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Building Intranets That Matter 

An SBI.Enteris Whitepaper

Introduction
2002 was declared “the year of the intranet,”1 the year organizations recognized that the increased efficiencies intranets bring—for example, time saved, knowledge shared, and communication standardized—are crucial for meeting business objectives. However, designing, developing, and deploying an intranet can be expensive, time-consuming, and organizationally tricky. Complicating factors include: coordinating budgets across regional boundaries; prioritizing features; addressing user requests; collaborating with other departments to produce and deploy content; and leading interdisciplinary teams of site administrators, information architects, content writers, visual designers, technical architects, and interface developers.

Despite best intentions, intranets often fail to deliver on the value they promise. Why? Companies take an “if we build it they will come” approach. Too often, intended users don’t come. And if people don’t use the intranet, it will never deliver value.

To drive user intranet adoption, SBI.Enteris employs a user-centered approach to web design and development. SBI.Enteris’ best practices are drawn from our years of experience deploying effective intranets that drive user adoption and value for the technology investment. In particular, we have isolated four best practices within our approach that set the stage for intranet user adoption:

  • Make it matter—to both the business and individual users

  • Solve someone’s problem well

  • Engage users wisely

  • Cultivate multi-disciplinary collaboration
     

Best Practice #1: Make it matter - to both the business and individual users

ENSURE CLEAR BENEFIT TO THE BUSINESS

The first question to ask is, “What is the relative efficiency of building an intranet in the first place?” Then, “Will the cost savings generated by the intranet’s use be significant enough to justify its development and maintenance?” Or, “Can the same business tasks be accomplished more cost-effectively using current processes?” Just because the technology exists doesn’t always mean it’s prudent to use it.
Working with your project sponsor, determine upfront what your intranet effort needs to accomplish. Sample goals might include:

  • Reducing costs by making common forms and tasks available centrally and online (where appropriate)

  • Providing a central repository for communication from the corporate office to all employees

  • Encouraging better information-sharing across the organization

Establish success metrics for each goal. For example, how will cost reduction be measured to calculate intranet ROI? Will corporate information on the intranet replace existing information channels, such as paper newsletters or company-wide memoranda? How will information-sharing be quantified? Sitting down with the project’s sponsor will help set realistic expectations, identifying which problems the intranet can—and cannot—solve.


Now that you’ve decided on the goals of your intranet, how do you form a plan for getting there?


Too often, an intranet’s design is shaped by questions like, “Will the users like it?” Remember that an intranet is a business productivity tool. The hallmark of an effective intranet is the increased efficiency of the employees who use it, and not individual user satisfaction. In the planning stages, users sometimes report strong likes or dislikes for design or features. Careful requirements gathering can make sure the intranet will bring the increased efficiency that strongly correlates with user satisfaction. Balance is essential: if individual users don’t find the intranet easy to use, they won’t use it—and the benefits won’t be realized


ENSURE CLEAR BENEFIT TO THE INDIVIDUALS, AND JUSTIFY THE EXPENSE
In order to be adopted, the intranet has to meet the demonstrated needs of targeted individual users. Identify who those target users are and the functionality they require by taking the following steps:
Î Segment your user community into groups, defined by their similar needs.

  • List the business objectives for each user group.

  • Outline the actual tasks that each user group performs in order to achieve those objectives.

  • Identify tasks that can potentially be completed using an intranet.

  • Compare the amount of time the tasks would take using the intranet, versus other current business processes.

  • Measure intranet versus current process task-completion efficiencies, by giving greater emphasis to user groups responsible for more important business objectives. For example, when SBI.Enteris completed this exercise at a large biotechnology company, we discovered that their senior managers had such distinct needs that it was best to develop a dedicated intranet for them alone.

  • Consider also in your final analysis the ancillary benefits of using the intranet. Examples might include simplifying the content distribution process, or eliminating redundancy in human resources documentation.


Now, let’s try a “real-life” example of a common user task: filing expense reports. Steps involved in filing expense reports offline might include:

  • Entering each expense item into a spreadsheet.

  • Delivering, in person or via office mail, the spreadsheet to a manager for approval.

  • Delivering, in person or via office mail, the approved copy to a controller.

  • A week later, verifying that the finance department has approved the expense report.



cont'd on page 2


 

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