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Intranet teams are often expected to justify the work that they do, whether to protect current intranet resources, or to gain support for new projects and improvements.
This leads to the requirement for an intranet business case, ideally with clear measures that quantify the value of the intranet and the benefits it delivers.
In tough economic times, a very bright spotlight is shone on the intranet and the resources it requires. All projects will struggle to proceed without demonstrating how they tangibly improve the bottom line.
This intensifies discussions around intranet measures and metrics. It also produces a new round of intranet business cases being put forward to senior management.
In practice, creating an intranet business case can be hard. In all too many cases, intranet teams put forward their existing plans, and then try to justify them after the fact.
The difficulty is that many of the ‘typical’ intranet improvements are hard to quantify. What is the real dollar value of improving intranet navigation, or cleaning up content?
The arguments than can be put forward to justify these projects tend to be weak, and what is needed is a fresh look at how to plan intranet improvements.
This article will put forward the case that intranet teams can plan from the outset to demonstrate success. By targeting and packaging intranet improvements in the right way, identifying concrete benefits and metrics becomes easy and effective.
Demonstrating value comes from good planning
Many metrics to choose from
There is no question that intranets can, and do, deliver tremendous value to the organisations they serve. Few organisations would even consider the possibility of turning their intranets off.
Intranets reach out and touch almost every staff member, helping them do uncommon but important tasks (applying for leave), as well as answering common questions (what’s Fred’s phone number).
In the earlier article Metrics for KM and CM, many possible metrics (measures) were outlined for intranets and other similar tools.
- increased customer satisfaction
- money saved
- increased sales
- improved communications
- reduced printing costs
- improved staff satisfaction
- reduced staff turnover
- improved product development processes
- increased knowledge sharing
- reduced information maintenance costs
These are just a few of the ways that intranets can demonstrate their value.
In addition to these general measures, most organisations will also have some key objectives that intranets can support. For examples, hospitals want to reduce mortality rates, universities want to increase student intake, energy companies aim to improve service reliability.
These targeted measures can be extremely powerful in demonstrating benefits and capturing the interest of senior management.
Fitting metrics to current projects
There are a number of ‘typical’ projects conducted by intranet teams, including:
- redesigning and restructuring the intranet
- improving the design of the home page
- implementing a new content management system (CMS)
- cleaning up content
- implementing governance and standards
These are all valuable projects that can greatly improve the quality and effectiveness of the intranet.
When a request comes from senior management to demonstrate a business case for the intranet, the temptation is to try to fit metrics to these currently planned projects.
The problem is that these projects, while worthy, can be very difficult to measure in concrete terms. Even harder is determining (and justifying) a dollar value.
Some teams have focused on time saving for staff. The argument goes that intranet improvements save (say) two minutes per day finding information. Multiplied out by the number of days in the year, the number of staff and an average salary, a large figure is determined.
This is, however, a very weak metric and this blog post covers many reasons why it should be avoided:
Again, it must be highlighted that these projects are almost always worthwhile, and very commonly needed. The way they are usually structured, however, makes it hard to put a figure to their value.
Intranet teams therefore need to revisit how they plan intranet improvements if they are to demonstrate concrete benefits. In many cases, this means packaging work in different ways that still work towards the same end goal, but provide clearer short-term benefits (and measures).
It is hard to justify metrics for existing projects
Avoid negative metrics
One of the approaches sometimes used to justify intranet projects is to use ‘negative’ metrics such as saving money, or reducing printing costs.
These are very dangerous, and should only be used as a last resort. Take saving money as an example.
Purchasing and implementing a new content management system can be justified on the basis of streamlining the publishing process, and thereby reducing publishing and maintenance costs.
Quite apart from whether this is actually true in practice, it can paint the intranet team into a corner. Saving money? The easiest way would be to reduce the number of intranet publishers, and to downsize (or even eliminate) the central intranet team.
This is certainly not the desired outcome! Worse yet, once saving money is stated as a goal, it can be very hard to justify future improvements. “Purchase a new collaboration suite? But I thought you were going to save me money?”
