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Vendor profile: SmallWorlders

The Intranetizen team are often asked advice about intranet vendors that supply software and hardware solutions to run your intranet. Whilst we have 35 years of blue-chip intranet experience between us, in common with many intranet practitioners, we have relatively limited experience of the 200+ software systems that companies use.

To help you, to help us and to help the vendors themselves, we’re running a series of posts of over this coming week showcasing 5 intranet companies. We’ve supplied them with the same standard set of questions and will publish their answers in their own words to ensure equity! All the images have been supplied by the company themselves and are reproduced with permission.

Today, we showcase SmallWorlders.

In a brief paragraph, who are you?

SmallWorlders logo

SmallWorlders logo – click to enlarge

SmallWorlders create fun and useful intranets. We specialise in intranets for marketers and internal communicators. Using our unique SandBox™ platform we plan, design, build, host and manage great intranets that employees just can’t get enough of.
We help some of the world’s most successful marketing organizations – including Heineken, Nestlé and De Beers – get better campaigns to market faster while fostering open collaboration across offices and time zones.

Briefly describe your product’s history? Why did you start it, where does it come from?

SmallWorlders hit the ground running in 2006. Prior to that, the founder Kevin Cody was joint owner of The Knowledge Refinery, an intranet agency spun out of Ogilvy to meet client demands for their own version of ‘Truffles’, the intranet he masterminded as an Ogilvy employee.

Describe your typical customer – what kind of company, what size, what are the kinds of problems they need to solve

If only customers were typical! We have intranets with user bases ranging from 100’s to 10,000’s, but, it’s fair to say, most of them are large multinational corporations with dispersed teams. We work with a variety of job roles – often simultaneously – including corporate communications, marketing, innovation, HR etc. and partner with clients’ IT departments.

What do you see as your product and company’s USP?

Heineken brand portal sections

The Heineken BrandPortal was recognised as one of the Nielson Norman Group’s top intranets for 2011

We are:

  • Boutique: We are small but work with some the world’s biggest companies for a reason.
  • Focused: We won’t design your new website or create a viral video. We only create intranets and extranets for your employees, clients, partners and stakeholders.
  • Expert: We have our own Sandbox Platform and technical expertise but we’re really a service-focused, agency partner. We are creative, offer insights, best advice and are in it for the long term. We built intranets and make sure they work.
  • Recognised: Nielsen Norman (and others) agree our intranets are some of the best

Which feature(s) of your product do your customers rave about most?

“Our intranet is brilliant. It’s an amazing platform that is user-friendly and so contemporary it almost feels like you’re not working at all … an amazing asset.” Caroline Dewar, Nestlé, Canada

“SmallWorlders generate big ideas”, Francesca Castegnetti, Digital Capabilities Manager, Heineken International

“They are marketers, they understand us. They really get it” Sarah Cousin, Marketing Specialist, Chalhoub Group

“SmallWorlders attention to detail, not to mention the speed at which they can make changes to their unique platform, sets them apart from the crowd” Lucie Clark, Online Marketing Manager, Forevermark

“Wow” Paul Stanger, International Innovation Manager, Heineken International (in response to a design proposal for their new Innovators Platform)

“There are many people working in the knowledge management field who do not have a track record. Kevin is an actual authority”, Mark Linder, Global Client Leader, WPP

“SmallWorlders offer smart solutions and are always flexible, innovative and no-nonsense”
Rik Haslam, Chief Creative Officer, RAPP

Which feature(s) of your product do you feel are most under-used?

The primary features of our platform are:

  • Knowledge & Content Management
  • Digital Asset Management
  • Innovation Management
  • Enterprise Social Networking & Collaboration
  • eLearning LMS
    Sparkle Mobile home page

    SmallWorlders can make content mobile friendly in only a couple of days – click to enlarge

Because our clients aren’t typical they need different features to meet their objectives.

There are two features that are surprisingly (to us) rarely deployed. The first is multi-lingual capability.

The platform can present the site skeleton – navigation, drop downs, buttons, even dialog boxes and email alerts – in the users’ preferred language. But only one implementation (an extranet for De Beers’ Forevermark team) uses this facility.I am not sure if this suggests this feature is underused, unnecessary or whether it demonstrates there’s no simple answer to content translation.

The second is even more surprising – the mobile version. In only a couple of days we can make sure content is mobile-friendly. The homepage is a simple activity feed and allows users to post a status and search for content. It’s the ideal way to keep a mobile workforce updated, enable interaction, and support knowledge searches. Yet the take up is only now starting to catch up with the hype.

