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Not all staff needs are the same. Staff in different parts of the organisation, located in different areas and doing different jobs will have quite distinct needs.
In a globe-spanning manufacturing business, these differences are very obvious: individual countries sell different products; the sales division operates very differently from product development; and field engineers are not office-based designers.
Yet even a hundred-person government agency has important distinctions: each area of the organisation conducts different activities; policy officers are distinct from admin staff; project teams are working on different initiatives.
In all these cases, there is a mix of global information, common information that is shared across all staff, and local information, specific to groups or individuals.
Historically, intranets have tended to focus on global information needs, with the majority of resources devoted to HR, finance, IT, policies and forms.
Unfortunately, while this information is corporately important, it’s not what staff need daily. Nor is it the information that drives the core business of the organisation.
In contrast, local information tends to be tied directly to operational needs and service delivery. While it’s only relevant to a subset of the organisation (by definition), it can have the greatest impact on what the organisation does.
This challenges all intranet teams to find a way of delivering a site that meets both global and local needs.
Successful intranets meet both global and local needs
Global and local
Jane McConnell of NetStrategy/JMC (www.netjmc.com) has been the most influential voice in the discussion of global and local intranets, and she has been responsible for coining the terms in this context.
Building on this thinking, our working definitions of the terms are as follows:
- Global (common): information or tools are needed by the whole organisation, or the vast majority of staff.
- Local (specific): information or tools needed by a specific group of staff, according to location, business unit or role.
This recognises that organisations are not homogeneous entities, but are instead made of many component units, each with its own activities and needs.
While most intranets deliver a mix of global and local information, what is missing is an overall framework and strategy.
This framework must answer questions such as:
- What is the role of the intranet in meeting global and local needs?
- What structure and navigation will be used to meet global and local needs?
- What will be the homepage (starting page) for staff?
- What role will technology play in meeting global and local needs?
All of these questions can be boiled down to a clear strategy that outlines how information will be published, managed and delivered to staff in a way that meets corporate and day-to-day needs.
The starting point is to better understand the differences between global and local.
As outlined earlier, global information is common across the organisation, and used by all staff.
In a mid-sized organisation operating in a single country, this primarily consists of typical corporate information:
- core ‘corporate services’ functions, such as HR, finance and IT
- common policies and forms
- common business systems, such as payroll and expenses
- corporate news
- staff directory
- corporate strategy, mission and vision
- about the organisation
Readers will likely recognise this list as the heart of their intranets, and the focus of much of the intranet team’s resources and responsibilities.
As organisations grow in size and complexity, global information starts to shrink.
For a multinational firm, HR now becomes specific to each country, derived from local legislation, rules and processes. Similarly, products and services start to be broken up by business line, division, region or country.
In a group of companies, group-wide information may primarily focus on corporate branding, and overall mission and vision. Each individual company then has its own products, services and internal policies.
By definition, global (common) information is corporately important. It defines the purpose and direction of the organisation, as well as providing the foundation for common activities that are repeated many times.
Global information is not, however, typically needed daily by staff. Leave applications are only submitted a handful of times per year, and policies are reviewed only when needed.
For most organisations, global information is also less important in supporting core business and service delivery.
Global information isn’t needed daily by staff
Local information is specific to groups of staff or individuals. As outlined in the earlier article Segmenting staff information needs, there are three primary facets to consider:
- geographic location, such as country, region, state, city or office
- business unit, whether at a large (company or division) scale or lower level (team or project)
- job role, defined by staff members’ responsibilities and activities
This is where all the work is done within organisations, and the vast majority of information is published and consumed.
For example, the R&D teams within a pharmaceutical firm operate as a self-contained function, and produce immense amounts of information.
They are also bound by an extensive set of regulatory rules and internal procedures.
Their needs are completely distinct from the sales division, who operate both in head office and out in the field visiting customers.
At the smallest of scales, individual projects and teams have their own information needs and tools.
Local information supports operational needs
Find the right solution
Both global and local needs must be met. If an intranet only delivers global (corporate) information, it risks becoming irrelevant for the majority of staff. At worst, by forcing staff to start on a global homepage, it makes it harder and slower to find more relevant local content.
Conversely, intranets that address only local needs risk becoming a ‘wild west’ of hundreds of separate sites with no overall structure or identity. While staff may be able to find their own (local) content, they will struggle to find anything beyond this.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to meeting global and local needs. As discussed in the next section, there are many factors that influence the approach to be taken.
To provide a starting point for thinking about global and location, it can be useful to think of it as a continuum or spectrum, as shown in the diagram and examples over the page.