For these reasons, intranet teams should always seek out ‘positive’ metrics wherever possible, generally focusing on increasing capability or capacity.
Negative metrics can cripple future intranet plans
Planning to demonstrate success
When confronted with the need to deliver an intranet business case, intranet teams can take practical steps to plan projects in a way that can be easily measured.
We call this ‘planning to demonstrate success’, and there are a number of simple strategies that all intranet teams can use regardless of resources or other constraints.
- paint a compelling picture
- package projects in the right way
- deliver 100% solutions
- solve business problems
- ensure work is tangible and visible
1. Paint a compelling picture
Intranet teams can demonstrate benefits more clearly by using business language. Instead of taking about the intranet itself (‘improving usability’, ‘increasing consistency’), teams should discuss issues that are of relevance to staff and senior managers.
The best way to achieve this is to spend time conducting research with staff, focusing on operational and front-line staff.
As discussed in the earlier article Conducting intranet needs analysis, there are many structured ways of uncovering points of pain and demonstrating needs.
Doing this kind of research at the outset of the project will help the team to target efforts, as well as building a strong business case for the planned improvements.
Build a picture of staff needs and points of pain
For example, at one local government agency (council), staff were asked how they found out about what was happening in the organisation.
The answers came back universally as rumour, hearsay, gossip, word-of-mouth and the grapevine.
Clearly the council had an internal communication problem. The solution, and need for a solution, was equally clear.
In the same organisation, call centre staff talked about how embarrassed they were, both personally and on behalf of the organisation, when they couldn’t answer questions asked by people who rang up.
One call centre staff member described how members of the public would ring up to book for “the big event this weekend in the park”. “Um, what event?” would be the response.
“You know, the event that the council did the big advertisement for in today’s newspaper.”
“Remind me again, which newspaper was that? … oh yes, that advert … can I just put you on hold for a second?”
Painting a picture in this way is much more compelling that putting forward a business case for a ‘call centre knowledge that will improve information consistency and accuracy’.
The work may be the same, but the benefits are described in business language. By capturing the issues more directly, the team can also demonstrate success in more concrete ways at the end of the project.
Rework long-term projects into targeted deliverables
2. Package projects in the right way
Many intranets may suffer from so many content issues that a complete redesign and restructure is needed. This is not a small project, and will take no less than 12 to 18 months to complete.
Intranet redevelopments are also resource-intensive projects, requiring both central resources and widespread business unit engagement.
As discussed earlier, however, the benefits of these projects can be hard to quantify. If done well, the usability of the intranet should definitely be improved, but this is not directly tied into business objectives.
By re-packaging these big projects, intranet teams can much more easily demonstrate benefits. The same long-term goal remains (redevelop the whole intranet), but the work is broken up into more concrete pieces.
For example, the intranet team could start with the section of the intranet that supports the call centre. This is a vital business unit in many organisations, and is increasingly the primary point of contact with customers or the public.
The call centre is a high-pressure environment that is closely managed and monitored. Demonstrating business need is easy in these types of environments. Better yet, with many measures already in place, the intranet project should be able to quantify improvements.
Another possible target would be the HR section. This is important information for all staff, even if not used on a daily basis.
By focusing work on just this area, an in-depth redesign can be conducted that delivers a much better solution. There is also more time to deliver new capabilities, such as replacing online PDF-based forms with actual online forms. Even a simple change such as this can save thousands of pieces of paper, and hundreds of hour of back-end processing.
In both these cases, the overall project (redesigning the intranet) is left unchanged, but short-term deliverables are identified. Chosen carefully, and packaged appropriately, these can demonstrate success while taking the site one step closer to the long-term goals.
3. Deliver 100% solutions
Many organisations have dabbled in delivering collaboration tools, whether online discussion forums, blogs or wikis.
In many cases these are rolled out to the wider organisation, with business areas and staff left to explore potential opportunities.
These projects may focus on ‘improving knowledge sharing’ or ‘capturing tacit knowledge’. With only high-level goals, these projects can find hit-and-miss success, and can struggle to demonstrate clear business value.
These projects are often only ‘50% solutions’, with the base technology put in place, but no steps taken to ensure adoption and success.
