Intranets vs. Employee Self-Service Portals

Intranets vs. Employee Self-Service Portals

Tuesday, 17 December 2013 00:00 Written by
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Every so often, my work puts me before HR folks at companies and one of the things I always ask is if the have an employee self-service portal. The answer especially in the larger companies is a "yes, we have an intranet for employees".

But more often than not the contents of this portal are not much more than a lot of static content about the company, its HR policies and a collection of forms that the employees can download, print, fill and then submit manually for processing/approval.

That to me is like an ATM that tells me my account balance and hands me a cheque book but dispenses no money. I wouldn't really consider a great convenience.

The folks in the customer service business learnt a lot about self-service and its benefits. Whenever executed well, it led to happier customer, lower customer support costs and something even more important, customers just got so used to the convenience that they stayed. HR can learn a lot form this experience, after all employees too are customers, "internal customers".

Based on my experience of implementing employee portals, the following 5 capabilities must be kept in mind while building or evaluating a good employee self-service (ESS) portal

Process Enabled

A good ESS portal allows employees to transact on-line. So move beyond form down-loading to forms that can be filled and submitted on-line. The processes themselves must have been re-engineered for automation. Manual work-flows very often pass through or end-up with HR. A good ESS portal is meant to reduce administrative workload of HR and should eliminate HR involvement when not required.


It is a well known fact that employees do not memorize the company employee handbook and most cannot even find their copy easily. A good ESS is"policy-powered". Its processes are intelligent and conform to the policy so that employees and managers do not need to know what's permitted and what's not.

Decision Support

A good ESS portal should go beyond being a mere repository of employee and HR policy information. While enabling business process it must give relevant decision support information to help employees and managers make intelligent decisions.


An ESS will be used by all employees and in most cases not used all the time. It's going to be very expensive to train people in using it. A good ESS therefore has to be highly intuitive and easy to use. Most in-house developed ESS portals and Intranets lack on this count for want of "Usability" designing and reviews. This makes them unattractive and hard to use and people find it simpler to revert back to good old paper processes.

High Availability

An ATM that often runs out of cash or doesn't work is not going to inspire confidence in customers. he same applies to your ESS portal. Make sure its available 24×7, can accessed from anywhere, ideally using any device and most of all is fast. Intranets hosted on in-house servers often suffer from lack of capacity (server and/or bandwidth) and being behind company firewalls are not accessible outside the office.

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