Creating an “intranet concept”
Intranet teams need to be clear on where they are heading, and what they will deliver. Typically, this involves writing either a bullet-point list of goals or a 20-page intranet strategy.
In practice, the list of goals is too short (and too abstract), while the intranet strategy documents are often wordy but unclear. Neither form works well.
What is needed is a single sheet of paper that captures where the intranet is at, where it is going, and what this means in the short-term in terms of actual deliverables.
This is the basis for the “intranet concept”, a succinct yet effective description of the intranet direction, written in a narrative format.
This article talks through how to create an intranet concept, and provides examples of two different formats that have been used.
A lack of clear direction
All too often, intranets have little clear direction, with day-to-day maintenance overcoming any attempts to define a clear roadmap for the future.
This leads to communications with the business (and executive sponsors) focusing on the how (the behind-the-scenes work) rather than the what (business benefits being delivered).
This is one the contributing factors for the lack of resourcing and support that many intranets receive. It also makes it hard to build enthusiasm with the business when there is no clear future plans (and therefore benefits) for the site.
The intranet needs a clear direction, strategy or roadmap
Defining a direction
What is needed is a clear direction for the intranet, a strategy or roadmap. Whatever it is called, the intranet must have a plan for the future that outlines what activities will be conducted, and what will be delivered to the business.
This direction then forms the basis for:
- internal project planning within the intranet team
- business case or budget requests
- communications message to the organisation
- briefings to senior management and other senior stakeholders
A good strategy for the intranet should provide a solid basis for quickly pulling together any one (or all) of these documents. It should also provide words and paragraphs that can be stolen for use in many different contexts and situations.
Typically, the overall strategy for an intranet is captured in one of two ways:
- Listing of 5-6 bullet points capturing the intranet ‘goals’
- 20 page document containing the intranet ‘strategy’
Intranet goals: too short
There are good goals and bad (useless) goals for an intranet. The worst goals are those that don’t really say anything, such as the goal of “creating a one-stop shop for corporate information”. These goals provide little or no direction for the site, and do not define what will actually be delivered.
(This was discussed in the earlier article titled Beyond “efficient dissemination of timely information”.)
While these types of goals are obviously very poor, even good goals have limits. This was a set of goals recently determined for an educational organisation:
- Support and enhance the delivery of education
- Provide a single, coordinated communications channel to all staff
- Deliver staff productivity benefits
- Improve the consistency of operations across the organisation
- Support the creation of a single corporate culture
- Provide a platform for business tools and systems
While these are not perfect, they are pretty sound. Each one of these has a solid basis, and overall, the goals appear to capture the overall purpose for the intranet.
The problem is that time after time, these sorts of goals do not have any clear impact on the management or direction of the intranet.
Looking at the experiences gained across many organisations, a number of significant issues and limitations become apparent with the use of goals in this form. These include:
- Too abstract. When distilled down to a small list of goals, the purpose of the intranet is inevitably made into something very high-level and abstract.
- Doesn’t resonate. These types of goals just don’t seem to connect (or resonate) with staff, whether stakeholders or end-users.
- Doesn’t create change. Fundamentally, defining goals in this form seems to have little or no impact on the actual intranet activities being conducted.
- Difficult to measure. Defining metrics or success criteria for these goals is often hard, if not impossible.
- No activities. Intranet goals often do not make it clear exactly what should be done (or needs to be done).
All of this is not to say that defining intranet goals is a wasted effort, just that they cannot stand alone and be expected to be useful. Instead, they should form part of a broader statement of the intranet’s direction (as part of the “intranet concept” discussed in this article).
Intranet strategy: too long
There is something about the format of intranet strategy documents that automatically and unavoidably makes them boring.
Much of the 20+ pages ends up getting devoted to the overall governance and ownership of the project (and the intranet), with only a little space devoted to the actual activities.
In many cases, the intranet strategy documents becomes more of a business case, targeted solely at the steering committee or other group that has the responsibility for signing off the project (and providing the budget).
Intranet strategy documents are also generally built around a standard project template, with formalised sections and headings. This further reduces the impact and limits the use of the document beyond gaining executive sign-off.
