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How intranets and EX platforms complement and compete

Stags fighting in the snow.

How intranets and EX platforms complement and compete

I wrote about the state of the intranet industry in 2022 and concluded:

“the whole ‘Employee Experience’ (EX) territory is in a tug-of-love between vendors of HR Management Systems, Employee Services platforms and Digital Workplace specialists. ‘Big intranets’ are caught right in the middle of this, and companies will need to work hard to build cross-functional visions that deliver the best for their employees”.

This seemed to resonate with many practitioners who feel a tension between their intranet vision and the ambitions of employee self-service functions, particularly HR, IT and Facilities. I don’t think there’s a universal solution to the dilemma. However, intranet owners (particularly in Internal Communications) would do well to anticipate areas where decisions made by partner functions will have a knock-on effect.

Employee experience platforms are not intranets

There was a time when the must-have phrase of any intranet vision was that it should be a ‘one stop shop’. I don’t think I ever saw that delivered, but its appeal as the default place to go for news, information and services was powerful.

In parallel, vendors of HR software (sometimes also labelled HCM or even ERP) were promoting the ideal of an ‘employee service portal’, and you guessed it, that too was meant to be a ‘one stop shop’. If we never really needed a one-stop shop, we certainly don’t need two!

Both trends were trying to address an issue with fragmentation, either for information or where to go for services, and it is a worthwhile goal for sure. The problem was – and is – that no single platform does both content management and services well. What we saw in researching my company’s recently updated Intranet and Employee Experience Platforms report  is that the lines are at least starting to blur.

Large players such as ServiceNow, SAP Success Factors, BMC Helix, UKG and Workday are trying to do more around internal communications, notifications, and reference content publishing. Leaders with intranet roots such as Akumina, Unily, LumApps and Microsoft Viva are conversely offering ways to integrate transactions alongside content publishing. However, as the budgets and greater influence seem to lie with HR, a services-first mindset seems to be having greater sway, and this is ringing alarm bells for internal communicators.

How EX plans impact intranet visions

If you’re going into a discussion about the role of an intranet in a company where there are plans to re-invent the employee experience, it’s good to anticipate that the following may be impacted:

  1. Search. Often the intranet and enterprise search platforms are closely linked. If nothing else, the search box is usually found via the intranet homepage. Adding in other EX systems can break the delivery of a universal search unless you take steps to still index all the content. For example, answers that used to be published in an ‘employee handbook’ section of the intranet may move into the knowledge base of ServiceNow.
  2. Reference Content. Often our policies relate to rules in transactional systems, such as limits on expense claims. It’s a good thing if an employee can get all the context they need to complete a form from the contextual help. But sometimes people also want to see “all the policies on working with external suppliers” so you need to maintain both.
  3. Traffic to a communications channel.  Intranets have often worked well as a news channel not because people are motivated to go there to read news, but because you can catch an employee’s attention on their way to complete another task. If you take away the services component, you may reduce your ability to communicate.
  4. Branding. Intranets are a powerful way for companies to express their brand internally. In a hybrid-working world, this digital presence is ever more important, but the ability to brand EX platforms tends to be rather limited.
  5. Usage monitoring. Just as search risks being fragmented, an EX strategy will need to consider how analytics remain coherent – for example, if HR announcements are removed from an intranet and only made through an EX platform, can you still track engagement or the success of a campaign?
  6. Governance. Communicators, particularly for larger organizations, often have standards for page layouts, imagery, content review and expiry dates. They all make for a channel employees feel they can trust. Make sure that the EX vision preserves this capability.

Building a collective vision

Fundamentally, a desire to deliver a simple, easy-to-use set of tools for employees is something to celebrate.  But there is always the risk that each support function digs in around ‘their’ employee experience vision. Instead try to approach it as a joint design challenge: get agreement on the principles the EX roll out for the points of overlap listed above, and then figure out how to adhere to those principles.

If stakeholders move immediately to haggling over features, there’s a good chance that the result is a long list of ‘must haves’ and – ironically – what employees experience will be a solution that is more complex and disjointed than where you started.

This article was originally published by CMSWire.

Sam Marshall

I'm the director of ClearBox Consulting, advising on intranet and digital workplace strategy, SharePoint and online collaboration. I've specialised in intranets and knowledge Management for over 19 years, working with organisations such as Unilever, Astra Zeneca, Akzo Nobel, Sony, Rio Tinto and Diageo. I was responsible for Unilever’s Global Portal Implementation, overseeing the roll-out of over 700 online communities to 90,000 people and consolidating several thousand intranets into a single system.

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