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University ‘real world’ working environments are unique, often consisting of an overlapping blend of private and public-facing spaces, working practices and environments. Content management and consumption models must reflect this unique and challenging mix of the inner and outer university worlds. The following article puts forward five practical principles for university intranets, reinforced with real world examples, from winners of the recent Intranet Innovation Awards.
The five principles
In an environment that blends a variety of part- and full-time staff, academics, administrators, and corporate professionals from diverse age groups, backgrounds and agendas, are there any governing principles to support and guide university intranet teams? Thankfully, the answer is yes! Here are five key principles:
- Create an entry point that takes into account both the public and private nature of university content to support.
- Make the best use of existing data – find different and improved ways of using data, for example through content ‘mash-ups’, or modernising content presentation.
- Provide high value and high visibility items that make a real difference as part of the intranet.
- Produce both global and local content to ensure that corporate (global) context is available as well as the specific (local) content that supports the day-in, day-out activities of staff.
- Establish a solid, useful mobile experience – this is important for the university’s mobile workforce, particularly given the younger demographic that is increasingly signing on as university staff.
1. Create an entry point
It is obvious that education is at the heart of universities – it is their core business.
In this environment, educating is about more than the courses or lectures offered – it flows over into everything, and the desire to share knowledge within the university and beyond is infectious.
This sharing culture has spread beyond the academic space to pervade the university administrative functions, with internal policies and procedures made publicly available on university websites.
This poses a unique question for universities around how to make the same content simultaneously available internally and externally, often for the same audience but sometimes, confusingly, for different audiences.
As outlined in Creating a new staff intranet at University of Sydney, they have answered this question by providing an entry point to university policies and procedures on the public website. The user is only required to log into the intranet at the point at which ‘private’ details are entered or personal content is accessible.
As the model matures, this approach can be extended to provide personalised versions of documents, pre-populate online forms, and facilitate sign-on to other tools and systems.
At The University of the Sunshine Coast (USC), they have done something similar. Starting with the endorsement of their Information Management strategy, USC went on to review their existing portal and make recommendations towards a Digital Workplace strategy. With information sitting on the portal and website, USC weren’t sure they needed a separate intranet. They spent time researching their different audiences and their needs, and used data and analytics to gain further insights. The next step was to clean up their data and rewrite a good deal of the content.
With the ‘hard’ work completed, the team collated everything in a way that allowed them to provide policies and procedures both internally and on the public website while managing everything in one location in a clear and consistent way.
A lot of generic things can be open to the public on the #university websites
2. Make use of existing data
If there is one thing no university can ever be accused of, it is having too little data. University academics produce data in the greatest of quantities, cutting it this way and that, looking at it from all angles in their research. Similarly, administrative staff are well-versed in creating sophisticated course calendars, analyzing budgets and forecasts, and so on.
Conversely, end-users often complain about navigating their way through this vast amount of data, which is often created and displayed to best suit the needs of the content creator.
To address this frustration, The University of Liverpool took their ‘101’ data and completely transformed the whole interaction experience by applying some clever design thinking. Specifically, they overhauled the procedure for finding and using a university workstation, focusing on creating a great experience for the end-user. The first step was to understand the specific ways end-users interacted or wanted to interact with the content. Finding that the majority did so through their mobile phones, the university harnessed the intrinsic smart-phone functionality to enhance the experience. Firstly, they ‘mashed up’ several types of data and functionality, bringing together the university’s bespoke data such as work station types, locations etc. with mapping data.
They could then combine the built-in ‘phone finder’ function and help users find their way to the workstation, mixing this with their own booking engine to show available spaces and allow the user to book their desired location on the spot.
Finally, they created a modern interface and appealing visual design that makes the underlying data easy to use.
(For more on more on these types of approaches, see the How design thinking is transforming intranets, the keynote presentation given by James Robertson.)
You can create remarkable, new user experiences with existing data and functionality overlaid with fresh #designthinking #ux
3. Provide high value and high visibility items
Many intranet teams exhibit nervousness over creating intranet content and/or functionality that will place them in the spotlight. Whilst this isn’t specific to university environments, the complex nature of universities and the many, vastly different types of stakeholders, content publishers and end-users often means that multiple attempts to improve or redesign the intranet have already been attempted. A good number will have failed, leaving end-users and sponsors skeptical of the latest attempt.
With this in mind, it is even more important to provide some kind of high value and visible benefit within the latest iteration. This is surprisingly easy for university teams, and there is almost a hit list to select from, including the following items:
- location information, maps etc.
- contact information
- various calendars and timetables
- shuttle bus information
The Auckland University of Technology and the Queensland University of Technology have both focused on their shuttle bus service to provide this kind of cut-through – and won Intranet Innovation Awards in the process!
Auckland University of Technology has just gone live with the first iteration of their new intranet, containing a simpler version of their shuttle bus timetable. In addition to the usual provision of bus timetables and locations, maps are provided and users are even given information on services offered such as free bus WiFi so they can stay connected and keep working en-route!
Extending on the value and visibility principle, Queensland University of Technology’s shuttle bus information also shows the three services closest to your current location. The clock functionality that is built into all devices is put to good use and ensures that the services closest to the current time are displayed as the default.
Don’t attempt to do everything at once, focus on the value and deliver specific, useful things on your #university #intranet
4. Produce global and local content
Not all staff needs are the same – those in different parts of the organisation, located in different areas and doing different jobs will have quite distinct needs. Finding the right mix of global and local content and the correct context and display method can be quite a challenge.
Page designs are often conceived as a series of ‘zones’ in which similar types of content are presented. The Queensland University of Technology have used this thinking to break pages into university-wide (global) content at the top of pages and faculty (local) content at the bottom. This approach enables them to provide global and local content together and in-context, while at the same time separating content so as not to confuse the user.
A neat, added-value feature is the clever feedback function, that knows precisely where the user has provided said feedback and funnels it off to the respective owner.
5. Establish a solid, useful mobile experience
Universities are facing ever-increasing pressure to remain relevant in an age that continues to advance rapidly, pushed along by the pervasiveness of technology in our lives. It is likely that campuses will remain, but that digital technologies will transform the way education is delivered and accessed. Global mobility will only increase for students, academics, and university brands. This will not only intensify competition, but also create opportunities for much deeper global partnerships and broader access to student and academic talent.
The Queensland University of Technology was an early adopter of mobile, winning an earlier Intranet Innovation Award for the work they did in the mobile space.
‘QUT Virtual Mobile’ was the first application or service at the university to have a mobile web application, web-based or native mobile presence. By taking the lead, the Intranet Services team promoted the importance for the university to have an active presence within the mobile space. Since the initial release of ‘QUT Virtual Mobile’, the university has developed and released a number of applications within the mobile space, setting itself up as a truly ‘modern’ university.
However, in general we have witnessed a slowing of true mobile thinking and leadership, with reluctance to invest in mobile platforms and applications to mobile first designs. Whether this is due to funding constraints or limited design and development capability, this is not an area in which universities can afford to be left behind.
A good #mobile #intranet experience will position your university brand as relevant and help set you up as a university for the future
Following the five principles for university intranets will provide a good starting point when combined with an approach that places design thinking and your end-user at the forefront of innovation planning.
The university space has always presented interesting and unique challenges – there are few intranets with as many stakeholders, authors and publishers, nor many with the unique overlap between internal and external, private and public domains.
The future signals great changes in this environment. In particular, we can expect increased democratisation of knowledge and access, more extensive integration with industry, and on-going contestability of markets and funding.