types of users as possible. We selected users from different levels of organization to take part in the user survey. There are loads of different needs to be considered when designing intranet, but the final result must serve every member of the organization. End users’ opinions gave a map to guide our design work all the way through the design process. The survey consisted mainly of interviews and the solutions made were validated by the committed end users in every phase of the project.

Planning process in brief:

  • Interview the users. Target different experts on different organisational levels.
  • Review the interviews. What clear problems and demands emerged?
  • Let the designers and developers collaboratively and iteratively build the first prototype and development environment.
  • Test and finalize using test users
  • Publish the finished intranet

Interview

So how to reach users, if there are multiple offices all around Finland? We at Wapice solved this by problem by making face-to-face interviews in the bigger offices and using telco interviews with employers in branch offices. If the interviews could not be scheduled, employees could affect the design by filling out a questionnaire.

The material collected in the user survey was processed in a brainstorming session using card sorting method. In card sorting the similar ideas and opinions are sorted to present a specific problem or a specific requirement. After that the designers presented each other different ways to solve the identified problems. Other designers could then identify these solutions or propose alternative ways or additions to the solution proposal. The results of this brain storming were finally presented to end users in order to get feedback.

When the needs and solution proposals were mapped and validated, it was time for actual development work. Designers started their co-operative work with developers, who in turn started to build the first development environment. This environment would become the platform for the first prototypes. Fluent co-operation of designers and developers is always essential to a successful project. Our intranet project was no exception to this rule. The solutions presented by designers were not always executable with the selected platform. In these moments the collaboration was crucial. When problems were met, they were solved together.

Design drafts Design phase Final outcome
Design drafts Design sketch Design outcome

End users were let loose to test the development version as soon as it was feasible. This way we got assurance that the usability of the intranet had really been improved. Test users were also able to influence on further issues to be enhanced. A concrete and usable, albeit incomplete environment made a clear impact on the ease for the users to give feedback.

Intranet as a data bank and as a tool to find information

Wapice's old intranet was built on Microsoft's SharePoint platform. Over the years, maintenance of SharePoint had become the responsibility of only a few people, and its partially limited search function was an identified weakness. A major upgrade of the intranet was therefore necessary and the timing was also appropriate as it was time to decide whether to upgrade the SharePoint environment or switch to another platform.

The use of Atlassian's Confluence platform had grown strongly at Wapice in recent years. More and more software projects already used some Atlassian tools. The suitability of Confluence as a platform for the new intranet was triggered by a test installation that tested its properties to form the features and content structure of the intranet. In testing Confluence proved to be a great choice as an intranet platform. The features we considered important seemed to work, and the choice was also made easier by the fact that Confluence was already familiar to a large number of the company's employees through software projects.

The main factor in favor of the choice was Confluence’s excellent search function. It allows you to search directly for pages that contain keywords. The search can also be limited to, for example, the page hierarchy or the author of the content. In addition, Confluence provides a search syntax that uses certain special characters and words to enable more efficient and accurate searches. One of the most useful features of Confluence has been to put together intelligent summaries of larger material, which makes it easier to maintain and use the data.

Another important criteria for the selection was the ability to build a clear page hierarchy for the intranet so that finding information would not only depend on the search function. This was done by taking advantage of Confluence spaces, for which it is possible to define their own rules and user rights levels. The top level of Wapice's intranet structure was divided into a few entities, where update responsibilities were divided according to the content (corporate communications, HR, ICT, etc.). The structure is also clear to the intranet user - for example, it is natural to look for instructions on how to install a new computer in the ICT section and information about the annual vacations in the HR section.

Wapice newsfeed was created using the blog feature in Confluence. Different departments can now share their information and the news feed concerning the whole company is compiled to the front page of intranet. In addition to various companywide topics, we created a knowledge base, which is updated by the personnel. With this feature the employers can share the special knowledge they have. This part of our intranet holds e.g., guidelines, work practices, articles, blogs and tech reviews. In short, all kinds of information that may be useful and valuable for others in the company.

In addition to the benefits of a working intranet we also gained experience in using UI/UX designers in bigger internal development projects. We also got all the benefits that a good design work brings along. Moreover, both the designers and developers gained valuable experience on how to boost and optimize co-working in similar customer projects.


Otto Bothas works as Head of a Technology unit at Wapice Oy focusing on user experience and application development. Otto has a work history of more than 15 years in industrial solutions and architectures in areas of the energy sector, moving machinery and the aviation industry. Otto helps customers to succeed in the software development process from purchase to project completion and from production use to software maintenance.


intranet service design

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Otto Bothas

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