Ten Steps Toward Intranet Success

You may not need a CMS at present, but you will need it sooner than you can imagine.

This column is being written on Independence Day, so I thought it would be appropriate to bring a transatlantic alliance to bear on the issue of how to ensure the success of an intranet. Howard McQueen, CEO of McQueen Consulting, (www.mcq.com) and I have been working on intranet projects for several years. We recently figured out that we have probably been exposed to well over two hundred intranets. Based on this collective experience, we have developed a set of success factors that may reduce the failure rate of intranets.

Develop a Strategy
Develop and document an intranet strategy, based on a consideration of the requirements and balance of information/content, technology, and governance, for at least the next two, and ideally three, years. Have a clear set of business objectives for the intranet, and measure progress regularly. The strategy should set out business objectives for the intranet, which might be to improve employee productivity by 3% per year, or to increase employee retention by 2% per year. An effective approach we have developed to identify problems is what we have called the Governance-Information-Technology Triangulation. (EContent, May 2002, pp. 46-47) We find that most companies place most of their emphasis on technology requirements and generally never get around to adequately addressing information and governance requirements.

Find a Sponsor
Ensure that you have senior management sponsorship, and that the sponsor has control over any relevant budgets. The intranet is visible on every desktop, and should have a role to play in every business decision made in the organization. Sponsorship can take many forms. One of the success factors for the British Telecom intranet was that both the chairman and chief executive both had their own personal pages on the intranet outlining their views on the company and some of the activities they were involved with.

Plan the Content
Design the information architecture and content so that the intranet supports key business tasks. Too many intranets are just random collections of content. In all organizations there are information-dependent tasks, such as responding to customer enquiries or bringing best practice to bear on a new project. Understanding the requirements, and the workflow, will not only enable you to populate the intranet with relevant content, but also provide an intuitive discovery architecture and start to document the workflows that will be needed in a content management application. Embrace the notion that the intranet is an E2E (Employee-to-Employee) network. A key mission of the intranet is to assist in the formation of such relationships, which increasingly become communities of practice (www.freepint.com/issues/291101.htm).

Support Content Developers
The roles, skills, and responsibilities for content contribution and maintenance should be included in job descriptions and reviews. In many intranets we have been involved with, staff members are expected to contribute content in addition to their main job activity. If the intranet is a strategic resource for the organization, then being a content author should be seen to be a business-critical role. There should be adequate training, and rewards for excellence, in content creation and management.

Make sure that the intranet provides access to information from external sources. In many companies, there will be considerable benefit from not only providing access to services such as Factiva, but also ensuring that staff can build personal profiles to filter news, and integrate it with internal content through an enterprise-level taxonomy. It is useful to introduce a system that enables users to recommend sites that they find especially useful as additions to a Quick Links section on a relevant page.

Kat Hagedorn of the Argus Centre for Information Architecture (www.argus-acia. com) defines information architecture as "the art and science of organizing information to help people effectively fulfill their information needs." The information architecture should be as intuitive and as useable as possible, and should not necessarily map against the current organization structure. If you are required to map into the current organization structure, recognize that this should be a secondary mapping and will be subject to change and costs associated with upkeep. Constructing taxonomies is a complex undertaking. There are technology tools that can help to automate the classification of content and build intuitive taxonomies to support browse and search. These are best used by staff with information science and subject skills. Watch for the next edition of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web by Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville, which should have been published by O'Reilly and Associates Inc. (www.o'reilly.com) by the time you read this--a "must buy" based on the first edition.

Usability testing should be carried out at all stages of the life of an intranet, and there should be excellent feedback channels to ensure that the content and the architecture continue to meet user expectations. Jakob Nielsen (www.useit.com) argues the case for effective usability with passion, and his Web site is a great source of good practice. Establish Web guidelines and standards, making these flexible for interpretation (to allow innovation where it is considered to increase business value) and enforce these standards so that business value is not eroded. Ensuring that there is compliance with these standards and guidelines is a key element of effective governance.

Promote the intranet in every way possible. This will be made easier with a strong brand identity and a formal marketing plan. A good intranet is being continually revised and expanded. It is important to put the new content into context, so that users can see how the intranet can assist their work, and not just see it as another document repository. We like a neat trick from Nortel, where intranet-ready PCs are placed in meeting rooms. Staff then have instant access to the latest information and knowledge resources of the business to support the decisions to be made at the meeting, ensuring that the skeptical senior manager chairing the meeting can instantly see the impact of the intranet on the business.

Measure the performance of the intranet against the targets set out in the intranet strategy, paying attention to the impact on the business and not just on increases in page views. This will almost certainly mean carrying out regular surveys. These will identify success stories for the marketing program and horror stories that will need visible attention so that users can see that their concerns are being dealt with in a timely and constructive fashion. Make sure you provide users with the ability to get feedback on searches so that search engine teams can fine tune results sets and manage misspellings and/or synonyms and related semantic issues.

You need to plan for the implementation of a content management system (www. freepint.com/issues/110702.htm). You may not need a CMS at present, but you will need it sooner than you imagine if you have adopted all the suggestions we have made in this column. Early preparation will pay off in terms of speed of deployment. In our experience, it can take at least nine months to develop a specification, select a vendor, and carry out the implementation. If you wait until you need a CMS, then you may face at least nine months of chaos.

If you think we have left anything out, or the balance is not correct, please email me with your comments. Both Howard and I know that we have much to learn from leading-edge intranet managers.