Umicore takes the lead in digital transformation with cutting-edge intranet platform

Oct 17, 2018

Materials technology group Umicore is one of the most forward-thinking companies in the world. Until recently, however, the company’s internal communications platform was from another era altogether. When technical issues forced them to consider a new platform, Communications Manager Raf Hendrickx and his team decided to seize the opportunity to make significant digital headway.

“There were two reasons we started looking for a new intranet solution,” explains Raf. “The first one was the fact that our existing solution was very static and decentralized. This made communicating and collaborating across borders and departments very difficult. The second reason was technical: our existing platform had reached end-of-life and wouldn’t be supported anymore. At the end of the day, we didn’t have much of a choice.”

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Six main objectives

“However, we didn’t want to rush things either. So early on, we decided to sit down – both virtually and face-to-face – with stakeholders across the company to identify the wishes and requirements for the new intranet. The result was a list of six main objectives we wanted to achieve:

  1. Creating a single point of entry to digital info and tools for all 10,000 Umicore employees worldwide;
  2. Increase the organization’s overall efficiency with easy access and shared digital tools;
  3. Boost collaboration across company sites and business units to eliminate the silo mentality;
  4. Provide a new way of collaborative learning by making it easier to share knowledge and expertise;
  5. Leverage the intranet’s power as a primary internal communication channel for the Umicore group, its business units, and even individual company sites;
  6. Instill a sense of belonging to the Umicore community through consistent use of branding in the virtual realm.”

The importance of involvement

While the strategic phase of the project took quite some time, Raf has no second thoughts about it. “We wanted to involve as many people as possible: from operators and IT to communication coordinators. In the end, I think we had discussions about how the platform should operate with over 200 people. That’s a lot of input to deal with, but it also means we have a lot of fans across the organization as well. They are the ones who help their colleagues to get on board, which significantly speeds up the user adoption process.”

That ‘employee buy-in’ soon proved itself worthwhile, when the initial go-live in January 2018 was postponed to September due to performance issues. “Honestly, I was bracing myself for a storm of disgruntlement and disappointment. Instead, what we got was a tidal wave of understanding and support. People were deeply involved with the project, and thus they understood the need to make it perfect. That’s when I truly understood the value in the change management cliché of ‘involving the end user’.”

SharePoint Online Modern Pages

After this set back, the team decided to redevelop the intranet in SharePoint Online Modern Pages: the latest and most advanced intranet solution available. “We effectively went from trailing behind to implementing one of the most advanced digital solutions available. But looking at the scale of Umicore and our requirements and ambitions, it was the only scenario that made sense.”

“For example, there are 14 languages spoken across Umicore in total, and we wanted to present every end user to relevant content in his or her native tongue, or in English. This seemingly small detail was a huge challenge, and one of many which our implementation partner delaware tackled with grace. Another great example is the personalized navigation, which allows users to immediately see targeted, relevant content.”

The launch of Connect

On September 17 2018, Umicore’s new intranet, Connect, went live. “Since the launch, we received tons of enthusiastic reactions from end users. People truly feel like the company has entered the digital age. But our work isn’t done yet: over the course of the coming months, we will evaluate performance and implement new widgets where necessary.”

Instead of a centrally managed platform, a number of admins have been appointed across the company. “These admins will have ownership over most of the content. The goal is to stimulate local news, because of its bigger impact. At the same time, I am able to monitor everything from a central location. This allows me to steer where necessary, but also to compliment people who are doing a great job in providing relevant quality content.”

At once unified and deeply personalized

Another example of the unified approach is the consistent use of Umicore branding throughout the entire platform, with one recognizable homepage for all employees worldwide. “The goal was to create a sense of belonging, to make people feel like they are part of and contribute to the greater good of the company.”

While the homepage and look-and-feel are the same, end-users see a personalized version of the page, based on their role in the company, their location, and their personal preferences. In this way, they only get to see content that is relevant for them. Needless to say, Umicore’s intranet Connect is also fully accessible on mobile.

From trailing behind to trailblazing

“So far, everyone’s been really excited about the new platform,” Raf concludes. “There’s a prevailing sense throughout the company that we’ve done something special here: we’ve gone from trailing behind to become frontrunners in the digital workspace. Whether it’s easy collaboration through Project sites or Communities, boosting interactivity with the integrated Yammer tool, or the possibility to find colleagues based on specific skills or expertise: Connect has opened the door to new and more efficient ways of working.”

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