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Intranets are often invisible tools within organisations. While staff rely on the intranet to help them complete common tasks, the site itself is taken for granted.
The intranet team is similarly low in visibility, with little senior management recognition of the team or its role.
The net effect is that intranet teams work hard from month to month, but struggle to gain the support and resources required to deliver a truly great site.
While this is perhaps a natural by-product of the role of intranets within organisations, intranet teams can do much to increase their level of recognition (and therefore their budget and resources).
To achieve this, intranet teams should be guided by two words when planning intranet activities: tangible and visible.
Tangible means that the intranet team can demonstrate the value that the activity delivers to the organisation.
Visible means that the benefits can be clearly seen, or communicated throughout the organisation.
At any given point, intranet teams should be conducting enough activities that are both tangible and visible to ensure that they sustain enthusiasm and support for the site.
While there are behind-the-scenes improvements to be made to intranets, these should be paired with activities that are tangible and visible.
This article explores this concept, providing practical examples of activities that range across the whole spectrum.
Intranet teams must identify activities that will be both tangible and visible
Struggling for recognition
Once the intranet has grown to be a major repository for corporate information, the intranet team often find that they end up spend the majority of their time maintaining the site.
Considerable work is required behind the scenes to sustain the intranet, and to improve the underlying processes and technologies.
- content maintenance
- metadata management
- ownership and publishing models
- content management system (CMS) selection and implementation
While these activities are undoubtedly important, it is very hard for the intranet team to demonstrate their concrete value.
When required to estimate the return on investment (ROI) for the intranet, the intranet team often has to fall back on very weak arguments about the minutes of time saved for each staff member.
Without a strong way of demonstrating the value of their activities, intranet teams struggle for recognition. In turn, this reduces the level of resources and support they are able to secure.
While the intranet team should not be looking for fame and fortune, they do need sufficient resources to be able to deliver an effective intranet.
Intranet teams need not resign themselves to a low-status role, and there is much that can be done to build recognition for the team by carefully choosing the activities that are conducted.
Tangible and visible
To address the issues of intranet team status and resourcing, intranet teams should be guided by two words when planning intranet activities:
tangible and visible.
- Tangible: the intranet team can clearly demonstrate the impact or value that the activity has had on 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).
Use these principles to evaluate planned and current activities and ensure that the intranet team is building momentum for the intranet.
Exploring common intranet activities
The diagram above plots a number of common intranet activities according to how tangible and visible they are. Each of these is discussed in the following sections.
Collaboration for project teams (tangible and somewhat visible)
In many organisations there is a clear need to better support the work of project teams, and collaboration tools can be a valuable way to do this.
The challenge is in communicating the benefits of such activities, when only the project teams will be using the collaboration tools.
Improving search (tangible and visible)
This can be a widely recognised improvement, particularly if there are serious problems with the current search engine.
When the improvements go beyond just implementing a new search engine, the benefits can be considerable. (For more on this, see the earlier Improving intranet search report.)
Implementing online forms (tangible and visible)
Replacing even a few heavily used PDF forms with online forms can deliver clear benefits for a large number of staff.
Improving the staff directory (tangible and visible)
As it is often the ‘killer app’ on intranets, improvements to the staff directory (such as staff photos) are both tangible and visible. These improvements help to move the staff directory beyond just a list of names and phone numbers, helping staff to complete tasks and to find key details.
The staff directory is often a ‘killer app’ on the intranet
Creating a new call centre solution (tangible and visible)
As call centres are the primary point of contact with customers, improvements to call centre intranets can have a dramatic impact on customer satisfaction and call centre productivity. While these benefits are only for a small number of staff, they can be clearly communicated to the wider organisation.
This is an example of how helping a key staff group can deliver significant benefits as well as showing how the intranet can play a more direct role in day-to-day work.
Improving metadata consistency (not tangible or visible)
It is difficult for the intranet team to explain this activity, let alone to demonstrate its value to the wider organisation. While it can deliver real benefits (when carefully planned), these are hard to quantify to non-specialist audiences.
Implementing a new CMS (tangible but not visible)
This provides direct benefits to the organisation, but these improvements are only felt by a small number of authors and site administrators, not the wider organisation.
Fundamentally, the CMS is only an ‘enabler’, with the real benefits delivered by the supporting activities (such as rewriting content or restructuring the site).
Improving the site structure (visible but not necessarily tangible)
While this can address core user issues with the site, it can be hard to explain what has been done and the effort involved.
This is particularly the case when time constraints mean that the lower levels of the site are left unchanged, or if the content itself is not cleaned up.
Restructuring the site can be hard to explain or quantify
Upgrading intranet infrastructure (not tangible or visible)
New servers may be important for performance and reliability, but these improvements are completely invisible to the organisation, and highly technical in nature.
(They may only be visible if there are significant reliability or performance issues with the current intranet servers.)
Improving content (not strongly tangible or visible)
Where intranet content may desperately need updating and rewriting, this is often a long-term activity that can be hard to clearly communicate.
Since it is not practical to rewrite all of the content on the site within one project, there will always be some old content left on the site. This greatly dilutes the perceived benefits of the content cleanup.
Managing the invisible
While ideally the intranet team would only ever be conducting activities that are both tangible and visible, this is clearly not achievable.
There will always be behind-the-scenes improvements required to keep the intranet running, or to lay the groundwork for later projects.
Where these need to be done, the intranet team should always pair them with activities that are tangible and visible. This ensures that the team is always able to point towards activities that will generate interest and support.
Care must then be taken to ensure that ensure that the activities that aren’t tangible or visible don’t consume too much of the intranet team’s time and resources.
It may also be possible to convert some activities to be both tangible and visible. This could involve refocusing efforts, or designing them in a way that can be more strongly communicated.
6×2 methodology for intranets
The concept of ‘tangible and visible’ is a key element of the 6×2 methodology for intranets report.
This methodology focuses on the coming six months, identifying activities that can be delivered in this timeframe.
These activities are chosen very carefully, to maximise the benefits (for both the organisation and the intranet team), and to help build momentum for following six-month phases.
To choose the activities, the intranet team start by identifying the criteria and constraints. Criteria articulate why the intranet team should pick one activity over another, while the constraints clearly capture the barriers and issues that impact the team.
Following the principles outlined in this article, ‘tangible and visible’ becomes one of the criteria for the 6×2 planning process. In this way, the intranet team is guided towards activities that will be highly visible and clearly quantifiable.
While there is much more that could be said about each of the sample activities listed in this article, this short outline should help to focus the intranet team’s efforts towards the highest value improvements.
At the end of the day, intranet teams need not struggle to gain recognition within the organisation. By ensuring that improvements are both tangible and visible, teams can choose activities that will improve the team’s resources, as well as building momentum for further work.
(For a practical approach to intranet planning that simultaneously delivers additional intranet functionality, see the 6×2 methodology for Intranets.)