Incentive Gives SMB Intranets a Social Edge

By Pedro Hernandez | Posted June 06, 2014

Company intranets have a habit of turning into the electronic equivalent of a musty old filing cabinet. One software company has set out to clear out the cobwebs.

A staple in many modern workplaces, intranets are typically dull, un-engaging experiences. Content piles up but few, if any, employees want to venture too deeply. Instead, they pick up the phone or instant message their colleagues to get the answers that they're looking for.

Incentive, a Swedish software startup that recently opened new digs in Los Angeles, aims to breathe new life into intranets by turning them into the heartbeat of small and midsized businesses. Part collaboration suite, information repository and private social network, the company's namesake Web-based software platform leverages a group's collective know-how to "broaden the type of content" employees have at their fingertips, said CEO and founder, Rickard Hansson.

Instead of the purely business driven, managerially curated content usually posted on intranets, Incentive builds a virtual community, complete with communication and collaboration tools. Social media inspired features make it easy to keep tabs on projects, people and the company as a whole. Think a business twist on Facebook, but with a cleaner look and feel.

Incentive can be implemented on-premises or on a private cloud. It supports popular cloud service providers like Amazon, Rackspace and Microsoft Azure. Incentive claims that setup is easy. "For Azure, [it takes] five clicks and you're ready to go," Hansson told Small Business Computing.

Social-Enabled, Crowdsourced Productivity

Guided by the concept that the "the many are smarter than the few," a nod to James Surowiecki's influential tome, The Wisdom of Crowds, Incentive lowers the barriers to sharing knowledge across an organization.

Sitting front and center is the activity stream, which surfaces conversations, posts and shared content, which can be liked and further commented upon. At the very top is a dialog box that encourages employees to pose questions, share ideas and commemorate breakthroughs.

Incentive supports hashtags, which are not mandatory but help improve search results and make topics easier to follow. In fact, employees can "follow anything," be it a person, blog, article or other content, said Hansson. Notifications alert users to new mentions, further aiding the visibility of contributions, mentions and must-see updates.

Users can further share their expertise with the product's built-in blog and wiki support. Google-like search functionality makes all content on the platform discoverable within moments. Just type in a term, and all related shares, wikis and blogs turn up in Incentive's search results.

Work Spaces are organized sub-communities, of sorts. The feature lets employees create a specialized workspace for specific departments, projects, topics and company initiatives that are comprised of select members. Work Spaces can be set to private for sensitive or hush-hush projects.

Smartphone and tablet owners will appreciate Incentive's mobile-friendly interface. The responsive design scales smoothly between the generous screen real estate of PC browsers to compact smartphone displays.

The Small Business Inbox: RIP

Incentive's main draw is not its feature set, said Hansson, but rather its transformative, productivity-enhancing effect on SMBs.

For Hansson, "Incentive has replaced email," at least within his company. "That is my inbox when communicating with my coworkers." Instead of "endlessly emailing" his 30-person team and juggling email attachments (the software supports document and file sharing), Hansson and his company handles all communications within the software. "We don't email internally."

Hansson reports that questions are answered quickly, projects encounter fewer snags and feedback flows fast and unfiltered. Everyone is always on the same page, so to speak. Even better, it has allowed him to hone a talent that many busy entrepreneurs often struggle with: focus.

Since his email is now exclusively devoted to external communications, his coworkers and outsiders no longer compete for his attention on the same screen. The clear distinction between both modes of communication makes it easier to give both worlds the care, attention and mental bandwidth that they require.

What's next? Hansson hinted that the company is working on a video conferencing feature that will let people conduct virtual meets directly from their browsers.

Incentive is available on a no-contract subscription basis. Prices start $9 per user per month.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at InfoStor. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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