At one end, are approaches that primarily focus on global (common or corporate) needs. At the other end, are models that emphasise local (specific or individual) needs.
Most usefully, there are a range of options in the ‘grey area’ between the two, that provide a balanced mix of global and local functionality.
Explore the options provided, and find those elements that can be applied in your situation.
Match operating and publishing models
Many factors influence the design of an intranet that meets global and local needs. These include:
- overall organisational structure and operational model
- business strategy and goals
- corporate practices and processes
- products and services delivered
- geographic spread
- technology available
- corporate culture
- intranet publishing and management models
Of these, two are worth highlighting in particular. The first is the operational model of the organisation, which must be followed when designing the approach to meeting global and local needs.
For example, if the organisation is a group of companies that operate independently under a common brand, this must be reflected on the intranet, perhaps by delivering multiple intranet sites. (It makes no sense to try to squeeze all the companies in the group into a single homogeneous solution.)
Similarly, if the services delivered vary greatly from country to country, the overall structure and navigation of the intranet must reflect this.
While the intranet should always support overall corporate goals such as ‘one firm’, this must be tempered by the reality of how the organisation is currently structured and operated.
The global/local approach must also match the publishing model of the intranet. All information must have a creator and owner, to ensure ongoing content production and maintenance.
For example, it may be desirable to publish country-specific news on the global intranet homepage. For this to work, this news must be published by authors within each of the countries, with the primary purpose of meeting the needs of their local staff. (It makes no sense for local news to be published by a global team.)
Take a journey
In a large and complex organisation, it can be overwhelming to consider how best to meet global and local needs. Even in a small firm, it may not be clear what overall framework and strategy to put in place.
For this reason, start simple. Introducing a few local elements into a global homepage can be a good way to explore options. Or starting from the other end, introducing a small global intranet site that focuses on overall findability can enhance an existing collection of local intranet sites.
Over time, plan to grow and refine the intranet’s approach to global and local. Technology can also play an increasingly sophisticated role, whether by targeting content, allowing staff to personalise their own experiences, or by introducing a range of social and collaborative tools.
Just a starting point
This article has only scratched the surface of the global/local discussion. Perhaps the most important intranet issue yet to be fully resolved, global/local approaches still contain much that needs to be explored and defined.
The goal has been to shine a light on this topic, and to share some terms and concepts that will help further thinking.
All intranets must find a way of meeting global and local needs. As intranets grow in maturity, and technology continues to change, new approaches will undoubtedly emerge.
Start today with some simple steps to introduce global and local elements onto the homepage, and then build from there. Over time, establish a clear framework and strategy that will ensure that the intranet meets corporate needs, while vitally supporting day-to-day work of staff.
A few examples to explore the options
Commonwealth Bank (mostly global)
Commonwealth Bank is a large Australian bank, consisting of major divisions that serve retail and corporate customers, alongside other clients. In practice, there is limited overlap between the major business units in their information needs.
Recognising this, there are multiple intranets, serving different needs. The global (corporate) site provides core services such as HR and IT, along with findability into the rest of the organisation. Local (business unit) sites then provide operational information and news.
(The intranet is currently being further enhanced to introduce targeting and personalisation functionality, building on the success of the existing sites.)
GE (mix of global and local)
GE is one of the world’s major businesses, delivering services and products across a wide spread of industries. The global homepage provides the expected corporate news and information to all staff.
Incorporated into it, however, are tailored news and links, based on the business unit and geographic location of the end user. This provides an elegant mix of global and local content, on an intranet that befits the size and culture of an organisation such as GE.
AMP (mix of global and local)
AMP is a financial services business that operates across Australia and New Zealand. The latest redesign of the intranet delivered a homepage that provides a mix of global and local content.
Corporate news is supplemented by tailored news for major business units (see “Product Manufacturing news” above). Social tools, such as blogs and wikis, are featured on the homepage to provide an even more local feel.
Lundbeck (mix of global and local)
Lundbeck is a global pharmaceutical business, headquartered in Denmark. The homepage explicitly recognises the global nature of the firm, with columns for global, business unit and local information.
Within each of the columns, key news, links and tools are shared. All information is published by local content owners and authors.
Framestore (mostly local)
Framestore’s intranet provides a highly personalised frontpage for staff, where individual widgets can be added or changed by individuals. This allows the intranet to be tailored to match the needs of key areas of the business, such as developers listing their outstanding bugs on the homepage, animators their current frames, and sales people their industry gossip.
Providing key tools that are used daily by staff, beyond novelty features such as the weather, has led to a higher level of adoption of personalisation functionality throughout the organisation.