Many people and even leaders don’t understand the interesting relationship between business and technology. You see, as technology changes, business adapts. On the other hand, as business changes, technology responds by adapting as well. Whether the change is infinitesimal or exponential, foreseen or unexpected, it often comes, and when it does, we grapple with it.
Some of the changes in today’s organization have to do with the way we collaborate, communicate, and share information. Organizations have responded to this paradigm shift in many ways using modern technologies; one of them is by setting up Intranets.
Most, if not all of us, know what the Internet is (collection of networks), because we use it both at home and at work. But only a few people know what an Intranet is. And this is primarily because an intranet is mostly used by organizations (businesses, ministries, etc). An intranet is a corporate information network which is similar to the Internet but it is established for internal uses only. It facilitates communication and access to information and provides a medium for employees who might normally never meet, to collaborate on projects. Intranets promote the sharing of knowledge and ideas and provide a single, secure, reliable access to a company’s private information. Intranets improve a company’s ability to manage its information and they can also streamline document distribution. In addition, intranets can result in higher productivity because of better access to quality information and reduce the cost of information sourcing, printing and distribution.
Intranets have changed the way that organizations conduct business, providing them with unprecedented operational support, employee profiling, collaborative abilities and transparency. They form an integral part of how an organization operates day to day and they present a fabulous collaboration tool for different employees from different parts of the organization to become au courant with activities of the entire organization.
Another benefit of intranets is their ability to facilitate learning by incorporating workflow enabling employees to identify gaps in their knowledge and to book themselves on courses. Intranets can also be used for employee engagement because they present the tool for connecting and communicating with employees, whether it is providing them with interesting content, rewarding them for contributions or enabling them to see how they are performing or just letting them network and up-skill each other within professional communities of interest. The bottom line, intranets are a critical, strategic and operational tool that has become indispensable to the modern organization.
Designing and Developing an Intranet: Designing and developing an intranet is easy (for those with the skills), but time-consuming. A modern intranet should be well organized, collaborative, informative, functional, dynamic, and easy for users to navigate if, especially if you don’t want to spend a fortune training your staff; again. Hence, it must be properly planned before development begins.
There are many approaches and software that can be used to develop an intranet; some PROHIBITIVELY costly (i.e. MS Sharepoint), while others are low cost or simply FREE (Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, etc). In today’s article, I will suggest the use of Free and Open Source (FOSS) Content Management System (CMS) to develop the intranet, taking into consideration most organizations in Liberia have limited or strangulated IT budgets. This means we will be using CMS like Joomla, Drupal or WordPress. I usually use Drupal because of its flexibility, modularity, and functionality.
Configuring an intranet for use with a decent CMS is also very useful as content can be developed and shared easily across an organization. With a CMS, each department will have its own content developer or site administrator with distinct permissions to manage its site, removing the burden of managing the site from the IT department.
Modern intranets are designed to enhance collaboration, communications, document sharing, etc. Hence, I suggest your intranet includes the following features:
- Basic pages – For organizational and departmental pages
- Chat – For internal communications
- Forum – (forum where employees can go to exchange ideas)
- Blog – Where each department head or the CEO or Minister can provide his/her vision, goals and updates on the organization as well as bring him/her close to the employees.
- Calendar – Listing of organizational or departments events and announcements
- Wiki – For information
- Newsletter – Spreading organizational or departmental news
- Photo Gallery – Show pictures of development in your department
- E-learning Platform: For training staff (Tool that supports HR and the Training Departments capacity building goals).
- Document library/Database or Repository – A place to search for forms, downloads, policies and procedures
- Books – To develop online documentation in structured form
All of the features briefly discussed above help to make the intranet more collaborative and can “inject” efficiency and productivity within the organization. Discussion boards help staff to come up with collaborative ideas before meetings or when working on a project, cutting down the time needed for physical meetings as everyone is aware of their position on a project. Documents such as spreadsheets, agendas, etc, can be updated in real-time and shared prior to meetings using the document library. The chat feature will allow employees to send instant messages while they work on their computers.
Time management is a big benefit to having an intranet. An intranet can allow staff to access the information or communicate with other staff without leaving their desk. Payroll, invoicing, HR, are just a few of the benefits that an intranet can automate, freeing up staff to be productive in other areas.
Overall, an intranet is a great tool to have in your organization and it can be developed for little or nothing if your Information Technology department has the right skills and expertise. If not, you might want to invite a consultant to provide this solution. The investment would certainly be worth your while by making your organization efficient, productive, and collaborative.