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This is the second of a two-part article on the Intranet Hive. For a complete view of the Intranet Hive, the two articles should be read together.
The Intranet Hive is a new concept that provides awareness of the activities that underpin the ongoing management of an intranet. The Hive informs teams about the six broad areas they must work through in managing their intranet. These six areas are:
- Strategy – know where you are going
- Design – make it easier for staff
- Content – meet the business need
- Change and communications – inform and support everyone
- Technology – keep it all working
- Team – be effective
Within each of these broad categories the Hive outlines six specific activities. The total of 36 provide a firm basis for long-term intranet success. Intranets are complex and without some guidance even identifying the wide range of necessary activity is difficult.
The Hive is not a linear model; teams should begin by performing a self-assessment across the six areas so that they know their current capabilities. Teams should focus on the areas of most need for their given situation.
Last month’s KM column explored the strategy, design and content sections. This article examines the remaining three areas: change and communications, technology, and team.
There needs to be balance in managing intranets
The six Hive segments
The six Hive segments have been designed to provide a complete overview of all the necessary intranet activities. Each team’s situation will be different, and teams should prioritise areas where they need most improvement.
For a newly released intranet, for example, it is unlikely that the strategy section will be a priority, and more emphasis may be placed in ongoing change and communications.
For more detail on strategy, design and content, see the earlier article Exploring the Intranet Hive (part 1).
Over the page, this article provides the full Intranet Hive model, showing each of the 36 segments on a single page. This should be used when exploring the individual items.
4. Change and communications
Systems are only successful if they are actually used by staff. People want to know what they are going to get out of any given system and how it is going to improve things for them.
Identifying the ‘what’s in it for me’ factors for end users up front and then clearly communicating the purpose and benefits of the intranet is imperative. Equally important is the usability of systems, as it is not enough for systems to be useful, they must also be usable.
Initial projects should be carefully selected and targeted to build momentum. Once these have been selected, change management and communications will be required throughout the project to ensure that staff are aware of the benefits for them.
Successful intranet teams are part of the business from the executive level to the coal face, and communications should be driven to all levels.
Identify the ‘what’s in it for me?’ factor and communicate it
4.1 Communicate with other teams and stakeholders
Communication with the business is a two-way process and involves not only ‘pushing’ information out to the organisation, but also ‘pulling’ information in.
Understanding the activities and focus of other teams is part of working smarter. Intranet teams can decide to make use of the communications efforts of other teams to deliver key messages.
Capitalising on face-to-face opportunities is powerful, and allows teams to field incoming communications from their audience in real time by taking into account visual cues such as body language as well as the verbal communications from the group. Communications can be tailored on the spot and the audience can be mined for information, enabling some areas to be deeply researched.
All messages should have a clear purpose and you should know what the audience is looking for from the communication as well as what you want them to do with, or take away from the message. A communications plan will bring some rigour to messages, and should map out the following key items for delivery:
- key milestones, triggers or timing of the message
- the key message that will go out
- the mechanism or vehicle, such as email, team meetings etc.
- the primary and secondary audiences
Although it is now easier to get a message to large groups of people, it is harder to communicate effectively.
Maintaining ongoing communication with other teams and stakeholders will ensure there is a clear and shared understanding of the direction and vision of the intranet.
Intranet managers often express frustration at the unrealistic expectations or high level of criticism that their organisation directs at the intranet. It is the job of the intranet team to manage these expectations
4.2 Ensure visibility to senior management/ develop influencing strategy
Senior managers provide a perfect litmus test for the state of the intranet and your communications efforts to date. Senior managers are often shielded from their organisation’s information systems by layers of management, staff and administrative assistance, and may have little exposure to the intranet vision in practice.
In order to put the intranet to the test, single out one or two senior managers to begin with and see whether they can articulate the value of the intranet to the business and to their particular area; establish how the intranet supports their team day in, day out. If it does offer support and they are aware of this, they are more likely to resource the intranet from within their own team.
How many senior managers know the name of their intranet manager? Even better, how many know the names of the entire intranet team?
In order to raise the profile of the intranet and its team with senior managers, and to attain a sufficient level of support, an influencing strategy may be required. At its most basic, an influencing strategy will focus on the following questions:
- What does the team want overall?
