Some hidden factors that should influence your intranet design thinking
Something I’ve noticed with all major digital workplace and intranet projects is that a lot of people focus on the important features and forget the important factors.
When people think about designing an intranet or digital workplace, there are a myriad of tools and methodologies available to help them consider the features and content they need to support. Today, most projects are getting pretty successful at looking at these things:
Content – What the site says
Features – Everything from feeds to self-service elements
Navigation – What do you need to navigate to, and why?
Corporate Identity – What should it look like? Of course it needs have the corporate identity.
Usability – Make it easy for your reader? Can the user orientate themselves? Can they find their way around?
But there are a number of more subtle balancing factors which you can play with to determine what lands on your pages and they have a non-traditional impact on the simple answers we get from normal business requirement analysis.
Do the choices you are making reflect the corporate strategy? Are you able to adapt when that strategy changes?
If your strategy is to consolidate there is a strong case for a single corporate intranet but if your strategy is to have diverse brands with diverse strategies then a single corporate intranet isn’t really going to add value. However, syndicating content directly into the separate intranets may just be a good answer.
Much deeper than corporate identity, does the intranet represent your values?
If your values encourage openness and active feedback, then refusing to put a commenting facility on news doesn’t really live up to that. It’s easy to send out the wrong message and often intranets fail to give any really meaningful message at all.
Can you roll out without training people? Are you actually changing something more fundamental then just the screen they are looking at?
When you roll out your intranet then all the fantastic work you’ve done on usability should minimize the roll out impact. But the soft changes can be really quite far reaching, if you think back to the dim and distant past email destroyed many quick discussions around the coffee machine, stopped people picking up the telephone and actually slowed down the process of communicating especially when tonality needed consideration.
Can you actually manage the structure that you have set in place? Do you have the resources, governance and willingness to take the journey you have started?
I often see great expectations for what a new intranet will deliver, but the consideration of how much resource can be put into generating, editing and controlling content is often overlooked. There is no point designing a highly visual news rich corporate communications portal if you don’t have a couple of good writers, a plethora of good images and a copy of Photoshop.
The X factor:
Of course there are also a secret set herbs and spices that actually deliver the real flavour.. this is where it gets fun. It’s the behaviour you want to encourage, or even drive. This is what transforms organisations and this is where you need to consider usability in a totally different way.
I put it to you that it’s not always about making things easier for your users. If you want to change the way people deal with polices or standard operating procedures, you may want to make it harder for them to find a policy stored in collaboration spaces than it is to find official (and governed) policies.
The take home is that intranets and digital workplaces are complex beasts. Really good system design has to go beyond that of the internet, we don’t want to make people work hard to use an intranet but we might want to help them learn new ways to work.