Zone had grown weedy. As the corporate intranet for Quintiles - a biopharmaceutical services company headquartered in North Carolina - QZone had remained virtually unchanged for eight years. It was a fairly traditional intranet containing corporate news, links to various applications and calendars, along with benefits information. But it had stopped growing and evolving with the rest of the company's digital strategy. It was time for a change.

Quintiles is a global organization - with 25,000 employees in 60 countries - that helps biopharmaceutical companies develop and commercialize their products. Early in 2011, it launched a digital patient unit to interact with its communities of 2.8 million patients for opportunities in clinical research, observational studies and disease management programs. And, prior to that, it had unveiled a new corporate social media policy. So, the next logical step was to rebuild its corporate intranet.

"With the original system, employees could absorb corporate news, but they couldn't engage with the business or the leadership or each other," says Laura Grover, senior director of Web strategy for Quintiles, who was responsible for the design and implementation of the new intranet.

While QZone had evolved over time, much of its content was static. Hundreds of thousands of items had not been updated or migrated over the years as the company moved its intranet from one platform to another. All of this outdated content was one of the driving factors in the organization's decision not to migrate content when it launched the new intranet, called iQ.


Going for a high iQ

The company completely redesigned its intranet with the goal of keeping its 25,000 employees connected and engaged with a strong emphasis on collaboration. On iQ, each employee has a public profile visible to all fellow employees globally. Similar to Facebook and Twitter, employees can "follow" each other, post on colleagues' walls and provide status updates. Employees can also create blogs, comment on their colleagues' blogs and comment on the corporate news stories. Employees can create libraries where they can post spreadsheets or presentations, and request comments from colleagues. It's all public and all searchable.

"We were trying to signal a real change," says Grover. "Yes, you will find your traditional content, but iQ would be different than that because of the social piece, the interactive piece."

Rather than the traditional one-way communication model, which had the corporation pushing information on to employees, this new model takes employee engagement - and empowerment - to a whole new level. Employees can subscribe to different news feeds to receive department, location or business unit news.

"We bring our departments and locations information to people just like what people bring to their friends on Facebook," says Grover. "We allow employees to choose what information they want to see - that's happening in their department - to their home page in real time."

But, unlike Facebook and Twitter, employees can't choose to "unfriend" someone or ignore requests to be followed. In fact, employees aren't even given the option to not accept a follower.

"It is a social intranet, and our desire is to be very transparent," explains Grover. "We've made policies and drove awareness that this is a company intranet and nothing on here is private. If you choose to post and participate, there is nothing private about that. It is within the company, and anyone can choose to follow you or not."

English is the primary business language, but employees can write their own news stories in their local language and comment on colleagues' postings in their local language.


'Let it unfold'

Quintiles was also aiming to make employees more productive and collaborative. Now, with iQ, instead of sending an email telling a colleague you just posted something on the intranet, it will appear in their news feed. "People can see what was updated, and they can choose what they want to see," says Grover. "It's putting more control in the hands of employees. And that's what we were trying to do - transform the way people find, seek and interact with information so they can be more productive."

Quintiles' digital media innovation has been recognized by the Great Place to Work Institute, which named Quintiles to its inaugural World's Best Multinational Workplaces list in 2011. In addition, iQ was recently named "Best Social Intranet' by the Ragan Communication Awards.

One of iQ's most popular features is the photo of the day. Any employee, anywhere in the world, can upload a photo. At launch, thousands and thousands of people were viewing those slideshows, and hundreds and hundreds of images were being added. Another new feature that's evolved organically is blogging. Quintiles included blogging because it was part of the platform, but it wasn't something it promoted heavily. But employees have discovered it and "it's taken on an organic growth purely on its own," says Grover.

"There is authenticity in a social network," she adds. "And if you let it unfold, it's very powerful. People follow each other because of the way they communicate. Some are very numbers driven. We've seen bloggers who tie what's happening in the business to their own personal journeys in life. Certain people follow certain styles. You've just got to let it happen."

Blogging has become so popular that Grover and her team have added a "most recent blogs" section on the home page.

And while the new intranet has employees more engaged - from its launch in October 2011 through the end of December that same year, 88% of employees had accessed iQ - it didn't come without its challenges. The site was two years in the making, involving input from approximately 400 employees.

"You do have to be committed," says Grover. "You do not put the product out there and say, 'It's done,' which is what you could do with traditional intranets. It is constantly gardening it and improving it."

Concerns in the initial stages about employees posting negative comments have not borne out.

"We certainly did discuss that in research," says Grover. "Studies show that [for] any negative item posted - which has been very rare in studies - other people come and give the counterpoint. We've not seen any negative comments."

Currently, Quintiles is looking at adding more functionality to the site, including community pages.



Building better intranets

Allison Artnak, national creative resources leader with Buck Consultants in Atlanta, says many corporate intranets are not very well organized and, as a result, employees can get frustrated. Here, she shares her tips for building better intranets.

1. Engage and personalize. "Aside from the basic demographics of your audience, have a really good understanding of what is important to the users, what they need and what they want, and figure out a way to incorporate those needs into the site design," she says.

2. Layer your information. When intranets act as information repositories, they're not very intuitive, and employees have to know what they're looking for. But everyone learns differently. Artnak recommends layering the information on your intranet to appeal to a wider group of users. "Some people might need to read information, some people are more visual, some people might just want highlights, and other people want all the details," she explains. "You can have layered information and then have areas for people to click if they want more information. That way, you're not just throwing information out there all at once, which has a tendency to overwhelm people."

3. Visual design with a purpose. "People are pretty savvy with regards to whether design is there just for the sake of design versus whether it's functional," she says. In addition, be visually consistent. "As a user experiences the site and goes from page to page it's really important to have consistency in the overall design and navigation so it's very seamless from page to page," she adds. And yet the site should have "enough differentiation from a design perspective so they know they're on a different page."

4. Create an editorial calendar. If your intranet uses promotional banners, make sure the content is changed on a regular basis. Otherwise, you risk alienating users. "They can be a useful tool to promote new content and call to action but often times employers will have a rotating banner but no strategy behind it," she says. "You really have to be thoughtful in developing a strategy for that rotating banner for the whole year in terms of messaging, while maintaining enough flexibility where you can change that messaging to adapt to various business needs as the year progresses."

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