How Nationwide’s intranet shot up the benchmarking league tables

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Nationwide News

Nationwide is the world’s largest building society with some 18,000 employees and around 14 million members. It has a history of innovation and a reputation for great customer service. Here we find out how they went about ensuring that their intranet was fit for purpose in today’s digital age.    

It’s an all too familiar scene: an old Microsoft intranet, poorly supported, out of date and unloved.  So how do you go about transforming this into something that creates value for the business?  simply caught up with Simon Arnold and Jon Simons at Nationwide to find out how they did just that. Alison Boothby reports…

Jon Simons at Nationwide
Jon Simons

“There was no doubt in my mind that we needed a new intranet – something different;
something that didn’t feel like a poor relation of our internet site.  This was late 2013: we were relying on an old and out of date platform, there had been no investment for 13 years, we had no MI, limited governance, little content ownership and only 3% of the content was indexed in search. It wasn’t pretty.” explained Jon who, as Senior Manager, Digital Channels, has been involved in the project from the outset.

Vision

To deliver a best-in-class intranet is a big undertaking requiring significant resources. To help build the business case for the project they worked with the Digital Workplace Group (DWG) and undertook DWG’s independent benchmarking exercise which has been comparing large scale corporate intranets globally for 15 years, in four key areas- namely: Usability; Communication and collaboration; Metrics & performance, and Strategy & Governance. The results were telling: their intranet was benchmarked and was rated as close to the bottom of the DWG league tables at that time and this gave the Nationwide team the impetus required to attain senior agreement and the necessary funding to forge ahead with a new intranet. This was a project about getting the building blocks right. Transforming the intranet at Nationwide was a necessary step on the way to creating a broader digital workplace, as summed up by Paul Miller, CEO and Founder of the Digital Workplace Group, who is on public record as saying: “Rumours of the demise of intranets have been around for 15 years or more. The reality though is that any well-functioning organisation of any size still requires a robust, productive intranet, if only as a digital front door to the wider digital workplace.”

Jon continues: “Our vision for the new intranet focussed on these four areas but for us there were two primary drivers – Usability, and Strategy & Governance. Governance is especially key for us in financial services as much of our content is product based and shared with our members. Clear accountability for content is a must. Every piece of our content is named and dated so there is real accountability. We also had to make it easy and intuitive for our people to find, share, create, publish and maintain information regardless of location.”

Content and usability

The first phase of the project required a drastic rationalising of the content – all 40,000 pages of it. As a result of the revealing analysis, the remaining relevant 10,000 pages were rewritten, standardised to be on brand and fit for purpose.  With clean content now ready for migration, the next phase was all about usability.

Simon Arnold at Nationwide
Simon Arnold

Simon picks up the story: “There was a big usability piece to plan for how the new intranet would function.  We had to ensure that the new intranet would not get as chaotic as its predecessor.” Having chosen to use SharePoint 2013 on premise, they looked closely at a new homepage, the navigation, structure and entire user experience. The search capability was greatly improved and the people directory transformed. “We put in a new team structure to deliver on our vision and to ensure adherence to our governance objectives. We have six intranet partners, each divisionally focused, who work with some 550 content owners and publishers. Each of these roles is clearly defined, backed up with the necessary training, recognised in their performance plans, and their contribution set out in an intranet publishing agreement.  Having these defined responsibilities and accountabilities ensures we maintain relevant and trustworthy content that is both consistent and accessible.”

Ongoing improvement

All content is subject to a six-monthly review cycle whereby every page must be reviewed and reapproved. If the re-approval is not forthcoming, the page is taken down.  Alongside the usual barrage of analytics, there is also a star rating on pages which provides some at- a-glance indication of how well a particular page is performing, albeit it lacks critical context. However, an in-page feedback function enables users to provide more detailed commentary which goes directly to the content owner who, under an SLA, has ten days in which to address the feedback. This has been working very well.  Using available MI, Nationwide is able to determine which content is useful or not. Simon again: “All these measures combine to give us a robust content approval and review process and helps us target poorer performing areas of the site. Our notification process is still quite manual and time-consuming, requiring a series of three warning emails before the page is taken down so we do have plans to automate this. If our intranet is to be valued by the business it is vital that our users know that the content there is relevant, current and trustworthy: it has to be the ‘one version of the truth’.”

Confidence and success

What is quite clear is that their robust approach to content management and content improvement has really paid dividends. When asked for success measures Simon had plenty to offer: “On launch at the end of 2015, 45% of our content was dated within 6 months and now, just over a year on, 98% of our page content is dated within the last six months. There is no doubt that our governance processes are working. We place great importance on our user feedback too: we have had over 3700 pieces of feedback in the last year and more than 93% of it has been actioned. This has helped to build confidence in the new intranet as users can see their views being heard and actioned.  And as for page ratings, with well over 5500 ratings across 1500 pages in total we have an average of 3.9 out of 5.” Their hard work has been independently evaluated again by DWG using its industry-standard benchmarking and the transformed intranet is now performing towards the top of the current benchmarked global league table DWG results. As Paul Miller says: “From my global (and UK) perspective, the Nationwide intranet team and its practice is one of the most impressive current intranet stories among large organisations in the UK and to some extent across Europe. A few years ago, we used to point to the other household names (who shall remain nameless here) as great examples but now Nationwide is a key UK reference example to explain what good practice looks like.”

Nationwide Intranet home page

Going social

It’s fair to say that this phase was more about clarity and consistency of content, making sure the intranet was fully on brand.  With the goals of usability and governance well met, their attention is now on the integration of more social tools. Jon explains: “As in many organisations we have Yammer, but it has not been actively promoted and is not heavily used. Our news stories and CEO blog do have a commenting function and it is clear to us that there is an appetite for greater collaboration. We are piloting the social feed within SharePoint – we now have c750 people using it – and with around 4000 comments and replies in a week, it is obvious that people do want to engage in this way. NBS Social will be launched in the near future and this will allow users to follow, like, reply and use hashtags. It’s a step in the right direction and although we can’t create groups yet, it will help to break down barriers which is a good thing. It’s mostly about engagement – recognition, ideas sharing, best practice, comms campaigns – rather than task based collaboration at this stage. It fits where we are now and it gets people talking. We are trying to reflect our culture, by centralising the employee voice. Our CEO is very keen to encourage greater collaboration and is right behind any initiative that provides opportunity for feedback and conversation.”

What this example from Nationwide demonstrates is that a well thought through and rigorously managed intranet that delivers value to the workforce is the essential cornerstone within the context of a broader digital workplace. Upgrades, new functionality and better mobile experiences will all be part of the enhanced experience but never at the expense of a well-functioning intranet with compelling, relevant and trustworthy content at its heart.