How much customisation does your product typically need / how much to you recommend your customers make?

We could provide a vanilla Sandbox implementation but we don’t. Our goal is to help clients achieve business objectives in a measurable way. An out of the box solution will struggle to do that.

A typical implementation takes 3 – 9 months. We spend the bulk of that time identifying objectives, architecting the appropriate solution and creating high-impact and usable design. The actual build can be as little as a few weeks. The last (crucial) step is to populate and launch the intranet with quality, engaging content. It won’t work unless people know what it’s for and how to use it.

What advice would you give a company planning to invest in a new intranet platform? / what are the three most important factors to consider?

Choose the platform last. First figure out what you want the intranet to do and why.

Example of homepage created by SmallWorlders

Example homepage – click to enlarge

We often hear “we want our people to collaborate more” as an objective. But that’s just not meaningful. Ask yourself what are you hoping to achieve with improved collaboration? Or how will you measure it? With good objectives the project starts to build itself.

Drill down to specifics e.g. we want to improve our innovation rate or we want to leverage best practices to reduce duplication. And look outside the intranet for ways to achieve and measure this. Is there a measure in place for innovation? If not, create one. How will you incentivise people to share or leverage best practices? The intranet is only a means to an end – not an end in itself.Try to work this out before you approach vendors for a proposal that must include a trial of their software. Always talk to their clients. Remember the intranet will evolve – you want to make sure the technology and vendor can support this constant evolution long after the excitement of the initial launch has passed.

Cost Model

We estimate all work in advance based on a rate card. It consists of:
1) Resource costs: Consultant, designer and producers to specify, design and build the intranet. Any developer costs will come from custom developments and/or complex systems integration
2) Annual license fee: This is based on a per user basis and includes licenses, hosting (if you want us to host it), technical support and upgrades (we push out updates every fortnight)
As the intranet evolves (which it will), we work with our clients on a project or retainer basis.

Who are your main competitors?

We come up against Internal IT departments trying to make use of their Sharepoint investments. We sometimes compete against digital agencies.

It’s quite fragmented. We rarely come up against companies we consider our natural competition.

What do you need from *your* customers to deliver intranet success?

  • Clear objectives: we make sure the initial phase establishes them we do anything else. If we can do it then we’ll turn down the business.
  • A realistic intranet management plan: the initiative begins the day of launch. The design and build is exciting just the preparatory stage of the project. The success of the intranet depends on what happens after launch.
  • Openness: actually all our clients are. They value our expertise. We know what works and what doesn’t – sometimes from painful experience.

We outline a clear list of common intranet mistakes in one of our ebooks. It’s great advice for anyone looking to define an intranet project.

What does the future have in store for your product?

Integration: Effective intranets integrate with lots of operational systems. Some do already. So for example a sale or a scheduled meeting from the CRM system would appear in the user’s intranet activity feed alerting followers of the user or the relevant company to the event.

Personalisation: As intranets extend using navigation and finding content or functionality becomes more difficult. When an intranet becomes the user’s portal to all of their interactions with their company’s systems, colleagues and customers the personalisation at huge scale is fundamental.

Mobile/touch devices: I’ve already described how take-up of the mobile intranet has been surprisingly slow. However I also notice that all senior executives are carrying iPads and iPhones (whilst the company’s standard Blackberry and PC remain at their desks). We’re still confident that touch interfaces will change our approach to intranet design and usability.

What does intranet 2015 look like?

It always amazes us that a manufacturing company can tell you exactly how many items they have in stock and every process they use for production, but a knowledge based company believes it can survive without an inventory of its knowledge and a known process to create and disseminate ideas.

By 2015 no company will believe it can operate without an effective intranet.

On a more personal note, it would be nice if SharePoint’s strengths and weaknesses were widely recognised and leveraged appropriately rather than being seen as the answer to everything – even before the question is asked. Or maybe SharePoint 2015 will finally deliver on its promises – that would be OK too.

Who should Intranetizen readers speak with to find out more about your product?

Please, please do contact our clients. I’m happy to put you in touch with anyone at Heineken, Nestlé, De Beers, Chalhoub Group, Added Value and even clients we don’t work with anymore – that’s how confident we are.

What question should we have asked? And if we had, what would the answer have been?

We’ve published some eBooks that some of your readers might be interested in:
The changing role of internal communications
Intranet Usability Workbook
Why Intranets fail

We are very grateful for the time taken by SmallWorlders to respond to our questions and hope you find their answers informative. The full set of reviews can be found here. We intend to run this series again in 2013 – get in touch with us if you’d like to participate.


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