Strategy documents are also often strong on theory, but light on the actual steps that will be taken to deliver an improved intranet. They commonly also fail to clearly articulate the benefits that will be delivered to the business.
This is not to say that all strategy documents suffer from these weaknesses, and there are certainly better examples (and worse).
At the end of the day, however it is written, 20 pages is simply too long. Business stakeholders and end-users are not sufficiently interested in the intranet to set aside the time to wade through (and understand) a document of this length.
As a result, many intranet strategies have been written that never see the light of the day, or are little used (even by the intranet team that created them).
Creating an intranet concept
An “intranet concept” is a single piece of paper (A4 or US letter, depending on where you are located) that conveys a clear picture of the direction of the intranet.
On this piece of paper, the following details should be clearly communicated:
- current state of the intranet (along with the organisation need)
- overall goals and direction
- specific deliverables in the short-term
- longer-term direction and activities
When combined together, this single-page “intranet concept” presents a complete picture for where the intranet is at, where it is going, and what this will mean in practice. Written in the right way, this is a compelling story as well as being a document that can be used in many different ways.
Two different examples will be used to show how this can work in practice.
Intranet concept (narrative format)
The first example shows an intranet concept written in narrative format, that is, written like a story.
One of major benefits of the narrative structure is that it leads to a much more compelling style of writing that will have a stronger resonance with staff. It also provides a lot of useful material that can be reused in other documents and communications channels (see later for more on this).
While the appearance of the intranet concept written in this format is not exactly ‘sexy’, it is both effective and easy to read.
As per the list outlined earlier, the intranet concept consists of four main sections, each of which is discussed below.
Creating a regional intranet
Eastern Health has been created with the goal of delivering improved services to the local community, through the development of a more integrated and effective health care system. As part of this, a new regional intranet will be created that will grow to provide a single point of access for all staff across the region. This will replace the current intranets serving the former organisations, all of which were fragmented and operating poorly.
The new regional intranet will start small, and will expand in step with the establishment of new structures and processes across the organisation. More than just a source of information, it will be a key business tool that will support the day-to-day activities of staff, with an equal focus on corporate and clinical needs.
The regional intranet will be developed in stages, to ensure that clear benefits are delivered to staff as quickly as possible. We have clearly defined goals for the regional intranet:
- assisting in the delivery of consistent and effective health care
- streamlining administrative and corporate processes
- reducing duplication and supporting the pooling of resources
- supporting and promoting the regional identity of Eastern Health
- recognising the efforts and achievements of Eastern Health staff
The first stage will involve the creation of a ‘core regional intranet that will deliver a range of simple but effective tools that will provide immediate benefits to staff. For example, we would will be delivering:
- A consistent set of clinical reference materials brought together, so that medical staff working across multiple locations have access to the same information.
- All the maps of Eastern Health facilities in a single location, including key supporting information for staff such as parking details and driving directions.
- A single point of access to the current intranets maintained by Eastern Health, Eastern Public Hospital, and others.
Over time, we will build on this starting point to deliver further tools and content. This will involve supporting strategic initiatives such as the “Improving Care” programme, and other improvements planned throughout the region.
The existing intranets will also progressively be merged into the new regional intranet, to create a single environment that meets both regional and local needs. When completed, this will have a consistent appearance and structure, making it much easier to find and use key information. It will also enable us to rework and restructure the intranet, to make it more relevant to day-to-day activities across Eastern Health.
Your input into this process is critical, and as the project proceeds, we will be spending time talking with staff throughout the organisation to identify key opportunities for improving practices and information.
While Eastern Health has been recognised as an innovative provider of health care services, our information resources provided for staff have been less than adequate. We will be fixing this, delivering step-by-step improvements that will support staff throughout the evolution of the new region.
Rome isnt built in a day, but today we start building a new intranet that will be of real assistance to all staff.
Figure 1. Sample intranet concept (in narrative format), derived from a real document created for a health care organisation.
The current state of the intranet should be described in a clear and powerful way, with the goal being to highlight the existing deficiencies and issues.
The broader organisational context should also be described, outlining where the intranet activities fit in.
Together, the objective is to outline the clear need for the intranet project, and to create a sense of urgency.
