An intranet provides a private website that can usually only by accessed by people within your business. It can provide better access to information, help to co-ordinate people and resources, improve customer service and reduce your costs.
You can build your own intranet or use a hosted service. Whichever option you choose, getting employees involved is using and contributing to the intranet is vital.
1. What can it do?
An intranet helps you share almost any kind of information in your business. You can publish anything you like on your intranet.
Store information that people need to get things done
This could include:
- staff policies and procedures;
- customer and supplier details;
- document templates;
- marketing collateral;
- sales presentations;
- latest price lists.
Improve how you deal with customers
- Because information is stored centrally, you can sign in to your intranet and be sure you're seeing the latest product details, prices and so on.
- You can use your intranet to log customer contacts. When a customer calls, whoever answers will be able to access the full history for that customer.
Help your staff build up their knowledge
- An intranet is ideal for leading new employees through an induction sequence - what your products are, who you sell to, who everyone is and what people do - because it is so easy to update.
- You can make general business information - such as policies and procedures - available to every employee.
- Your intranet provides an ideal home for IT support information, including solutions to common problems.
- You can use your intranet to provide access to specialist know-how when an expert is unavailable.
Hold diaries for individuals and groups
- This makes it easier to schedule people and facilities.
Become an extranet, giving access to customers or suppliers
- An extranet is an intranet that selected external users can access, usually over the internet.
- For instance, customers can sign in to download a report you've prepared for them, or to re-order products.
What goes on your intranet?
You can justify providing all kinds of information on your intranet.
People will need front-line information for dealing with customers
- stock levels and parts lists;
- service and repair advice;
- help, glossaries and FAQs.
They will need access to day-to-day operational information
- internal email, phone and fax directory;
- diary and scheduling information;
- company news.
Some will need marketing information and materials
- copies of current brochures and ads;
- research data, slides and presentations.
People will also need information about their jobs
- background facts for new employees;
- details of HR procedures and policies;
- health and safety information;
- company newsletter or magazine;
- suggestions and feedback forum.
2. Be more efficient
An intranet makes it easy to share and transfer information
- Information can be exchanged electronically rather than on paper.
- Because information is stored centrally, you can reduce the number of emails in your company.
People in different locations can work together more effectively
- You can create shared workspaces within your intranet.
- These allow several people to view and edit the same files and send each other feedback.
- You may also be able to hold discussions on your intranet.
An intranet can improve access to information in your business
- Links to FAQs, glossaries and other back-up resources can minimise mistakes.
- Information is available 24/7, making flexible working more practical.
- Intranet statistics can be analysed to reveal information about work patterns.
Your intranet makes it easier to keep your people updated
- You can make sure people view important information (like new HR policies or data protection training) by requiring employees to confirm through the intranet that they have read them.
The intranet gives you flexible control over who sees what
- You can promote important messages on the intranet home page.
- Where necessary, access can be restricted by using password-protected pages.
For instance, authorised employees can sign in to view the company accounts.
- You can publish time-sensitive information and set the system to remind you to delete it on a certain date.
What can you get at?
One major benefit of an intranet is the ability to access all kinds of information from many different systems and sources.
You can add anything to your intranet
- Documents created in Word, Excel, Access or PowerPoint do not need to be changed. As long as you have the software on your machine, you can click on the file and it will open up in its native format.
Be wary of information overload
- Think carefully about the structure of your intranet.
- Information may not be searchable if it is in documents you have uploaded.
3. How to create an intranet
The technologies underlying an intranet are the same as those that power the web.
There are two main ways to create an intranet. Which is best for your company will depend on what IT equipment you already have.
You can run your intranet from a server in your business
- Running your intranet on a server used to be the only feasible way to create an intranet.
- You need a server to host the intranet. If your business does not already have a server, this could cost less than £1,000.
- To set up your intranet you must install intranet software onto your server.
- You can then set up the intranet pages and features you need.
- With a server-based intranet, you are responsible for everything: managing the server, installing updates, backing up data and so on.
- Server-based intranets are usually best for larger companies that already have a server and staff with reasonable IT expertise.
Use a hosted intranet service
- Using a hosted intranet may also be referred to as putting your intranet in the cloud.
