Filed under: Intranets
Some time back, we worked for a large government agency. Their intranet was terrible, a huge collection of separate sites dating back over a decade. New sites has been published in waves, but IT didn’t feel that they had the authority to delete old sites. As the organisation constantly restructured, the result was a sea of dead sites.
Most were created using FrontPage, every one was different, and all were ugly. Not an easy situation to comprehend, let alone fix!
As part of the work, we talked with some of the existing publishers, and they told us an interesting story:
“I was given the job of creating the intranet site for our newly formed business unit. I had no idea of how to do this, and couldn’t find anyone to tell me. Eventually I found the right person in IT who gave me the ability to create a new site.
“Looking around, it seemed that the policy was to make every site look different. So I took an existing site, copied that, and changed the colours. I then published my new site.”
In the absence of training, support or intranet knowledge, is it any surprise that the intranet became such a zoo? The publishers weren’t stupid, crazy or even “expressing their creative urges”. They were simply copying what they thought was the “right way”, based on what they could see on the existing intranet.
Last week I worked with another organisation, who were also struggling with their intranet. This is what some of the content owners said in a workshop:
“Our business unit has its own intranet site, like everyone else. The goal of this is to provide our staff with all the information that they need to do their job.”
“To do this, we took all the HR policies and forms, and made a local copy of them. When then adapted them to fit our specific needs. We’ve got copies of everything else our staff need, along with links to other resources. This is what everyone does.”
This is the same story. The “way things are done” on the intranet says that every business unit should have their own mini-intranet, a self-contained island of content to meet every need of local staff. When a new business unit is created, they follow the pattern set by all the other business units. Needless to say, the results aren’t pretty.
This is what I call the weight of the existing intranet. Current practices define the standards that drive all new content. Old bad practices become standard practices for new work. How can we expect content owners to do better when all they have to follow are the current intranet sections and sites?
It’s not easy to break this cycle, particularly when the organisation has low staff turnover. Perhaps the only way is to create an “exemplar”, a site or section that shows what a great intranet looks like. At least then authors, publishers and content owners have something to judge their current sites against, and something to head towards when making improvements.
What do you think?