What matters on your Intranet?

At the Interact Intranet Conference we played a game of “intranet tetris”, putting together the pieces needed to run a successful intranet, as a bit of a fun exercise. This is the finished jigsaw, as deemed correct by the presenter.

2409tetrisI could quibble with the labels – knowledge management is meant to cover all forms of content – but my bigger issue is with the hierarchy the presenter tried to imply.

  1. Governance
  2. Intranet objectives
  3. Business objectives
  4. Roles and responsibilities
  5. Knowledge management (content)
  6. Information Architecture
  7. Toolkit
  8. Brand (look and feel)
  9. Engagement
  10. Analytics

Shouldn’t business objectives be the starting point? How can you decide governance or intranet objectives if you don’t know the business objectives? Let’s face it; if you’re creating an intranet that does not serve the business objectives you’re destroying company value.

Another presenter asked what was most important about an intranet; giving options such as finding information, interaction, processes, brand and performance.

Most of the room suggested “finding information” upon which he whizzed through some data proving the room wrong. According to his comprehensive survey of users the right answer was “interaction with colleagues”.

I’m all for a bit of colleague interaction – I’m keen on coffee chats rather than meetings. But I have two problems with this conclusion.

(1) it’s rare that an interaction on an intranet can be so neatly categorised;

Imagine; Sue posts a question on a collaboration platform and a colleagues answers pointing her to the IT service site where she can make a request online for a new secure access card. She completes the process and gets her access card in the next day’s mail.

Was that finding information, interacting with colleagues, supporting a process? I suggest the part Sue remembers is the personal contact, but in fact there was more than the interaction making her visit successful.

(2) I have a theory that users don’t rate items like “finding information” very highly because their intranet already does that well. You can test my theory; remove the information on your intranet site that relates to paydays and holidays. See how long it takes for someone to complain.

I think users list what their biggest wish for the intranet is, not what they actually use.

Actually there’s no need to experiment. Our intranet went down a week or so ago. I’m pretty sure my colleagues would have listed “performance” as their biggest need at that moment.

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 12.37.39 PMAnalysing intranets is a bit like that old tale of six blind men describing an elephant. There are a number of ways of doing it, none of which are wrong per se, but no single list is right. To make a hierarchical list or define a single “most important” item seems to imply that setting up an intranet is a linear process. A tightrope walk from one side of the big top to the other. But setting up an intranet, like most digital projects is a messy and iterative process. More like the plate spinner with 9 towers of plates all spinning at once.

The thing that is most important for your intranet is the next step in improving it to match business goals – and serve user needs.

Image; Like Spinning Plates / BY-NC-SA 2.0

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One thought on “What matters on your Intranet?

  1. Hi Louise – I agree %100 with what you say – there isn’t one ‘correct’ starting point for an intranet, a ‘correct’ hierarchy or even clear priorities for improvement. Organisations are so different, have different needs, different cultures, different people and intranets can serve many purposes – so to think that there is just one approach that will succeed is very unlikely.

    There are in fact many possible starting points and priorities to focus on to improve an intranet, depending on a whole range of factors.

    However, in my research I have certainly noticed trends and themes which are useful to know and I think apply to many organisations. One of them is the problem with finding information. I don’t think organisations in general do this well at all. Invariably, most of the comments provided by end users who complete the WIC relate to this problem. There is also a lot of other research available that supports this idea. For example:

    Employees search for information for 0.5 to 2 hours per day – that’s up to about a ¼ of the
    full work time. This hidden cost on average total up to $14k per employee and year
    – IDC: Hidden Costs of Information Work: A Progress Report, 05/2009

    About 50% of information workers state that finding important information is difficult and
    time-consuming
    – eKnowledge Center: ”How to Measure Findability in Enterprise Search Solutions”, 12/2008,
    http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Search-Engines/How-to-Measure-Findability-in-Enterprise-Search-Solutions/

    1/3 say that less than half of the information they need is searchable and that searching for
    information is time consuming and frustrating
    – Outsell Inc.: ”Information Management Best Practices: The Search For Search – Solving Users’ “Finding” Problems”, 2006,
    http://www.outsellinc.com/store/products/229-information-management-best-practices-the-search-for-search-solving-users-finding-problems

    In my personal experience with intranets this problem keeps coming up. What to do about is the key question. There are many theories around but I am now 90% sure that a key part of the answer is to encourage more staff to contribute useful and valuable content and then deliver this content to end users in a meaningful way.

    One topic I didn’t talk about much during my talk was the content curation process – the job of converting collaborative/discussion type content (what I called noise) – into meaningful easy-to-find content (the signal). I believe this will be a critical role in years to come – but right now – hardly any organisations do it. I’ve even thought of a name for this new role – Content Miner. It’s the equivalent to what a data miner does with big data – that is extract meaning from a huge amount of data.

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