Intranets. You need them. But often they are not very good. But how do you make them better?
by Chris Tubb
There is theory and there is practice. In theory, organisations should analyse their needs in the area of intranets and digital workplaces, formulate a strategy, gather requirements, and then assess the appropriate platforms. In practice, something different happens. Many intranet and communications teams find a new intranet platform dumped on them from a great height.
Invariably somebody high-up from IT says something like, “Good news, we've chosen a new platform for the intranet. You just need to migrate your 'data' next month”.
Of course this leads to the red mists of rage and boiling resentment. Why wasn’t the intranet team involved in the process? What do you mean it’s just data? Whadyamean we’re migrating next month?
I’ve seen this happening regularly, and you're definitely not alone in this pain. IT understands servers and platforms, and buying a new one often makes sense. Content management systems come to their end-of-life and they fall out of support and they need to be replaced to reduce risk. An enterprise licensing agreement which chucks in a potential intranet platform for free also sounds like a no-brainer.
The problem is that the complexity of intranets can easily break IT's simple world-view. Thousands of pages and documents, all owned by different people; dozens of stakeholders all seeking a different benefit; communication, information provision, navigation and search, applications and collaboration - all wrapped up together. It's complicated and at the end of it (and the whole point), is the user. If you get it wrong at the start of the project, it is going to be wrong all the way through and instead of a sleek new intranet, the user is going to be sitting in front of a mess.
So, short of building a time machine and going back 12 months to do what you should have done, or just having a quick cry in the loos, what can you do about this mess? Surely it is too late to go about creating a strategy? Wrong. Flat wrong. This is exactly the time you need some strategic thinking. It is a common misconception that strategy is all about 65,000 word documents and getting expensive consultants in. It is, rather, just a bit of structured thinking - a clever plan and you can implement quickly and that can direct effort through the year. This structured thinking takes effort, but needn’t take a long time. Take a look at my recommended approach:
Discovery - grab the data you have to hand - which might be knowledge in people's brains. What is it that we know? What it is that we don't know, and what of what we don't know might kill us? Try to gather facts not opinions about what should be done.
Diagnosis - What's the problem here? What hurts and needs to be salved? What do we suck at? What are we good at?
Guiding policy - What is our clever overall approach to making this project deliver something better than running around like headless chickens? What’s the general need we mean to meet?
Direction - What are you going to focus on? How can you explain it so people get it?
Tactics - What are the specific actions or initiatives you are going to employ? What ‘style’ of problem solving will work for you?
I know it sounds a lot, but you can move through this process at pace. You can also be iterative - a strategy doesn't need to be a five-year grand plan. When the IT guy drops the bomb that you need to move platform in two months you might move through this process quickly to get you up and running and then again in more detail when you know more. So you might not be where you want to be, but you can kick start the thinking for taking you to where you need to go.
Steve Bynghall and I are running a strategy workshop in London (30th June) organised by our good friends at Intranet Now. We are going to run through this process in a day and you'll walk away with the core of your intranet strategy. Come along!
Picture credit Missouri State / Flickr