The Key to a Successful Intranet Site Evaluation
by Michael Marchionda - When it comes to the web, everyone’s a critic. Most people form a negative or positive opinion of a site in about the same time it takes to click a mouse (according to a Carleton University study).
It’s a skill we’ve developed by visiting countless websites with different objectives in mind, fostered by the accessibility, necessity and diversity of the internet. Referring to the latter enabler, Mitchell Kapor, CEO of Lotus Software, said it best: getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant. If websites are the objects of our praise (or in some cases, the sources of our frustration), certainly there is no shortage of material. This is not meant to discredit the importance of evaluating websites, but rather meant as a segue to showing that different approaches, skill-sets, and criteria must be used to evaluate intranets.
As private networks hidden behind firewalls, intranets are the Forbidden Fruit of the digital world. Even intranet managers, while knowledgeable of their own corporate intranets, are seldom given the opportunity to access other corporate intranets, preventing them from seeing how their intranet measures up. Few are given the opportunity to access intranets, especially those belonging to organizations of all sizes across all industries. For this reason, intranet experts are a rare breed.
Given a privileged vantage point, intranet consultants are an invaluable resource and wealth of information that can be tapped when trying to discover the varying nuances of corporate intranets.
A site evaluation is the first step a consultant takes to determine the strengths and weakness of an intranet, with the intention of suggesting actionable recommendations for improvement. Site evaluations are an essential step in the intranet redevelopment process, as they identify the major shortcomings of an intranet in the project’s early stages (the Assessment Phase).
At a high-level, intranet site evaluations can help determine if:
Authors are adhering to the same publishing standards (if they even exist) throughout the site. Ensuring that font type and size, paragraph structure, and alignment are consistent helps the user glean information quickly from the site. Standardization is especially important for the small percentage of organizations (7%) with teams of 20+ people managing their intranet (2010 Intranet 2.0 Global Survey).
Content is written-for-the-web and audience-specific. Simply transcribing text from a handbook or other printed materials to the web doesn’t make much sense, as users read online content differently and expect certain tools to aid them in their reading (e.g. anchor links). Furthermore, directing intranet users to your organization’s external site for the information they require (e.g. product information, services) may be a quick win, but an opportunity is missed to give users inside information that is specific to their area of expertise and responsibilities. While intranet users may benefit from the same information available to external users, what they intend to do with that information differs, so different channels for action need to be in place.
Intranet 2.0 tools are functional and satisfy an organization’s business requirements. Today’s intranets are about creating a dialogue with employees—not shouting at them—and polls, surveys, and user commenting help create this dialogue. These tools (specifically blogs, discussion forums and instant messaging) are now appearing on just more than half of all corporate intranets (a 10-20% increase from last year), so organizations that are delaying implementation of these tools are now further behind than ever (2010 Intranet 2.0 Global Survey).
Despite their reliance on the corporate intranet, organizations are still falling short of these criteria. Just over half of organizations have user content governance, standards or policies. The percentage of organizations that are more than satisfied with the functionality of their intranet 2.0 tools has increased in the least year (from 29% to 46%), but more than half still aren’t enjoying everything these tools have to offer (2010 Intranet 2.0 Global Survey).
Users will often say there’s something wrong with their intranets, but can’t pin-point the problem, quantify the problem, and determine the severity of the problem in comparison to other corporate intranets. The skill-set and trained eye of an intranet consultant coupled with different criteria used to score an intranet, makes the process a unique one.
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