Engineering a world class intranet

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When Amec Foster Wheeler merged in November 2014, Tereza Urbankova, Global Head of Internal Communications, saw the opportunity to create a new digital workplace. 18 months later she is well on the way to realising that dream.

Amec Foster Wheeler employs around 40,000 people in more than 55 countries providing consulting engineering solutions mostly in the oil & gas, clean energy, environment & infrastructure and mining markets. Mergers are never a good time to implement a brand new all-singing social intranet, but Tereza bided her time, working through 4 versions of platforms, to deliver a winning strategy for the combined company.

“Before the merger we recognised we needed a platform to keep staff informed about the progress of the deal, and to counteract the rumour mill. The Communications team partnered with IT and created a simple platform called the common site. For legal reasons we could not brand it so it was all grey with two logos.

“However, it gave us a platform to communicate consistently. It featured regular updates and FAQs about HR, IT, Project Delivery and Health and Safety. We received positive feedback – people were telling us this was really useful even when progress was quite slow. Eventually everyone joined and accessed the site.

“For Day One of the merger we rebranded the common, adding available content and making it the homepage for the combined business. Although it was a temporary solution, and a gateway to all legacy intranets, it contained all the information people needed about the new brand, the new business, our vision and values, new operating model, project delivery and other areas. We also added an interactive feature where people could put their comments and feedback.”

Meanwhile Tereza and her team were working in the background in collaboration with IT on a new intranet, built in SharePoint 2016.

“We wanted to take our people with us on a journey so we announced a competition to name our new intranet. We had over 900 submissions; some better than others. If you know engineers, then you will not be surprised that a lot of acronyms were submitted. But we wanted something memorable that would resonate with our vision – the digital workplace. One entry encapsulated the purpose of a digital workspace, and that was Onespace.”

But there was a snag. As often happens with intranet development the demands of the communicators grow while the available resources of the resident IT team shrink. The new intranet was built on premise and the IT department soon realised it would have to go on the cloud. Although we launched it, shortly afterwards we realised that it would take us much much longer to even have a glimpse of the digital workplace.

“IT admitted that they were stuck. I know it sounds horrible but sometimes it is the best way to do things. They may have been able to work it out but we did not want to wait too long. Almost 90% of our people are online so our intranet is a strategic tool. In addition, imagine: you have a new business with all these old intranets in place. We needed to accelerate the content migration. People are not prepared to wait years to have something so critical in place.”

So they went out and looked for a product that could work out-of-the-box. They found it in Unily – the SharePoint product from Brightstarr.

“Unily delivers a seamless intranet experience, utilising SharePoint 2016, Office 365, Yammer and Azure. When I saw that platform I thought this is great because it looked like the proper first step on our journey toward our digital workplace strategy. From the start it would have elements that underpinned my vision of what we call a platform for success.

“Such a platform has to have everything our people need to be successful whenever, wherever and however they are working. The previous intranet was a transition site; people went through it to go somewhere else. We wanted them to stay and do everything in one place.”

May the 4th

They launched the new Onespace on May 4th, using the Star Wars theme: may the force be with you. It was also their 4th intranet so they needed to do something creative to get cut-through.

“Star Wars changed the film industry, and we are changing the way we work. The theme allowed us to put a different spin on the launch, make it appealing and capture people’s attention.

“When you are in the middle of the integration of two businesses, you can imagine how much is being thrown at people and you don’t want them to get disheartened. We wanted them to understand that despite our previous attempts, this is the real thing.”

The old and new intranets were run in parallel for a month so that people could get used to its new features. So what are the features that herald new age of an intranet that truly supports Tereza’s digital workplace vision?

“Firstly employees can personalise their apps and tools. Then the general search is much better as well as document search, searching a type, date, owner, etc., which is quite cool.”

The people directory is a work in progress as although all the information is clean and correct it is consolidated on only basic data, i.e. names, positions, locations contact details.

“We want people profiles to be much richer as that is what people need when they search for skills and expertise. That is the next step on our agenda and we are separately running a project focused entirely on people data.”

When it comes to governance of the intranet, Tereza and her team have been working closely with the various business units and functions to ensure that they own the relevant pages and that content is governed by those departments.

Yammer success

Another crucial feature of the new Onespace is Yammer integration.

“We were struggling at the very beginning, but Yammer has really taken off in the past year. We have over 29,000 people on Yammer and the engagement rate is around 12,000 people per month as many people recognise its value as a tool for collaboration. We have an on-going campaign of use cases, showing how Yammer has helped people in the past.

“But I think there are other reasons for its success. When we became a new company, people were hungry for information and much of it was not yet captured on the system, so many went on Yammer to ask. The other factor may be the challenging markets and customers calling for more efficiencies. For example, on Yammer we have a group called More4Less where over 650 ideas have been submitted and many have been implemented. These factors have helped drive adoption over and above our own campaign.

“What is missing is an active presence of some of our leaders on Yammer. Senior engagement is paramount for user adoption. The good news is that our new CEO started on June 1st and has already posted some comments on Yammer.

“Yammer is more tricky to manage. We slipped up on the management of groups. We have over 1,100 of them and we are going through a cleansing exercise right now to delete groups that are obsolete or confusing to people or where the admins have left the company.”

So what would she have done differently?

“I would have probably watched the speed at which groups are created, monitored it regularly. We are now talking to the owners of groups with low activity to understand the rationale as the group may be providing a value that I don’t understand, even if people are posting there only four times a year. And we are naturally deleting quite a few.”

The intranet is mobile friendly; accessible on work phones and personal devices using BYOD through their work emails.

“It’s crucial; people do a lot of thing on phones nowadays and if you think about an internal platform which only works on desktops then you are sunk. It has to be mobile friendly, on work devices BOYD.

“Technology has changed the role of the internal communicator. Used properly, technology can make our role so much richer. It provides additional tools helping us appeal to more people as colleagues consume information in different ways. It has made life on the one hand easier and on the other more difficult because the whole notion of speed has accelerated. People are used to getting information instantaneously and we have to respond to that. To me it is a natural progression and a constant learning curve for all of us in internal communication.

“We are lucky in this company as our leadership team recognises the importance of Onespace, our intranet, as a strategic tool. It is not just a platform for news; it helps people work more efficiently, helps them collaborate.”

A smarp way to share

One tool that is having a big impact internally and externally is smarp. This is an application that consolidates articles that can be shared on social media through employees’ private social media tools, such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Smarp helps employees improve their thought leadership, build their networks, and be more successful in what they do by making it easy for them to discover, share and measure the impact of content that interests them. By getting involved, they also act as brand ambassadors on social media. Employees can share valuable content to their networks and build their professional brand.

“It has had a huge impact on our reach and credibility. There is a competitive element to it, a leaderboard on who shares what and how often. Smarp provides a co-ordinated approach to social media by taking advantage of the many employees who are on social sites, and by giving them the approval to promote what the company stands for and help our reputation.”

Smarp is the first type of gamification Tereza has used and she would like to try it as part of the communications strategy.

“We want to be seen as a company modern in its approach to systems that are up to date and indeed a company leading the way in how we operate.”