- What action do we want this person to take?
- What do they want (overall, from the team and from the intranet)?
- How can we each help the other to achieve these goals?
- What is the best approach to secure the desired outcome?
When dealing with the senior management team, it is well worth tailoring your efforts to each individual within the group.
In some cases, it may be prudent to meet with individuals before a board or steering group meeting. This will provide the opportunity to ask questions and elicit detail that may not be appropriate in a larger group.
It also gives intranet teams the chance to follow up issues and questions and provide suitable solutions and answers before the final meeting.
Overall the most important thing to remember is that the team is ‘selling’. As with all sales, it pays to make sure the message is tailored appropriately.
Tailor messages and deliver to individual members of the executive team
4.3 Build and provide staff training
There are many groups within the organisation and each will have differing needs in terms of training and ongoing coaching and mentoring.
The two main groups that require the attention of the intranet team around training are:
- new starters
- content authors and site owners
For new starters the intranet is a powerful tool to help them come to terms with the organisation, its business, and their place within it. It is particularly useful in helping new starters to understand the boundaries within which they must operate.
These boundaries may include those relating to people, such as the immediate team that they will interact with or other important contacts within the business. They also include the policies and guidelines under which they work, and any tools and items that they will need such as access to corporate branding material, forms for expenses and travel and so on. Some of the most important tools are those that are unique to their own business unit, operating area or function.
Content authors will require different support depending on their experience with the intranet and the specific uses they have for the intranet.
Training content owners is best done through a mentoring approach. Unfortunately this is not always possible. In such cases it is prudent to enlist the help of some of the most experienced, high-performing content authors. These individuals will be happy to learn more and take on the rewards that come from mentoring others in this area.
Creating good support materials that will ensure that content authors can continue to manage their content effectively when you are no longer sitting beside them at their desk is imperative and time and money should be put aside to cover this. These training resources will also help with mentoring programmes and will release the intranet team for other work.
Mentor rather than train content authors
4.4 Disseminate intranet success stories
Intranet teams are often so busy being pulled from one urgent and important activity to the next that they forget to communicate the success and achievements of their initiatives.
Intranet success stories demonstrate the value of the intranet to the organisation. They make visible the various ways that the intranet has supported business initiatives, demonstrating its positive impact.
When communicating intranet success stories, teams should make sure that staff are not overburdened with stories that are too trivial or numerous. Stories should be compelling and informative.
Success stories can also include annotated statistics from the intranet itself. Delivered at the appropriate level of granularity in a graphical format with short comments, statistics can be used to articulate meaning and value in any given area.
Disseminating intranet success stories places the intranet team top of mind, helps to build momentum and positions the team as service providers to the business.
Make intranet success stories compelling and informative
4.5 Support staff socialisation
Globalisation and the speed of information exchange has seen increased focus by organisations on the building connections within an ever more remote work force.
While it is unrealistic to expect the intranet to solve this issue, there is no doubt that it has a role to play.
Efforts in this area often fail to see the light of day and are stamped out by the organisation, branded as time-wasting. Abuse of intranet features that drive staff socialisation is certainly a possibility and any abuse (often overuse) of these features should be viewed and treated in the same way as any other infraction and dealt with as a management rather than a technology issue.
The key here, as with all content or functionality on the intranet, is appropriateness. Staff socialisation features should match the specific working environment and company culture.
These features can assist productivity. If a staff member is going to be homeless in a week, providing easy access to tools to help overcome this issue is more likely to ensure work focus than not.
These features have a genuine role to play and are used variously to increase intranet usage, to connect people to each other and support each staff member’s personal interests without compromising other workplace duties. In particular these functions can be used to capture and upskill late adopters.
Footy tipping, classifieds etc. help staff be productive and capture late adopters
4.6 Establish strong business relationships
Successful intranets have the backing of the organisation and the intranet team members in turn have strong business relationships that span the organisation. In this way, an effective network for two-way communications is created. This ensures that the intranet is ‘plugged in’ to the organisation at all levels and is therefore in a position to take advantage of organisational initiatives and directions and gain the necessary kudos and support.
Where teams have failed to make this a reality they operate in isolation; in this mode the intranet team often feels victimised by the organisation, believing themselves to be powerless to break out of a dynamic where ‘things are done to them.’
