Understand User Needs - Strategize From The "Outside-In"
Intranet design must begin with understanding what site visitors want and need to accomplish. Most organizations launch into intranet design with company goals as the focus. But, making the site useful to the employee and partner needs to come first. If users don't find immediate value in using the intranet, they won't use it. Finding the common ground in the user and business goals is the key, and once those goals are defined, it is relatively easy to determine what information is required for the site, what other systems need to be integrated, and who needs to be involved in contributing and reviewing content.
Effective Implementation - Where Technology Meets Content Needs
When Sanwa Bank California evaluated numerous content management solutions, the governing concerns were ease-of-use, data integration, and enabling constant content updates while protecting the overall integrity of the intranet. Sanwa, one of California's largest banks, has a network of more than 100 branches statewide providing personal, business, international, and trust services that require up-to-the-minute information on lending rates, credit data, and marketing promotions. The bank needed a content management system that would allow employees to change their sections of the corporate intranet immediately, without help from IT. It is a common issue because an IT bottleneck thwarts efficiency and frustrates both intranet content contributors and users trying to access the latest information.
Effective content management empowers non-technical contributors by providing an extensible, top-down management system that sets controls for viewing, modifying, and managing what gets posted to a site. The method has to be as simple as visiting a Web page so that the entire process can be done without intervention from IT. Clear parameters for that process need to be managed through an efficient workflow that establishes the cycle for content creation and who has the authority to publish it to the site.
Intranet implementation and maintenance go hand-in-hand from a technology perspective because many of the hurdles in getting a site up and running will be faced again as contributors make changes to the site. From the beginning of site implementation, content management software should make it easy for you to set up the page templates, approval processes, user roles, and business rules that are required to address user scenarios and who should be responsible for the different content areas. Ideally, the bulk of this work should be done without requiring extensive database development, programming, or specialized scripting.
Measuring Intranet Effectiveness - It's Not About 'Page Hits' Anymore
Setting the metrics for measuring intranet effectiveness should come straight from the original business and user goals that drive what goes into the intranet. Traditional e-commerce metrics, like page hits and length of stay, aren't effective for intranets because they don't tell the whole story, and certainly don't demonstrate how positively Web communications are impacting the organization.
Instead, results should be tracked back to the original user scenarios. For example, if giving customer service representatives better access to customer information was a goal, then whether or not the average length of service calls was reduced is the best metric to see whether or not the intranet is delivering. As you track your results, start thinking about the cost of getting information to the site as well. If the information has high value, then costs may not matter. But if it is harder to prove value (or if you can't) and the expense of managing the information is high, you may be better off not having it on the site. Content management systems should work closely with other tracking tools, such as Web logs, to provide details on both the use of content and the management of it.
How Quickly Can You Change?
So, if you discover that areas of the intranet aren't meeting user requirements, how quickly can you fix it? This is where the whole idea of implementation and maintenance needing to be equally efficient comes into play. That is, just as content contribution is the responsibility of the businessperson in charge of the information, changes to the site should be handled by the people responsible for the change rather than be funneled to Web developers. Bringing IT into the mix often takes too much time, costs too much money, and is completely counter to the whole idea of the intranet as a dynamic platform, besides the fact that their time can be better spent on more strategic IT issues.
It may also be that evaluating whether or not the intranet is effective may cause you to rethink your outside-in plan (identifying new audiences or scenarios), change the implementation, or try new measurements. The key is not to change for change's sake, but to change for the better.
The Internal Audience Is The Customer
Intranet audiences can be just as unforgiving as e-commerce customers, so it's important to think of employees and partners as intranet customers at the beginning of intranet planning. Content and usability are critical issues. Making the site pretty, and giving it lots of bells and whistles are not.
Picking content management technology that supports a strategic methodology will determine the success of the intranet not only from a content standpoint, but also usability and long-term return on the investment. Open architecture, extreme ease-of-use for non-technical content contributors, workflow, and personalization capabilities should all top your list of criteria when evaluating content management solutions in addition to cost. In the long run, customization that includes lots of programming and development can cost much more than taking the time to find a solution that supports customization out of the box, so understand all your intranet needs before you start calling vendors in to do the dog and pony show.
In fact, tell them to leave the dog and pony at home and just bring the doughnuts and a guarantee that you can be up and running in less than 60 days.