The value of an Intranet.

On November 30th, we launched a new Intranet for Vancity staff. It was an initiative we started a year and a half earlier, and some people on my team had been talking about this upgrade for three years.

Vancity Intranet Screenshot

In the summer of 2009, with our partners in IT, we selected a local web and Intranet design and development company, Habañero as our partner to build a business case for a new Intranet. In my mind there was one main reason for tossing out our old Intranet and launching a new one: Improved ability to find information and people.

My boss refers to our old Intranet as “arthritic”, and it definitely kept our employees from finding the information they needed to do their job, as well as subject matter experts across the organization, quickly and easily.

Habeñero has been a great partner for us, and I was very happy to be able to work with them. They have written a case study of the project where you can see more details about the project as well as some screenshots.

In our research for the business case, we identified front-line staff as the main priority for our work. Their need to get information quickly so they can serve our members more accurately and efficiently trumped all other reasons for funding this work. We kept that priority in mind through every decision and challenge.

This was not a member-facing project, and yet our members were the main driver of this work. And search was the main way to achieve this – on Intranets many times employees know the document or policy or procedure they need to get their job done, and search for it directly. Search is King.

We also completely trashed our old navigation structure, which was convenient for content publishers, but not for content consumers. If every time someone publishes content it takes them a couple of extra minutes to decide where to put it to make it most logically findable, they will make the thousands of times people need to find that content easier and quicker. The business rationale is self-explanatory.

So we focused the navigation on serving members and everything else was secondary. Information that was scattered through different sections of the old Intranet was brought together in a single section designed specifically for front-line staff. We called that section simply Serving Members and it contains product information, tools, policies and procedures, rates, in-market information, and more.

We also needed to make it easier to find subject matter experts throughout the organization. Lets say a member in a branch has a question that is slightly esoteric or unusual, the employee helping them needs to be able to easily find a product manager in head office who might know the answer without wasting a lot of the employee’s or the member’s time.

For me, an exciting opportunity to further this goal was introducing social media within the organization so that the network of employees could be strengthened and enabled to connect in new ways.

When we wrote the business case, there wasn’t a tremendous interest in the social media aspects of an Intranet, so we took a bit of a Trojan Horse approach. We’d create the business case and build the new Intranet to achieve the business goals without compromise (finding information and subject matter experts quickly), and also quietly build in social media for employees knowing that this was something we needed to provide to the organization, even though most weren’t (yet) asking for it.

For an organization like Vancity that has a mission and attracts employees who care about that mission, creating a space where employees have voice, can share stories and comment on each other’s work is critical. It recognizes that our staff need to connect to do their work better and feel greater affinity for their employer. It is also a strong signal that we are modernizing our approach, and staying current.

Our partners in IT selected Microsoft SharePoint as our platform, which at first caused me some angst. The open source, Mac-tastic guy I am just didn’t buy it. But it wasn’t my call so I accepted it and moved on. But in the intervening months SharePoint 2010 was released and it is a major step forward. Microsoft has embraced social media in this new release and it is surprisingly good. We were lucky to be able to launch on this brand new platform so we don’t have to worry about an upgrade for a while, and we get all the new toys and bells and whistles.

And in the months of working to launch the Portal, a nice shift took place. People in the organization have become more open to, and even excited about, the social media features of the Intranet. It has gone mainstream. The My Site feature, like a LinkedIn or Facebook profile page for every staff member, has been widely embraced.

So our open approach to social media has paid off. Almost every page allows commenting, rating and tagging. We wrote good, simple community guidelines for our employees, and focused on launch adoption (including a kick-ass promotional video for employees by Vancouver-based Giant Ant) to prepare people for what was to come. It has been a major change, and one that will be good for the culture. Introducing social media within the organization will have profound implications on our ability to harness social media and engagement marketing as an organization, I am sure.

And a great thing happened starting on day one. People across the company started commenting on stories. Employees whom I’m sure have never commented on a blog before are commenting on articles about things happening at Vancity, and content authors are responding. As Jane in our Communications team says, “We’ve gone two-way, baby!”

There’s lots left to do. Some things we just got wrong and need to fix, some enhancements we couldn’t do for launch, a strong focus on governance. But it feels great to have it out there. It looks great, and provides a whole new way we as employees can get vital information we need to do our jobs, connect, collaborate and learn about each other and the organization we work for.

11 thoughts on “The value of an Intranet.

  1. You are too modest, Jay. Lesser filmmakers would have screwed it up for sure!

  2. Thanks for the little shout out, William! The video was impossible to screw up with such a nice site to animate!

  3. Congratulations on launching! This is a great summary post with a lot of valuable lessons learned.

  4. Heya Sloan! Sure, I’ll pop it in the mail tomorrow.

  5. Nice! Looks good William. Can you ship one to Aus?

  6. Tweets that mention william azaroff » The value of an Intranet. --

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Matt Davis. Matt Davis said: RT @wazaroff: New blog post about overhauling an Intranet. #li #fb […]

  7. wm – as someone who spent the better part of two years working on this project, I can’t say how happy I am to see the employee portal in all of its’ (working) glory. A BIG pat on the back to the team.
    Also, Jane never ceases to amaze me with her knack for finding *just* the right words.

  8. Hi Chris. Anytime you wanna come down for an Intranet tour, let me know…

  9. Wow, it sounds great. When can I take a peek under the trunk?

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