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Short, practical tips on building better intranets.
5 questions that lead to a better intranet
Monday, November 29, 2004Consider your intranet from a user's perspective with these five questions:
Can I find it? The intranet must be easy to find.
If your users never get to the first page of your intranet, everything else is irrelevant. To make sure they do:
Nothing saps confidence in the intranet like slow response times or, even worse, downtime. To prevent this:
Your goal is to eliminate question marks. Everything should be completely obvious. Follow these tips:
Attractive intranets are attributed expertise and trustworthiness. Why? It could be the "halo effect": according to a 1972 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, good looking children are viewed as being less naughty than their less attractive peers for the same behaviors. Same with your intranet. To make it pretty:
This is the most important question--see last week's article for more details. To meet users' needs:
Help intranet users achieve their goals
Monday, November 22, 2004Intranets are complex. But the key to their success can be distilled down to this: Figure out who your users are. Find out their goals. Help them achieve those goals.
This sounds so simple. But most companies end up guessing at user goals or building an intranet centered on the business goals. Guesswork isn't good enough, and users don't care what the business goals are. They will only use the intranet if it makes their lives easier. Business goals are still important, but they must align with user goals or be dropped.
Here's how to execute on this user-centered approach:
Projecting ROI for your intranet: Don't bother
Monday, November 15, 2004A corporate intranet that successfully improves collaboration and knowledge-sharing is of immense value. The greatest value comes from random, profitable events--a salesperson coming across information that helps him close an important deal, or a developer avoiding a costly mistake by reading a cohort’s posting. But forecasting serendipity is impossible. Too many variables exist to accurately forecast the future effect of an intranet implementation.
So you can’t tell your stakeholders how much their intranet will save them (or make them). Any business case would be inaccurate and impossible to verify. Instead, the senior team has to simply believe that the intranet will be a strategic asset. They have to go on their gut feeling. How can you create that gut feeling?
Ask your audience to consider things like this:
250 employees x 1 hour/ week x 49 weeks x $30/ hour = $367,500/ year
1000 employees x 1 hour/ week x 49 weeks x $30/ hour = $1,470,000/ year
Using this calculation, your intranet for your company with 1000 knowledge workers will save time valued at about $1.5 million.
In any event, your goal is not to deliver a precise ROI dollar figure. Rather, your goal is to offer so many convincing lines of reasoning that any idiot can see that the intranet will be of strategic importance to the company. ROI may be clear-cut for, say, a new piece of equipment on a manufacturing line. But in the knowledge industry, ROI is difficult to ascertain, if not impossible.
Custom browser toolbars for your intranet
Monday, November 08, 2004Last week a client asked me how much it would cost to integrate a custom toolbar for their corporate portal into everyone's web browser. After estimating $20,000--my default answer that actually means, "I have no idea"--I decided to do some investigating. It turns out that building a custom browser toolbar, like Google's or MSN's, is simple and cheap. And it may be a good idea for your intranet.
Toolbar companies promote their products to web site owners as a way to retain users and build brand loyalty. I don't know what kind of delusional web site team thinks their corporate web site is interesting enough that users would want it as a permanent fixture on their browser. But an intranet is a tool people use to do their jobs. Making it easier to access improves the intranet experience for your employees and increases overall usage.
On the other hand, it may be preferable simply to make sure that all employees have their home page set to the intranet. Consider:
To set your intranet as every employee's home page, your IT department can use Tweakomatic to generate a global logon script that will make the change.
If you decide adding an intranet toolbar to everyone's browser is the right choice for your company, follow these guidelines:
Google for the enterprise
Monday, November 01, 2004Google is poised to transform enterprise search just as it has transformed internet search. The Google Search Appliance is the tip of the iceberg.
They have an enterprise division. They have Desktop Search. They have the Search Appliance. They have the R&D from google.com. They have billions of dollars in cash.
They also have the right core concepts. Everything they do is simple and usable. Compare Verity, the major enterprise search player. Their solution will cost half a million dollars to implement and require half a dozen IT staff to maintain. To generate relevant results, huge effort must go into prepping the content for search. Google, on the other hand, believes that this effort indicates flawed software. "Our approach is that the software ought to be able to deal with the content as it exists," says Dave Girouard, Google's enterprise general manager.
My idea of the perfect portal is an almost blank screen with a search input box. You type your query, and it returns exactly what you're looking for--a list of relevant, useful links, just as reliably as you'd expect from google.com. To me, that's intranet Nirvana.
And it's not that far off. When Google expands the reach of their appliance to include content that's not web-enabled, such as content on network drives, and when they integrate it with search on the desktop, we may be there. I believe that any investment in Google for the enterprise is a wise move.
About the Author
I'm Chris McGrath, an intranet consultant in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I've been working on intranets since 1997, and on plain ol' web sites for even longer. I run One Intranets, the firm that co-created ThoughtFarmer -- an enterprise collaboration platform for Windows-based intranets.
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