Intranet team members are often recruited from within the organisation and therefore have already established relationships in the wider organisation that can be leveraged. It is important to use the collective power of the team, and intranet managers should actively foster these ongoing relationships between their team members and the wider business.
Depending on the culture of the organisation this can be done in a number of ways, ranging from encouraging team members to contact people to go for coffee once or twice a month, to ensuring that where these relationships already exist the relevant team member is assigned. In all cases, these business relationships should be genuine. Some people will have ‘natural’ relationships with certain people, and these will open up a two-way information exchange and win-win for all parties.
Use the collective power of the team to manage relationships
Love it or hate, in managing an intranet it certainly can’t be avoided: technology. Technological issues may be an overly strong focus for the team, with the ‘whizz bang’ factor obscuring business imperatives. On the other hand, the team’s IT system may be insufficiently understood, and therefore not leveraged for maximum business benefit.
In many organisations accountability for the technology aspect of the intranet sits outside the intranet team. In this case, technology plans are likely to be created by, or in partnership with, colleagues responsible for the intranet technology. Even so, it is important to understand this area and to establish and manage the plans accordingly.
5.1 Integrate with other business systems
Staff don’t care which underlying system delivers content to them and look instead for a seamless experience, typically viewing the intranet as the logical point through which they will access all the systems and information required.
A consistent appearance enables staff to move around the site without unnecessary distraction and reinforces a strong brand identity.
More than just the ‘look’ of the intranet, it is important to make the common intranet elements available to staff at all times, even when they have clicked from the homepage to another application. These elements can often be found in the ‘o’ or box shape around the edge of the intranet, typically including the following:
- the panel on the left-hand side is often reserved for navigation
- the top is used for navigation and search and staff directory as well as breadcrumbs and return to Home
- the right hand side often contains a tool box with links to applications and other such features
- the bottom of the screen may hold intranet utilities such as site map, help, contact, feedback etc.
Although the specifics may vary for any given intranet, the principle remains. Providing these as a ‘wrapper’ around the most used applications enables staff to complete their task in context and provides the means to navigate back to the intranet when they are finished. For those working in applications all day, the intranet wrapper should not be in place.
Providing single sign-on is one of the things most requested by staff, and one of those most difficult for IT departments to deliver. This is a long-term goal, but it is possible to work incrementally towards it.
Single sign-on is a long-term goal, but work incrementally
5.2 Review and refine release processes
As the intranet matures and is hooked into business processes, more focus will come onto release processes. As other applications across the organisation are integrated with the intranet, it becomes more important to ensure that releasing new intranet functionality does not have an adverse effect on other parts of the intranet or on other applications.
Release processes help IT, intranet teams and the wider organisation to plan their resources effectively. New functionality and bug fixes are often bundled into packages that are released on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis. Provision for making urgent releases and the criteria and process will need to be understood and documented.
There are two worst case scenarios for release processes, neither of which is sustainable. Release processes are either:
- ad-hoc and driven entirely by the ‘whims of the business’, or,
- so regimented and structured by IT or the intranet team that the organisation is held back
Releasing changes to the intranet requires a delicate balance between the needs of the IT department, often based on cost reduction and/ or risk minimisation, and those of the business, relating to increased functionality. Good release processes meet the needs of the business first and require a clear understanding between the business and IT.
Create release processes in partnership between IT, intranet and business teams
5.3 Establish technical support processes
The technical support required will be different for, and unique to each intranet and intranet team. Changes to the intranet team make up may require a redefinition of responsibilities, with capability being shifted or shared between the intranet and IT teams.
There are many areas that potentially require technical support, including search, the CMS, the data base for analysis and reporting, network and others.
Technical support can be provided in-house or by external service providers. Software applications often come with a maintenance package, often expressed as a percentage of the initial cost, and provision for service to a certain level each year.
Being smart about using internal resources has benefits in terms of cost and immediate access to resourcing and retains IP in-house. It is often better to pay for training for internal people than for the support costs associated with engaging vendors and implementation partners every time they are needed.
In addition to these obvious benefits, up-skilling internal staff will ensure that they feel valued and invested in, are on a continuous learning cycle with room to grow and are less likely to leave.
