Making life easy for your intranet content contributors

In our eighth video, Joe argues that publishing content should be as pleasant as browsing content on a well designed intranet. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more.

Joe Perry, Technical Manager
+ 44 20 7471 8500 | [email protected] | LinkedIn

We don’t just design and build intranets, we also run them.

We have a number of clients who rely on us for the day-to-day management of their intranet; this is not just technical work, but also content planning, publishing, and design.

This means that we have intranet managers and content editors who are not developers.

Just like our clients they need administration interfaces that make publishing information as easy and as fast as possible.

We involve these team members in every project to help us make better choices about how our intranets will be managed. We don’t want our clients to be in a situation where they need a developer every time they want to make a simple change.

This is especially important when an intranet has many content owners and contributors, often across many countries. Things need to be designed so that they’re not only efficient, but also intuitive, and require little or no training.

This is an important tip for anyone designing an intranet; when you think about your users, don’t forget about your administrators and your contributors.


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A framework for intranet governance

Los cautro postesIntranets are big things; too big to just plan, launch and maintain as if its just another web project. Stakeholder management can be a nightmare as, in order to grow a successful intranet, the platform has to be everything to all people, and everyone has their opinion and needs.

While everyone has a stake in the success of the intranet, not everyone is equal in their influence. I suggest that stakeholders need to be identified and differentiated in a structured manner. This will provide clarity when it comes to decision making, tactics, and strategy – the very foundation of intranet governance.

While I propose the use of groups and committees to govern and steer the direction of the intranet, you might prefer a more informal approach. How ever you structure the stakeholders, I think it’s useful to think in ARCI terms.

A is for accountable

This is a very serious word. To be accountable for something means being prepared to take the blame. Accountability means having the authority to make decisions.

If you can’t make decisions and implement change then it may be that you are not accountable.

The litmus test is this – you are not accountable for something unless failure would damage your position. You are accountable if you literally have a stake in the success.

In practice, the core intranet team may be accountable for the intranet, but perhaps this is not ideal. Surely the intranet team needs senior guidance?

This is where the Intranet Steering Committee comes in. The 6 to 9 committee members, who come from all levels and areas of the organisation, weigh up the guidance from the Intranet Team, the IT department, and their own stakeholders and colleagues, and ratify the intranet strategy.

Being accountable, they share the blame for stalls, delays, and intranet cul-de-sacs, because no single team can be accountable for success or failure. It has to be shared across the organisation.

R is for responsible

The core Intranet Team is responsible for the intranet, and works hard to layout the intranet strategy, and once approved by the Steering Committee, implement it on a daily basis.

The Intranet Team is responsible for how the intranet achieves the objectives that the organisation sets (via the Steering Committee). This includes daily tactical decision making. The Intranet Team maintains and develops the intranet as per the expertise that responsibility implies.

The Intranet Team often has to listen to complaints and receive departmental requests that may be wildly outside the intranet strategy. Saying ‘no’ can be really hard, and so the beauty of having a Steering Committee is that the intranet manager can say ‘thank you, I’ll pass this on to the Committee’. It’s now up to the Intranet Team to guide the Steering Committee, and the Steering Committee to say yay or nay to the request. Naturally, the Intranet Team (or Intranet Manager) takes responsibility for the daily, business as usual, requests.

Having a robust process for feedback and requests is vital if the Intranet Team is to make strategic progress, and not be seen as a ‘blocker’ by others.

C is for consult

The few members of the Steering Committee can’t truly represent the whole organisation. Further advisory groups are needed. Your intranet team might run ‘intranet champion breakfasts’ or ‘site owner engagement sessions’. You might simply have a section on the intranet where you share your intranet improvement plans and seek feedback. Whether you have one formal ‘Advisory Group’ or several groups and channels for feedback, the idea is to be transparent and engaging.

Consulting, or encouraging contributions from, people across the organisation should hopefully provide you with a practical understanding of where the intranet is stronger and weaker in serving the needs of your people.

Maintaining an advisory group or groups also means you have ready access to people who should be willing to take part in intranet improvement exercises (like usability testing, card sorting, branding feedback etc.).

Ideas from the advisory group(s) can be fed to the Steering Committee, providing evidence to support the guidance from the Intranet Team.

I is for inform

Never, ever, redesign the home page as a surprise. Your ‘new look’ is not a gift for every employee – it’s a change they have to deal with.

While it’s possible to add things to the main navigation and the home page without too much fuss, it’s much harder to take things away without disrupting people’s ways of working.

Always keep everyone informed. Remember that communication does not happen just because you’ve published a news article. A proper communications plan is necessary, so that people are kept informed about the proposed changes and what the improvements will mean to them.

Although everyone seems apathetic, even hostile, towards change, by engaging people and providing plenty of screenshots and key points, people will be more accepting. ‘Change communications’ is too big a topic for this article, but always keep in mind the importance of every staff member; the intranet is to serve their needs.

Setting the governance is part of our four-step approach to intranet launch and managegement. Read how we like to see governance embedded, and the roles needed.

Photo credit: David Jones

Bringing the internet indoors: socialising your intranet

Most intranets are largely static sites. On its own, an intranet is essentially a shared drive, serving up centrally stored documents alongside internal articles or communications. Some organisations use words such as “communication hubs” to describe them, but for the most part that communication is one-way.

These days, however, an intranet really can be a hub for your company. The intranet portal now closely mirrors employees’ expectations of world wide web functionality. Systems such as Microsoft SharePoint allow users to communicate with each other and collaborate, much as they would using social media tools such as blogging, Facebook and Twitter.

There are a number of capabilities that you can implement relatively easily, with SharePoint in particular making many of them available as standard.

Document sharing

This is the fundamental benefit of a SharePoint intranet and the simplest to set up. Document libraries offer version control features as well as configurable access levels. The Microsoft Office 2007 suite also offers on-the-fly editing of centrally stored documents.

Discussion boards

We’ve all seen discussion boards and forums on the internet, and they can be easily implemented on the corporate intranet. A discussion board can allow a regionally-fragmented team to keep in contact with each other, and to discuss issues or initiatives.

Some discussion boards particularly in larger companies may require moderation, but if a user is forced to participate using their real name, then the board is likely to be at least as polite as the actual office in real life.

Blogs

We’re not suggesting that you give everyone in the company their own blog, but employees will appreciate reading short and concise announcements from high-level superiors, especially if a less formal tone is used.

Commenting and rating

Add comments or ratings to your features so that users can give their thoughts and discuss ideas online. These are measurable indicators to content editors that offer an idea of what visitors find useful and relevant.

Microblogging

Implement a Twitter-like ‘microblog’ on a department sub-site, such as the HR department, to keep staff updated on events in the company. Like blogging, it allows your department managers to communicate with staff quickly and easily, and the shortened nature of the ‘tweets’ makes for a friendly, informal tone.

Profile pages

A fully-fledged profile for every employee would be a bit much for an intranet site but employees would greatly benefit from a visually appealing ‘Whos Who’ for each department. As well as email addresses and extension numbers, the page might offer employees’ particular skill sets, for example. This would allow for the functionality to search for certain skills or specialties in a group.

And more…

There really is no limit to the functionality you can put on your intranet. Theoretically, if you see it on the world-facing internet, you can build it onto your site. That said, you need to make sure that the functionality you implement is worthwhile: will it improve or add to your business?

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