Many communication departments are closely involved with the operations of their organization’s intranet. They create news stories, ensure that the content is high quality, develop social media applications and try to ensure that the information structure of the intranet reflects changes in departmental responsibilities. And those are only a few of the challenges.
The staff resources required to operate an intranet are considerable, and current research indicates that there needs to be one full-time intranet manager for every 3,000 users. If the intranet has a good search function (and if not, why not?), without a team of two or even three people supporting this application, users are likely to become very frustrated by the intranet’s performance.
I have found that communication departments are often so focused on the day-to-day issues of just keeping an intranet up and running that there is a danger of overlooking the bigger picture. The intranet is most likely used every day by a majority of people in the organization, and they put their trust in it. If the information on it is out of date or unreliable, or if valuable information cannot be found, then the organization is running a substantial risk to its business performance and reputation. Even so, relatively few organizations have a strategy for the development of their intranet.
One reason for this is probably the lack of a framework that highlights how an intranet can add value to an organization. For the past couple of years, I have used the following six-factor model, based on the excellent annual Global Intranet Trends reports published by NetStrategy/JMC:
- The intranet should be a front door. Users should be able to easily find and use all the applications they need in their work for the organization. This does not necessarily mean that there is single sign-on for all the applications, but at a minimum, those applications should be easy to find and have good descriptions about how they can be used. In one global company, the top 90 or so most-searched subjects on the company’s intranet were for applications such as the travel booking system and the video conference suite numbers around the world. These in-demand applications should be easily accessible to all employees.
- The intranet should support tasks. Employees rarely go looking for generic information. Instead, they are usually trying to use the intranet to complete a task, like the development of a divisional communication plan, and are looking for some examples and templates.
- The intranet should enable people to make connections. A staff directory with just names and numbers is of little use. Employees want to be able to find colleagues with specific expertise to solve a problem. Nowadays, employees new to the organization—or who are perhaps just taking on a new role—not only want to find colleagues, but also to see the experience each individual brings to the organization. Social media can be especially valuable in bringing people together.
- Intranets should provide real-time information. In this case, “real time” means that the information is valid and dependable. The problem in many organizations is that contributing content is seen as a hobby; it is rarely made a component of someone’s job description or evaluation. When people leave the organization, they might also leave behind information that gradually becomes more out-of-date and potentially dangerous because their manager has not ensured that someone else takes on the stewardship of that content.
- Intranets should be location independent. How difficult is it to access the intranet when on site at a customer’s or supplier’s location? In the next few years, there is going to be rapid growth in the use of smartphones to access enterprise applications such as an intranet. Has your organization assessed the benefits and technical challenges that will come with this development?
- Intranets should support teamwork. The word ”collaboration” is overused, all too often to justify the implementation of SharePoint. Rarely do organizations carry out any research to find out just how effective employees are at collaborating, how the intranet contributes to collaboration, and whether problems with collaboration are structural and cultural rather than technical. As a result, there are also no metrics to assess the benefits of the SharePoint investment.
Does your organization's business strategy balance these values? The chances of such a balance being optimal depend very much on the governance structure for the intranet. The expectations and requirements of three groups of stakeholders need to be considered: senior management, the team providing the operational support for the intranet, and users. Intranets actually have two user groups: those who contribute information through a content management system and those using the intranet as their desktop. Without the former, the latter are unlikely to gain any value from the intranet.
Few intranets have enough resources allocated to them, and it is a constant challenge for communication managers to fund an organizationwide intranet out of the communication department budget. If you are looking for support to make a business case for improving your intranet, have a word with whoever prepares the risk register for the board. Almost certainly there will be risks that could be substantially lowered through even a small increase in the intranet budget.
Just how good is your intranet? It is easy to benchmark web sites, which are of course publically available, and look for ideas to enhance your own. This is much more difficult to do with an intranet, so here are a few organizations that may be of value to you:
Intranet Benchmarking Forum www.ibforum.com
Intranet Focus www.intranetfocus.com
Intranet Lounge intranetlounge.com/
Nielsen Norman Group www.nngroup.com/reports/intranet/
Prescient Digital Media www.prescientdigital.com/intranet-consulting/main.html
StepTwo Designs www.steptwo.com.au
Worldwide Intranet Challenge www.cibasolutions.com.au/
With the help of the six-factor model and the suggested resources, you should be able to determine the value your intranet brings to your organization.
Martin White founded Intranet Focus Ltd. in 1999 and serves as its current managing director. He has worked for clients in Europe, North America and the Middle East on intranet and information management strategy projects, and on the selection of content management and search software. His new book, The Intranet Management Handbook, will be published in early 2011.
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