Intranet teams should instead plan to deliver ‘100% solutions’ that focus on concrete business issues, and ensure staff usage.
The ‘Crew Community Forums’ at British Airways (BA) are a good example of this. With 17,500 flight and cabin crew, there was a clear need to improve communications.
Top-down communications had been well-addressed, but bottom-up and peer-to-peer communication was missing. With staff in planes and scattered across the globe, there was an opportunity for collaboration tools to greatly help.
Standard (old-fashioned?) forum software was installed, with very little customisation. The difference was the way the project was implemented.
A clear business issue (pensions) was used to kick-start discussions, and real resources (including a roster of moderators) was devoted to supporting the forums.
A serious effort was also made to ‘close the loop’ by getting relevant managers involved in the discussions on staff issues, allowing them to be resolved on the spot.
The results have been extraordinary, delivering big benefits in improving customer service and resolving internal processes. These outcomes were achieved by delivering a ‘100% solution’ that focused on addressing business needs, rather than just deploying collaboration tools and hoping for the best.
This project won an Intranet Innovation Award in 2008, and you can find out more by watching the video interview with Allen Huish from BA:
Even simple projects can solve business problems
4. Solve business problems
Scottrade is a ‘deep discount online brokerage’ in the US, providing customers with online ways of trading shares. With offices scattered throughout the US, the challenge was to help local staff sell the company’s services within an intensely competitive industry.
The solution was to create a ‘Competitor Wiki’, which captured detailed information on Scottrade’s main business rivals. The previously slow centralised updating process was supplemented by giving staff in field offices the ability to update the details directly.
The result was a tool that has markedly improved the organisation’s ability to compete, and to sell their products.
All of this was achieved with a wiki consisting of only a dozen or so pages, implemented on an out-of-box free wiki solution.
While the technology is uninteresting, what is remarkable is the laser-like way the project targets a key business need, and then addresses it with minimal cost and effort.
For more information about this award-winning project, see this video:
All intranet projects would benefit from this approach, targeting key business needs from the outset. As this example shows, the solution does not need to be more complex or expensive in order to demonstrate benefits.
As highlighted earlier, repackaging larger projects into more focused deliverables can also help to address specific business needs.
5. Ensure work is tangible and visible
Many valuable intranet improvements address behind-the-scenes issues, relating to content publishing and management, the technology platform, or governance.
While these are important areas to address, they are hard to quantify for senior managers and the wider audience.
To demonstrate benefits, intranet teams should focus on improvements that can be seen and understood by the organisation as a whole.
The earlier article The importance of tangible and visible describe two criteria for selecting these types of projects:
- Tangible:the intranet team can clearly demonstrate the impact or value that the activity has had in the organisation. This involves delivering business benefits beyond the intranet itself.
- Visible: the improvement can be seen and recognised by a large number of staff, ideally the organisation as a whole. Better yet, the improvement should target an area that the organisation cares about (often the front-line environment or core business areas).
Where behind-the-scenes improvements are required, pair these with tangible and visible projects. Sell the project on the visible improvements, with only passing reference to the other work required.
Choosing projects in this way automatically makes it easier to demonstrate and quantify benefits.
Ensure projects are tangible and visible
Small changes for big effect
All of the approaches outlined in the previous sections are within reach for every intranet team.
As the examples show, it is often possible to demonstrate clear benefits without increasing the size or complexity of the projects.
Once initial benefits have been demonstrated, it may not be necessary for the intranet team to justify follow-on projects. Delivering successful projects helps the intranet team to build up political capital, which reduces the pressure to quantify every activity.
Demonstrating intranet benefits in concrete terms, particularly in dollar figures, is hard at the best of times.
Trying to ‘post justify’ existing intranet projects often generates unsatisfactory measures, such as attempts to quantify time saving multiplied out across the organisation.
Intranet teams should instead ‘plan to demonstrate success’, designing projects from the outset to produce measurable results.
This may mean nothing more than packaging longer-term work into clearly defined deliverables, and communicating intranet activities in business language.
Beyond this, intranet projects should aim to deliver ‘100% solutions’ that target specific business needs.