All organizations that disseminate information start with a dream: multiple websites integrating seamlessly into an intranet that minimizes the effort of managing content and maximizes stakeholder satisfaction
But for too many operations, the dream has become a nightmare, a
Frankenstein’s monster of mismatched components that lurch onto
monitors, terrifying audiences and causing managers’ sleepless
Government organizations face unique challenges when setting out
to tame the monster, starting with the focus necessary to organize the
task. They can’t work with the obvious profit-drivers that enable
private sector organizations to assess the damage being done when a
monster enters their midst, or develop the return on investment (ROI)
models that tell them the dream has been realized.
The ROI for a government intranet may not be derived from
increased sales or profits, but it can be rapidly developed based on
improving the efficiency of sharing and disseminating information,
especially during an era in which political leaders promote government
efficiency. After all, government departments exist to propagate
information, so any initiative that demonstrably improves this core
function will have an obvious impact on organizational goals.
Thus, the dream of intranet success may be more attainable for government organizations
their private sector counterparts because they are information-rich and
often have well established organizational flows for sharing that
knowledge. Conversely, the damage caused by a rampaging monster can be
So what are the steps necessary for taming the monster? The first
task is to determine if you have a monster that needs taming.
Take the test: here are five signs your intranet is more like
Frankenstein’s monster than it is like a best-in-class government
Its parts are bolted together from various sources, some of which
aren’t quite official.
Some of its parts are missing and some expired a long time
It lacks a brain and has taken on a life of its own.
Your audience runs screaming when told to interact with it.
It frightens its creator.
Technology: part of the solution or part of the problem?
After confirming that a monster requires taming, the appropriate
technique must be deployed to tame it. And in this case, it’s important
to recognize that the beast won’t be brought under control with
technology. In fact, it was technology that spawned the fiend in the
The theory of intranets is that the same technology that made the
Internet a success would save internal communications. To a large
extent, that is why the monster has parts bolted together from various
sources, some of which aren’t quite official.
The technology makes it very easy to create content and link to
other sources, encouraging a rapid proliferation of content with no
consistent guidelines, design templates or structured databases. That
phenomenon is wonderful for enabling the rich and eclectic world of the
intranet, but it can become a productivity killer in a government
The monster doesn’t have a brain, but you do
Two key ingredients were required to bring the monster into
existence: technology that enabled the proliferation of content, and
the absence of a plan to manage the creation and dissemination of the
information. Obviously, the answer isn’t to destroy the technology: the
solution is to develop an intelligent plan
The plan must be grounded in a solid understanding of the
organization’s goals and clear links between the intranet plan and
overall objectives. The blueprint must be informed by a deep
understanding of what the technology can do, an objective understanding
of what the organization needs it to do and clear guidelines that
ensure the resulting intranet achieves and sustains its
(Re)assembling the monster’s parts
One of the most common cries heard from anguished users in the
wake of an out-of-control intranet monster is “I can’t find anything!”
A multitude of sites, and pages of information, hundreds of
documents…all out of sight from the very audience the site purports to
support. Without a defined information architecture (IA) — a roadmap
that forms the basis for navigation, structure, labeling and
categorization of content on your site — users will run screaming from
the internal communication source that should be providing
Developing an IA is not easy, but it’s not so difficult that a
little time, effort and feedback can’t be used to create a useful
backbone to site content organization. Start with a full content audit,
and take the time to document what exists, where it lives, and whether
it needs to be changed, thrown out, or left in will help define an
inventory of information.
Then using iterative techniques like: card sorting or a thorough
examination of the current site hierarchy, defining possible
cross-links, gathering feedback from current content owners, and
defining content keywords that can be later used for building a search
engine lexicon, the details and direction of your content structure and
site navigation can be fleshed out.
What instruments will you use to tame the monster?
Once the content has been gathered, and its structure has been
organized and defined, tools to help control all that information, in
the form of a content management system (CMS), can be acquired and
deployed. In other words, what materials and instruments are now needed
to tame that monster?
But knowing what kind of CMS
will meet the individual needs of
users and the idiosyncrasies of your particular information monster
requires more planning before bringing the site back to life. Again,
knowledge of the site audience and content, determination of who is
going to use these tools, and what business requirements are going to
be met are all needed.
Keeping the monster caged
The question of how to keep the monster tamed, and for how long,
can be answered with ongoing analysis of site ROI
. While an imperfect science at best,
engaging in ROI benchmarking and analysis can eventually lead to an
intranet’s inherent value being a ubiquitous as the telephone, a PC, or
ROI measures can be split into hard savings (measures that are
easily quantified such as reduced costs or increased revenues) and soft
benefits (harder to measure and quantify like employee efficiency,
morale and satisfaction, access to information and reduced
frustration). It’s simple enough to calculate a figure for the
reduction in time spent looking for information or the savings from not
printing and distributing hard copies of documents. It is more
difficult, but not impossible, however, to illustrate the soft (and
more common) ROI of an intranet.
Taming the monster for good
Intranets deliver such demonstrable productivity wins for
government organizations that they will remain a top-of-mind topic for
the foreseeable future. And, like any good monster that has learned to
thrive in its chosen environment, they will continue to evolve and
mutate, challenging their creators to constantly keep them tamed.
Trends like blogging and building communities of practice are
emerging as appealing enhancements to intranets, if those sites are
guided and managed by the rigorous plan described in this article. If
allowed to grow without the right controls, they could also allow the
monster to break out of its cage.
So how does the creator stay ahead of this constantly evolving
creation? Constantly remain up-to-date. The web contains numerous
resources dedicated to intranet best practices, such as Prescient’s
President, Toby Ward’s well read intranet blog.
Reading this information and applying it by using an intelligent
methodology will allow you to use the key advantage you have versus the
monster: you have a brain and it doesn’t.
Prescient Digital Media is a
veteran web and intranet consulting firm with 10+ years of rich history.
We provide strategic Internet and intranet
consulting, planning and communications services to many Fortune 500 and
big brand clients, as well as small and medium-sized leaders