"The brain is hungry not for method but for content, especially content which contains generalizations that are powerful, precise, and explicit." —Frederick Turner
The brain may hunger for content but employees and internet users—despite more information being available than ever before—are malnourished, starving for the right informational diet. Frederick Turner, cultural critic and author, has taken the measure of current thinking on content and information. Jim Hohman, former Reuters EVP who ran the global news organization's media business in the Americas, sums up today's thoughts on the role of content, when he says, "Information is the lifeblood of business."
A healthy Web site, a long established corporate culture, or a new-born intranet project all rely on content as nourishment to feed success. But, like in any good diet, less is often more (yes, quality versus quantity rears its head again). And, whether the content is external or internal, maintaining the right balance of content and technology will feed the long term health of your business.
"We've found that the ROI on most intranet, portal, and CRM initiatives increases substantially when external business-related content is built into the platform," says Steve Goldstein, CEO of Alacra, which builds online tools for financial companies to find and package business information. "This content could be news, competitive intelligence information, or other data that users typically access through different channels. To whatever extent a single point of access can be established to multiple sources of information, the project will have a significantly better chance of success."
Many companies find that a large percentage of employees set their internet start page as My Yahoo (for example) rather than the company site, portal, or intranet. Organizations may also find employees reading the news online. If your company falls into this category, then thinking about how to find your own corporate content, acquire related information, or develop new content needs to be part of your recipe for success.
Adding Up ROI
Content provides a variety of benefits to organizations. Hohman, through his experience at Reuters and elsewhere has seen that, "Through the clever use of different media—wireless, broadband programming, regular Web, extranets, email—content can also be the foundation of a virtual community that links employees, suppliers/partners/customers, researchers, and academics, who share a common need for knowledge, understanding, support, belonging, companionship, and progress."
While different kinds of information are available within a company and in the world at large, most people want and need to use both internal and external content sources. And if that content is integrated with workflow, employee efficiency and productivity can be improved. Appropriate and useful content keeps users on your site—be it an internal or external one—helps develop and encourage loyalty, and brings a return on investment in a variety of ways that can be applied to any online initiative. Don't seek extreme ROI from Internet/Intranet investments. Instead, "keep the ROI to specific projects" suggests Lisa Sulgit, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Intranet Strategy and Management. "For example," she says "if you add content to assist the sales force, you can look at the question—did you close sales faster? The reality is that companies are different as is the way they measure ROI." For example, Jonathan Spira, CEO and chief analyst of Basex, estimates that he saved half of an employee's work week by implementing a content management system to filter through the key companies and technologies that they watch in the nearly 2,000 press releases Basex receives a day.
David Shumaker is manager of information services at MITRE Corporation, which, in partnership with the United States government, applies systems engineering and advanced technology to "support critical operational missions and address issues of national importance." How does one measure ROI where the ultimate outcome is contributing to the success of a program of nation-wide import?
According to Shumaker, "MITRE relies heavily on measures of use, customer feedback, and anecdotal evidence. While MITRE can gauge a return on obtaining information through a digital library versus document delivery fees—$100 of our time will save $1,000 of our customers' time—what is more central is to ask: ‘Did we make better decisions? Did we accomplish our work more efficiently because of the time saved?'"
Whether you make content available on a company portal designed to give corporate unity, on a standalone retail-style Web site, or in a niche market, effective use of content can cut staff hours, put decision making in the hands of the right people, and, in some cases, simply be the business.