In the case of this example, there is less of a need to discuss the existing intranets, as there is a clear organisational imperative to deliver a new solution, derived from the merger of the existing health care providers to form Eastern Health.
The overall goals of the intranet (and the intranet project) are then outlined. These spell out the high-level direction that the intranet will be taking, as well as clearly stating where the priorities lie.
This is where the traditional set of intranet goals can be put to good use.
The key element of the intranet concept is the list of specific pieces of functionality (or content) that will be delivered as part of the project.
These deliverables are chosen very carefully, according to criteria such as:
- delivers tangible and visible benefit
- demonstrates where the intranet is heading
- builds support for the intranet (and the intranet team)
- generates interest and increased intranet usage
If selected appropriately, these deliverables will not just be easy to do, but will also be worth doing. They also demonstrate that the intranet team can ‘walk the walk’, and not just ‘talk the talk’.
Beyond the initial deliverables, the intranet concept should outline the longer-term directions for the intranet, and the broader priorities for the intranet team.
As much as anything, this should set reasonable expectations for the future, outlining that the path will be long (and ongoing).
This section should also communicate clearly that the intranet team has a plan beyond the initial (often small) pieces of work, and that the future priorities will deliver much greater capabilities to staff (and the organisation).
Intranet concept (brochure format)
The second figure shows an example of an intranet concept, presented in a ‘brochure’ format. (Thanks to UrbisJHD for providing this real-life example.)
This format of document contains much of the same information as the earlier example, but focuses on creating a high-impact document, rather than on using a narrative structure.
Overall, this creates a much more ‘sexy’ deliverable, and the high quality of the document itself helps to build trust in the intranet project (and the intranet).
The effort put into creating this type of deliverable sends the message that the intranet team is serious about the project, and equally serious about communicating effectively with the organisation as a whole.
While a description of the current state has been omitted from the brochure, much of the rest of the details are similar between the two examples.
Overall, this example uses clear language to paint a picture of what is being done (and why), and it shows that an intranet concept can be delivered in a wide variety of ways.
The only downside of this particular example is that some of the items focus more on the details of the intranet itself, rather than on the business-oriented capabilities to be delivered. There are still plenty of excellent items listed, and it serves as a useful reminder that is always easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’.
Overall the UrbisJHD team are to be commended for their efforts on this document, and it displays a clear commitment to clear and effective project planning, in the context of a broader intranet strategy.
When to create an intranet concept
The intranet concept should be created very early in the intranet project, to ensure that there is a clearly stated set of objectives, along with an overall roadmap.
In practice, user research is likely to be required, to identify the specific functionality and content that will be delivered as part of the project. (See the earlier article Conducting intranet needs analysis for more on this.)
Sufficient work will also need to be done to create consensus and alignment amongst the intranet stakeholders, allowing the overall goals to be defined and agreed.
It may also be necessary to do some detailed project planning to ensure that the overall scope of the project, along with the specific deliverables, are achievable within the desired timeframe.
Overall though, creating the intranet concept should be a key priority for the early stages of the project. Without this, the danger is that the project will lose focus and scope, compromising the value of what is delivered on the eventual ‘go-live’ date.
Using the intranet concept
The intranet concept is deliberately designed to be very versatile, and it can be used (either as a whole or in part) in many different situations.
For example, pieces can be pulled out of the intranet concept when creating:
- presentation slides to brief senior executive and other stakeholders
- summary of the project, published on the intranet
- news item for the internal newspaper, outlining the project activities
- project planning documents, strategic plans, and other similar papers
- emails and other communications to key project partners and stakeholders
Using the intranet concept in this way ensures consistency of the message throughout all communication channels, as well as reducing the effort required to clearly convey the scope and deliverables of the project.
Intranet teams must be clear about what they are doing and why. This includes a stated set of deliverables in the short-term, in the context of a broader strategic plan.
In practice, it is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day running of the intranet, leaving no time for this vital planning.
Creating a one-page “intranet concept” is a practical and effective way of focusing the intranet team on these strategic activities. It is also a valuable deliverable that can be used as the basis for communications to the whole organisation.
(For an overall methodology for developing or redeveloping an intranet, see the