A company’s intranet means all the portals, websites, databases, Sharepoints, file shares, and internal social media that hold all the information a company accumulated over the years. It’s all the internal procedures, announcements, marketing materials, strategy documents, PowerPoint presentations, technical bulletins, and IT procedures. The intranet is a mine of ideas – there is a lot of content, it’s usually buried deep and often hard to find.

We have seen this with a lot of customers and it is nothing to be ashamed of. As a company grows, it focuses on what makes it competitive, and managing internal content takes a back seat. When there is something new to store, for example technical manuals, you add them to an existing repository, or create a completely new one. A fairly typical outcome is something like this:

  • An HR portal with information about taking time off, managing bonuses and rewards, maternity and paternity leaves, etc.
  • A marketing repository with all the photos, brochures and whitepapers, but not videos. Videos are on a media server, YouTube, Vimeo and Tudou
  • A content repository in SalesForce with all the quotes and briefs that you sent to potential customers
  • A technical support portal with all the product manuals and descriptions of solving customer issues
  • A Jive social media stream with workgroups and announcements
  • A network of Windows file shares with various documents. Some regional offices use Google Drive, but that’s not available everywhere
  • A branch of the business is actually an acquisition, and they have a whole separate set of locations
  • One employee portal, usually called MyPortal, which has links to all the repositories

There are problems with keeping all this content up to date, because not everybody has access to everything, so there are going to be copies in multiple locations and you may never know which one is the latest.

But the biggest problem is usually finding things. Wouldn’t it be great to at least have a single search box?

a photo of well-organised shelves

One search box for the intranet

You should be able to enter a query, Google-like, into a single box and get all the materials from all the repositories on your intranet that match. The results should be relevant to your job function, location and your needs. They should show the latest content, with a summary, preview and thumbnails, to help you pick what is most relevant. You should be able to find what you need on the first results page.

Why is that important? What would it change? If you have multiple repositories, you need to know which one to search. If you don’t know where a piece of content is, you need to search in all the repositories you know. And, if you don’t know about a repository, you will never search there.

Also, if search is not intuitive and effective, people will not use it. We use high-quality apps and websites when at home, and Google search is really powerful. But when we go to work, we switch to these outdated, cumbersome enterprise applications which just don’t provide the same experience. If you want people to use your one search box, you need to make it fun and easy to use. But most of all, the results need to relevant.

How to get there

There are at least a few ways to get a single search box for your entire intranet:

  • There are commercial solutions out there, like Cludo, that will index your intranet and provide a search box for you. Google used to have a search appliance that you could use for your network, but they discontinued it. Unfortunately, there are not many solutions like that.
  • You can set up your own search using a search engine like Solr and a group of software developers. The search engine will index all the materials you point it to. Your main task will be to make sense of all the different management systems, metadata on content, etc. The process is much more labour-intensive and time-consuming, but you can potentially set it up exactly the way you want.
  • You can try and move everything to one repository and use the search provided there. That move would mean changing the ways people work, giving everyone proper licenses, and selecting which content to move and which to retire. If you end up with at least one legacy repository left, you still don’t have your one search box.

But the biggest challenge is not indexing the content. To make search results relevant, you need AI.

The role of AI in search

Robust searches, like Google, use Artificial Intelligence to understand the user, understand the content, and make the two meet. The AI is not really conscious of what humans are and how they operate, but it does see entities interact with content and can react to their needs. This AI sees patterns in similar users and tries out assumptions about what they will click. If it is right, it considers the assumption a good guess and tries more of it.

On your intranet, the AI would have to be able to tell the difference between your sales staff and your customer care, and the types of content they find interesting. You can help it figure out all the different roles by linking it to your HR system, so it gets up to speed faster. But it also needs to understand what a given piece of content is. Give it some time, and it will be able to tell the difference between a promotional brochure and a technical bulletin. And it will learn to give one to a sales rep, and the other to a customer support engineer.

Let’s say we have this powerful AI behind our intranet now. Do we waste all its potential on search only?

Beyond search – knowledge feed

A recent study done by Parsley shows that Facebook drives more traffic than Google. If it tells us anything is that people tend to bump into content more than look for it. While scrolling down your news feed, you cannot help but learn. You learn what your friends are like, what is currently happening, and, from time to time, you discover something new that gets your attention.

In your company intranet, it could work the same. The homepage could be a personalised feed of content which shows each person information that’s relevant specifically to them. For example, a sales person sees all the sales brochures, new quotes, and new assets in the marketing repository. Depending on their region, the products they sell and the folks on their team, the feed changes. But the feed also reacts to what they click, what they read and what they download.

To get to this level of automated content curation, you need an AI working behind the scenes. That sounds exciting and futuristic, but it is very much within the realm of the possible. In fact, Facebook and similar sites are actually examples of successful implementations. And here at 3di, we are lucky to be working on a solution for company intranets.

3di top secret AI project

A lot of our customers have one of those immense intranets and no way to make it all nice and easy to use. And since we are technical communicators, content management is very interesting to us. We cannot disclose any more details yet, but we are working on a platform that would solve all those pesky intranet problems and promote new ways of learning.

Check out our blog for more updates.