Whether they are internal or external providers, technical support partners should be engaged at every level in the support process.
Front-line support staff take queries from general staff; investing in training and support materials for these people will position them to resolve the majority of queries on the spot. Where they are unable to resolve the call, they must know the correct person or group to pass it along to.
There will be a different escalation path for different queries depending on the skills required for resolution.
Referred to as levels of support, the more complex the issue the higher it will be escalated, for example:
- Level 1 – helpdesk, password resets, simple enquiries
- Level 2 – in-house, technical or intranet
- Level 3 – software vendor, complex problems that cannot be resolved internally
With the increasing trend to outsource technical support, this entire process may be handled by an external party, but the principles described here still apply.
Using internal resources has cost and staff retention benefits
5.4 Align with technical roadmap
The technical and business roadmaps are two sides of the same coin and require alignment. Although putting these together can be a complex and involved process requiring input from many different parties, the final outcome should be the opposite. A simple, elegant document, ideally expressed on a single page, will provide for discussion around the intranet journey and focus from a technological and a business point of view.
The technology roadmap should demonstrate technology supporting business imperatives. The business roadmap should demonstrate intranet support for the broader initiatives and strategies of the business and show ‘just in time’ uptake of technology.
Senior managers will not be interested in reading a 100-page report on how it is all going to work. They will be looking to those with intranet accountability to take them on the intranet journey over the next three to five years.
In large organisations many roles will be involved in the creation of these roadmaps. These include (but are not limited to) application developers, technical architects, IT strategy, helpdesk and first level support, the intranet team, knowledge managers and the general business.
As with all plans, the technical and the business roadmaps must be actively maintained, so that each one considers and reflects the other. At a high level the business should understand and be in a position to talk through the technical roadmap and vice versa.
Establish and maintain technology plans with internal delivery partners
5.5 Carry out incremental development & fixes
The fixing of known software bugs is part of the business as usual processes of intranet management; this along with incremental development of the intranet and its associated systems is an ongoing activity.
In order to carry out this work each year, annual budgets must be set aside. Although the first year’s program of work and the associated budget will be built from the ground up, the planning and budgeting process becomes easier each year.
There is little doubt that demand for improvements will be in excess of available budget. It is therefore important to have effective and transparent prioritisation processes in place.
Feedback from general staff is an important input into maintenance and development programs, as is the input from the technical and intranet teams and content authors. In order to maintain trust, momentum and ongoing engagement with the intranet, development and bug fixes should occur all the time, on a regular basis. Close the loop by communicating the changes that have happened, particularly the impact that these will have on staff.
Software vendors will provide patches and upgrades, and teams need to educate themselves about these, learn what is in each one, and make informed decision about what they will implement and when. Where changes will not make a noticeable difference, it is possible to bundle these up and release as part of other initiatives. This will both minimise the risk associated with unnecessary multiple releases and make the best use of resources.
Establish and maintain technology plans with internal delivery partners
5.6 Improve intranet tools, search, CMS etc.
Too often the core set of intranet tools are put in place with little or no ongoing development. The core tool set will be specific to your organisation, and is likely to include the CMS, search, staff directory, portal, digital asset management system and document management system.
An active programme for improving the core tools behind the intranet should be in place. These elements are the key things that keep the intranet working for everyone; for content authors, for staff and in turn for the team responsible for managing the intranet.
Feedback from staff, along with metrics such as search performance and search logs will inform the ongoing improvement of the core toolset. Content owners offer important cues for improvement. What do they point to when they say ‘If only I could….’?
For new intranets or inexperienced teams, improvement is likely to require the stripping out of options, particularly in the CMS. The greater the number of content authors using the CMS, the simpler the product will need to be. Products are often bought because of the many and various functions offered, but this results in a CMS that is front-loaded with a myriad of options that confuse, confound and frustrate authors. A good strategy is to focus on CMS usability and to start to chip away at unnecessary features, removing or automating them.
