by Toby Ward — The success of intranet kiosks has been very limited. An increasingly more common and popular alternative may be the option of extending remote or home intranet access to all employees.
Very few organizations provide personal desktop and intranet access to every employee. Large and small organizations alike have and continue to struggle with the issue of intranet access for manufacturing or remotely working employees who do not work at desks with computers. In fact, the 50% mark – employees that have individual access – appears to be the average.
Communications professionals often struggle with this dilemma of having to improve internal communications, but not being able to directly communicate with a high percentage of the workforce via the organization’s most powerful communications tool, the intranet. To solve this challenge, many organizations look to the intranet kiosk.
The kiosk is typically a stand alone computer terminal about 4-5 feet tall with a hard outer case and a touch screen or an industrial strength keyboard and tracking ball (not unlike the ones you see in the airport). Sometimes they’re just a regular desktop computer. Most organizations use these kiosks in areas of high traffic by employees that don’t have dedicated computers including:
* field offices
* manufacturing plants
Some organizations have turned to the kiosk as a communications solution for bridging this digital divide, but the results are usually unimpressive. Rarely are kiosks ever used to the extent management hopes or expect.
“In practice, it may be impractical (or prohibitively expensive) to reach all staff using just kiosks,” writes James Robertson of Australian-based Step Two in his article Intranet kiosks or remote access? “Staff may also be reluctant or unable to make effective use of the kiosks during their work breaks.”
I recently conducted a client focus group at a remote field office with workers that work outside and don’t have a dedicated computer, but they do have a shared computer workstation (kiosk). Not surprisingly, these employees have intranet access but the workstation kiosk is not well used. “We don’t use the intranet much and don’t really care… but I would if I could access it from home.”
One exception is Dutch Railway company NedTrain with an employee workforce of 4,000, the majority of which do not have dedicated computers. Despite the limited computer access, the company encourages employees to use centrally located touch-screen kiosks to access the intranet. The result: an astounding 2.5 million quarterly visits – or 200 intranet visits per employee per month.
Remote or Home Access
What has proven more successful than kiosks, is providing remote or home access to the intranet.
“Remote access can be useful even for those without computers at home, and can better match the way staff want to complete some of the common tasks, such as planning holiday dates in consultation with their spouses,” writes Robertson.
British Airways has a remote employee population – so remote that they’re constantly traveling in all corners of the globe. Despite that challenge, BA employees are well connected via the intranet. Here’s a telling statistic of how connected employees are at BA: there are 48,000 employees worldwide, many of which are in the sky, in airports, and on the road, and the intranet gets up to 23,000 unique visitors a day.
BA doesn’t give their employees laptops to travel with. There are however a few dozen kiosks for them to access the intranet, but they’re not well used. In fact, BA has about 120 intranet kiosks at their big hub at Heathrow International, but the lion’s share of intranet access comes from remote access.
Alaska Airlines have put their intranet on the public Internet – that’s right, a .com website. Knowing that most of their employees work ‘on the road’ they got smart and put it on the public Internet (of course, secure areas are password protected and reside behind their firewall). Employees have ubiquitous access from any connected computer and it also shows the world, “We have nothing to hide! Come check us out.” (Visit the Alaska Airlines intranet at www.AlaskasWorld.com.
Kiosks are big, clunky, require maintenance and are expensive. Extending remote access via VPN or secured access is a far better proposition that likely has a better return on investment in most organizations.