An intranet is a private website that is only accessible by people within your business. A company intranet can have many benefits, including providing employees with better access to information, helping 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 system is vital.
1. What can an intranet do?
An intranet is an internal website. Like any website, you can customise it to share almost any kind of information that benefits your business and engages your staff. An intranet is secure and protected which means you are free to publish anything on it. Customers, suppliers, and the public won’t be able to access your intranet unless you give them access.
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 see the latest customer details, prices and so on. The information can be updated in real-time which ensures it’s accurate.
- 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 supporting new employees through an induction process. They can learn what your products are, who you sell to, who everyone is and what people do through your intranet.
- 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 problem.
- Staff can use your intranet to access specialist information that can help them perform their role. This may include guidance, answers to frequently asked questions and guides to software and systems.
Hold diaries for individuals and groups
- Centrally held diaries makes it easier to schedule meetings, book equipment and secure meeting rooms.
Become an extranet, giving access to customers or suppliers
- An extranet is an intranet that selected external users can access too over the intranet using a dedicated address.
- 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 newsletters or magazines;
- suggestions and feedback mechanisms.
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 unnecessary emails in your company.
People in different locations can work together more effectively
- An intranet supports staff to work from various locations, while retaining access to essential company information.
- 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.
- Staff who work remotely can still feel part of the organisation by staying in contact.
An intranet can improve access to information in your business
- Links to FAQs, glossaries and other back-up resources can minimise staff mistakes.
- Information is available 24/7, making flexible and remote working more efficient.
- 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, only authorised employees may be authorised 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.
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 or reformatted to be shared through your intranet.
- 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.
- You can use search tools such as Google to help users find the content they need within your intranet.
3. How to create an intranet
The technologies underlying an intranet are the same as those that power the internet.
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, setting up an intranet can be achieved for 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, including managing the server, installing updates and backing up data.
- Server-based intranets are usually best suited to 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 will 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 the 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.
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 to know how to install the package onto your server
- If you aren’t confident at doing this, a consultant can help you 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.
- You can adapt the design and layout, as well as adding functionality such as a forum, search function or integrating social channels.
- 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 colleagues and friends for recommendations. Check the internet for reviews before signing a contract.
- If a company already hosts your website, it may be cost-effective for them to provide your intranet.
A key benefit is that most technical issues are handled by the hosting company
- Choose a service agreement that guarantees 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
- In most cases you will pay a fixed monthly cost.
- Be wary of additional charges for support and data backups.
- You may need to pay 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 time and resource 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 updating 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 as this may alienate whoever wrote it.
- Because an intranet allows you to publish almost anything, it's tempting to do so. Avoid this, and make sure any information you add is relevant and that you have a plan to keep it updated. Less is more.
Content should come from all parts of the business
- Encourage employees to produce interesting material.
- You may need to edit material before it is posted to ensure it’s accurate, well written and grammatically correct.
Ensure that someone has overall responsibility for your intranet
- If nobody is in charge, your intranet could 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.
- You may need to provide training for your intranet editor.
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 multiple 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, or you can integrate a Google search function.
Ensure you are comfortable with the technical side of your intranet
- Find 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 of your intranet. Your staff must recognise the value of the intranet for it to be a success.
- Your intranet should be intuitive, so people can post content and edit pages without needing extensive training.
- Create an intranet policy that outlines what is and isn’t acceptable to post.
- 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.
- Users can update content in draft form, which can then be edited and reviewed by another person before being published
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