Improve core tools based on staff feedback
Business users want their lives to be as simple as possible and are seldom if ever experts in driving value through the intranet. Content authors and other stakeholders look to the intranet team to be their trusted, expert advisers. In particular business users are looking for direction around the following:
- setting up initial site structures (information architecture)
- determining the best way to manage information
- understanding primary and secondary audiences
- defining the best approach for any given initiative
- identifying opportunities for interactive features and automation
Intranet teams cannot provide this level of service if they are not adequately skilled and resourced, or if they do not have sufficient understanding of the general business. This section brings the focus back on the team.
6.1 Build and maintain customer service ethic
While many things can be taught, there are some that cannot, and a customer service ethic is one such thing. When selecting team members to front business relationships, seek evidence of a customer service ethic.
There is more to customer service than having a great team with the right attitude. Agreement between the customers and the intranet team on the level of service expected is a starting point for success. As a service provider to the wider organisation, the starting point for success is having a common agreement between the intranet team and the customers about the level of service that will be provided.
Intranet teams feel pressured by the organisation to deliver a range of functions and services on demand. Although teams may be aware that they cannot meet organisational demands they seldom make it clear what they will deliver and why.
Mature intranet teams in large organisations often segment their customers. Segmentation can be based on the strategic importance of the group or their content, the amount of content, the popularity of content, support for strategic projects or any other criteria specific to the organisation.
Once customers have been segmented, their appropriate levels of service will require definition. Tier 1 customers, for example, may have their own account manager within the intranet team. They may receive tailored training and tailored solutions and their account manager will assist with an audit of their content twice a year. Tier 4 customers, on the other hand, have access to one of six training sessions held once every two months. A ‘cookie-cutter’ approach is applied to this group, who while benefiting from the initiatives and customisation efforts of tier 1 and 2 customers, will not have the facility to customise themselves.
Whether or not, a customer segmentation model is defined, a service level agreement should be sketched out and clearly understood by all parties including content and site owners, publishers/authors and general staff. The agreement must not disadvantage the business or set the intranet team up to fail in delivery.
Once in place, service levels will need to be managed, performance measured and communicated and where necessary, solutions to shortfalls are put in place.
Intranet teams cannot please everyone all of the time, however there are ways to ensure that the team is viewed as responsive and proactive. The key to this is the managing of expectations and responding to your customers.
Intranet teams feel pressured to deliver everything
6.2 Build the skills of individual team members
A range of skills is required to build and maintain a successful intranet and the success of the intranet will largely hinge on the skills and abilities of the intranet team.
Most intranet teams fail to define the skills that are required. Without an understanding of the current skill mix, a plan to address the gaps and a target. Teams continue to operate within current comfort zones. This limits the effectiveness and the opportunities of the team and the individuals within it.
The exact skills required will depend on the specific intranet and organisation. Some skills that will be required are:
- CMS, page configuration, creation of new sections
- HTML ability and graphic design work
- search maintenance
- creation of user-friendly reports from usage and other statistics
- writing skills including technical writing for manuals and online writing
- business analysis
This list is not exhaustive, but provides an indication of the kinds of skills teams should be identifying.
Once the skills are defined, the current level of competency within the intranet team must be understood. A five-point action plan for continuous improvement can then be put in place on both an individual and a team level. This action plan will encompass the following:
- The goal for capability of the intranet team and of the individuals within it is clearly defined.
- The current state of capability (for both the team and the individuals within it is clearly mapped out.
- The necessary action plans to redress any shortfalls between current and goal states are in place and under way.
- Progress on action plans is measured and reported.
- Environmental and/ or team changes are fed into either step 1 or 2.
Put in place a 5-point action plan for continuous improvement
6.3 Develop relationships with other teams
The relationships that the intranet team forms with other teams within the organisation will be among the most valuable things they have. Not only will other business units ‘teach’ the intranet team what their business area does and open up new possibilities for the intranet, they will also become an effective network and ‘PR mechanism’ for the intranet and the team that supports it.
Meeting the needs of the various stakeholders and business units is satisfying for the intranet team. Whether based on history, personality fit, personal relationships or an interest in the area, many individual team members will form natural relationships with individuals and teams within the organisation; these should be actively encouraged, fostered and leveraged.
Humans are social and gain satisfaction from being part of a team and interacting with others. As a result the intranet team operates as part of the organisational whole and feels a part of this larger community.
Above all, it is important to be sincere, and foster genuine relationships which may be based on history, personality fit, personal relationships or an interest in the area.
