Improve your bottom line – develop your intranet

Intranets can play an important role in achieving the objectives of your organisation, but they need the appropriate management expertise, staff engagement and funding.

So what is an intranet? An intranet is a publication containing content and applications that will help your staff become more informed and productive.

An intranet is not a dumping ground for any old content, as some have become. Nor should it be a free-for-all design environment, in which anyone can explore their graphic impulse.

The intranet is most definitely not some techy nirvana with loads of cool software that automatically classifies, translates and ‘dynamically’ publishes content.

Technology has failed to deliver cheap, quick fixes for content. Organisations that think they can solve a ‘content problem’ with software are missing the point.

Content is not a problem but an asset. Quality content will make an intranet hum.

There are two things you need to understand about content. Firstly, people create content. Technology supports the content creation and publishing processes but, if you don’t have talented people writing, editing and publishing content, all the technology in the world is useless. Secondly, quality content is expensive. You simply can’t do it on the cheap. Writing, editing and publishing content is a difficult skill that is rarely mastered well. That’s why the only way to look at content is as an opportunity.

You need to create propositions that state something like this: if we invest £200,000 per annum in intranet publishing, we will see a productivity gain of £400,000. You must get away from the conversation that revolves around how much it is costing to publish the content.

It must be seen as a means by which productivity can be increased through staff improving their skills, and where morale and loyalty can be enhanced through communication.

Darwin magazine wrote in November 2001: ‘When Hewlett Packard’s executive committee decided in June to ask all employees to take a voluntary payroll reduction, the decision was posted immediately on the company’s portal, the intranet that binds together nearly 90,000 employees in 150 countries.

‘A tool enabling employees to volunteer for the reduction accompanied the announcement. The first day, 10,000 employees signed up; within three days 30,000 had volunteered.

‘Instead of finding out by word of mouth whether people were signing up, employees could check the site to find the current tally of volunteers; as the count increased, it convinced more people to participate. Ultimately, more than 90% of HP’s employees volunteered for pay cuts.’

This may not be the most ideal example to show how an intranet can work, but it illustrates the potential of the intranet to communicate and influence behaviour.

Think about it. The intranet homepage is probably the only place that every member of your organisation can view every day.

A fundamental mistake that management repeatedly makes is to treat the intranet less seriously than the public website. But it is at least as important to ensure the intranet content is accurate and complete, as it is for the public website.

As intranet consultancy Intranet Focus puts it: ‘Staff have to trust the intranet.’ To get the best out of yours, here are ten things to keep in mind:

  • Develop a long-term plan;
  • Deliver enthusiastic management support;
  • Run it like a publication;
  • Put an editor in charge;
  • Absolute focus on the reader;
  • Motivate and reward;
  • Focus on quality metadata;
  • Implement common design;
  • Implement a content management system and
  • Resource properly.

Too many intranets are approached in an ad hoc manner. Align your intranet objectives with your corporate objectives and develop a plan for its evolution over a three-to-five-year period.

It should be championed and used by management. If the intranet is run like a publication, it will focus on getting the right content to the right person at the right time at the right cost.

What’s the first thing a publication seeks from its readers? Trust. Putting an editor in charge helps here. A single person can then have the responsibility to ensure that all parts of your intranet meet commonly agreed objectives and standards. That person should be someone with editorial experience, someone used to working with content.

The information architecture is also vital. In other words, the organisation and layout of content on your website has to be right. Think about metadata, classification, navigation, search, layout and graphic design.

It is essential you have common design standards throughout your intranet.

Without them, it becomes incoherent and difficult to navigate. The key reason to have common design standards is not so that you can achieve central control, but so that you can empower the reader to find the content they need quickly.

A content management system will help, too. It will allow you to implement and manage common design standards efficiently. It will allow for practical publishing processes. It will facilitate these without technical knowledge to create, edit and publish content.

And finally, a good intranet needs resources. If you starve it, you might as well not have one. It can either further your corporate objectives or it can’t. If it can, you must deliver to it the appropriate resources.

But those who run the intranet must deliver to management good return on investment justifications that show if you invest X in the intranet, you get Y in return.

  • Gerry McGovern is an author and consultant. This is an edited extract from an article in the September issue of Accountancy Age’s sister title, Information World Review.

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