- You pay a company to host your intranet on their servers. Hosted solutions are charged monthly. You pay from £15 a month, depending on features and storage space required.
- You log in to the system to view and edit content and create the structure.
- With a hosted intranet service, your supplier will often handle management and maintenance, such as applying updates and backing up your data.
- Using a hosted intranet service makes it easy to grant access to employees who work remotely.
- Hosted intranets are more flexible. Little upfront investment is required, and you don't usually have to commit to a lengthy contract period.
4. Running your intranet on a server
You can install intranet software on your own server
- Most packages simplify the process of creating an intranet by including templates and a graphical interface.
You will need some knowledge of how to install the package onto your server
- If you lack the knowledge to do this, you can employ a consultant to set it up.
You may need to budget for technical support as well as for the software
- You may also have extra hardware costs if you are not using an existing server.
You may want to customise your intranet
- Many intranet packages can be customised by a developer. This can be a good way to add very specific features without spending a fortune.
- If you have very specific requirements, you may prefer to build your intranet from scratch. A web developer or agency can build an intranet that meets your requirements
- Creating an intranet from scratch can take time and be expensive.
5. Using a hosted intranet
With a hosted solution, your intranet resides on a server outside your business
- Your intranet provider takes care of technical issues, security, support and maintenance.
- You log in to it to add pages, content and other elements to your intranet.
Hosted intranet services are offered by many web hosting firms
- They are also available from specialist intranet providers.
- Choose a reputable supplier - ask for recommendations and search the internet for reviews before signing a contract.
- If a company already hosts your website, it may be best to use them for your intranet.
A key benefit is that most technical issues are handled by the hosting company
- Look for a service agreement guaranteeing a fast response to technical problems.
- Remember that you may store customer details and confidential information on your intranet, so make sure the hosting firm is reliable and trustworthy.
Costs for a hosted solution are predictable and compare well with other options
- You will probably pay a fixed monthly cost.
- Be wary of additional charges for support and data backups.
- You may be charged extra for additional users, or if usage exceeds set limits.
6. Managing your intranet
It is important to keep your intranet up to date. Be realistic about how much effort this will require.
Keep content up to date
- If out-of-date or contradictory information appears in different places on the intranet, people will quickly lose confidence in it.
- Make sure everyone feels responsible for keeping pages that affect them up to date.
- Put the date created and date due for review on every page.
- Intranet software can flag pages due for review. Be wary of using any features that delete old content automatically - this may alienate whoever wrote it.
- Because an intranet allows you to publish almost anything, it's tempting to do so. Resist this temptation - make sure any information you add is relevant and that you have a plan to keep it updated.
Content should come from all parts of the business
- Encourage employees with writing skills to produce interesting material.
Ensure that someone has overall responsibility for your intranet
- If nobody is in charge, your intranet will quickly become disorganised and confusing.
- Managing an intranet takes time and effort. Make sure the person responsible has time in their schedule to do it.
7. Intranet usability
Make it easy to find things on your intranet
- The principles of good web design generally apply to your intranet too.
- Don't force people to click through pages and pages to find what they need.
- Include a search function, so people can find what they want quickly. Most packages include search as standard.
Ensure you are comfortable with the technical side of your intranet
- Look for a service which is easy to use, while still providing the features you need.
8. Getting everyone involved
The more employees who use and contribute to your intranet, the more successful it will be.
Train all employees to use the intranet
- Demonstrate the benefits. Your staff must understand these.
- Your intranet should be intuitive, so people can get started without any training.
- Check what training and support materials are available from your intranet provider.
Make sure that a variety of people know how to add and update content
- Most packages include a simple editing option that's similar to writing a Word document.
Identify people who will help others to use the intranet
- They may also come up with ideas for improving the intranet.
- Consider appointing 'intranet champions' in each team or department.
- They can co-ordinate intranet efforts in their group or area.
- Read about improving collaboration with a team intranet from Google Sites.
"Whilst intranets are sealed from users outside your business, blanket access to sensitive data should never be granted. Access to such data should be tightly controlled, on a need-to-know basis." - Paul Spearman, 3chillies