6.4 Improve internal processes
The success of an intranet is often directly linked to the competency and knowledge of one or two team members. Despite the best of intentions this knowledge is seldom translated into useful policies, processes and procedures that reflect the day-to-day reality of managing the intranet.
Documented and agreed upon policies, processes and procedures support staff in their day-to-day work and prevent them from feeling out-of-their-depth. Not having these in place will frustrate staff, cause unnecessary friction between the intranet team and stakeholders and place the organisation at risk should a staff member leave or become unavailable.
In all cases there should be a clear relationship between any given policy, process and procedure. In exemplary organisations these align with corporate policies etc. and mirror the day-to-day practice of the intranet team and their delivery partners, customers and stakeholders.
One of the few things that the intranet team can control, at least on paper, is the creation of their own policies, processes and procedures. In reality of course the team is almost always reliant on others within the organisation to carry these out. It is best to involve other parties early in the creation, particularly where there may be friction between teams. The starting point should be to document how things currently happen.
Start by documenting how things currently happen
6.5 Build the profile of the team
Intranet teams slug away with little or no recognition and the team and individuals within it are often reluctant to communicate their effectiveness.
For the intranet team to be successful, the team as a whole and the individuals within it must be well-known and highly regarded across the business. The team should be viewed as the ‘go-to’ people to assist business units and project teams with meeting their objectives.
Intranet managers and team members sometimes need to be encouraged to share success stories. Individuals within the team must make it their responsibility to make their manager aware of their own achievements as well as those of their colleagues.
Communicating this can be as simple as forwarding along some positive feedback received, articulating the upwards trends of intranet statistics or sharing that great feeling that comes from going the extra mile for a customer. Intranet managers and their teams deserve the associated accolades, recognition and rewards. Most are hard workers who care a lot for the intranet, their stakeholders and the organisation itself.
This feedback should in turn be communicated out to the wider organisation. The goal is for business specialists to seek out the skills of the intranet team to assist with their initiatives. Feedback on the experience of working with the intranet team and the business outcomes can then be gathered and disseminated. In this way momentum and interest in the intranet is maintained.
Start by documenting how things currently happen
6.6 Research the business, market and intranets
Intranet teams are often closed off from other intranet teams and industry practices and innovations. Yet at the same time, intranet teams are expected to lead their organisations when it comes to intranet, collaboration and information management trends, innovations and best practices.
Intranet teams are also removed from the business of the organisation itself and divorced from the market it operates in.
Leadership, necessarily involves understanding the appropriate use of any tool or methodology for the organisation. This in turn requires understanding of the market the organisation operates in, including the challenges, opportunities and competitors, as well as the internal business landscape, and the objectives and strategies of internal groups.
Intranet teams cannot afford to rest on their laurels in this area. Time must be put aside to research the business, market and intranet innovations and trends. In this way the team will keep up to date with industry, technology and innovative thinking.
Just as time is required for research, budget should be put aside for professional memberships and attendance at conference.
Conferences, though sometimes limited in useful content, provide a vehicle for networking and forming relationships with other intranet teams. Experienced teams can often get a ‘free’ ticket to conferences and events by presenting a topic based on their experience. For intranet managers, this is often an important step in their personal development.
The areas of the Intranet Hive have been explored over two articles, covering 36 activities in six key areas. These six areas are:
- Strategy – know where you are going
- Design – make it easier for staff
- Content – meet the business need
- Change and communications – inform and support everyone
- Technology – keep it all working
- Team – be effective
The Intranet Hive can be used in many ways. It will assist the definition of the team after a redesign of an existing intranet or the launch of one for the first time.
Intranet teams need to take on a leadership role, creating a vision, engaging stakeholders and staff, and making it a reality. The Hive offers a starting point for teams to help them get a foothold in this tricky terrain.
In cases where teams do not have accountability for all areas, the Hive provides a starting point for discussion with delivery partners. This in turn can result in common agreement and understanding of the necessary tasks underpinning the intranet and enable clear delineation of accountability between teams.
Finally the Hive demonstrates to intranet teams the complexity they manage on a daily basis. As with delivery partners, the Hive is an excellent communications tool between intranet teams and senior managers who are often ignorant about all the undertakings of the intranet team.