At the risk of oversimplifying, an intranet portal is a web
gateway and source for online information, business tools and
people collaboration. Despite the success of portal vendors such as
Plumtree and up-and-comers
like TiCorp – and the benefits
their solutions offer – the majority of intranet portals to date have
been custom-built by internal IT teams. However, while IT should be a
portal’s best friend, IT should never be the starting point for
planning a portal.
Portals start with people and planning (for more information on
the planning process, visit Intranets
Critical to the planning process will be your ability to restrain
IT folks from technical specifications and evaluations until a proper
plan is constructed. Just as communications people should not be
involved in choosing the supporting technology based on the
‘look-and-feel’ of vendor case studies, IT staff should be limited to a
participating or secondary role while determining the intranet’s
purpose and function as a business tool. Planning falls upon the
shoulders of the business owners.
“Those who view an intranet project as a technology project will
fail,” writes Eric Brown and James W. Candler in the
The Elements of Intranet Style
. “An intranet is a
communication project; technicians make it happen. Exclude technical
specialists from early intranet planning.” Perhaps a little harsh, but
the point is made.
OWNERSHIP AND GOVERNANCE
Not surprisingly, intranet ownership continues to be a hot-button
issue and source of adversity at many organizations today. Without
engaging and involving all user, content and application stakeholders,
you will risk running into many political roadblocks. In the majority
of organizations, technology is not the biggest intranet challenge.
The biggest challenge is politics – competing priorities and most
specifically, the issue of ownership and governance.
IT or Corporate Communications has traditionally ‘owned’ the
intranet. As intranets have grown in importance – touching all aspects
of an organization – the single proprietor model makes little sense.
More often than not, a centralized governance body with representation
from all business units and content stakeholders is required to govern
the portal. This central body, often called a ‘steering committee’ or
‘web council’, should serve as the centralized, policy-making body.
More importantly, the committee should serve as the voice and
representation of the diverse employee population.
Sprint PCS knows how important portal ‘ownership’ is and addressed
the issue before a single line of code was spit-out. After undergoing a
lengthy assessment phase that included team meetings and one-on-one
interviews with stakeholder, Sprint PCS had a consultant develop a
master plan for developing the portal. As a result of the plan, Sprint
PCS formed a web council called the Intranet Process Owners Group
(IPOG). The formation of IPOG didn’t happen overnight, however, and
underwent five major steps:
Council sponsor appointment
Definition of the Council’s mission and vision
Definition of the roles and responsibilities of Council
Recruitment of council members
Ongoing measure to ensure the continued success of the
Sprint’s IPOG has been extremely successful with a core group of
some 15 representatives from IT, Marketing, Customer Solutions, Sales
& Distribution, Finance, Legal, Human Resources and more. A
complete listing of all IPOG representatives with contact information
is available on the intranet portal, Connected. While Sprint
PCS uses multiple channels to measure the performance of the intranet
portal including metrics and feedback, employees are encouraged to
become involved via the IPOG representative for their department or
“IPOG is instrumental in decision making and bringing new ideas to
They're also key to identifying and solving challenges,” says
Julie Nurski, Connected’s ‘champion’ and Internal
Communications Manager at Sprint PCS. “Without IPOG, I think the
centralized intranet would be impossible to maintain.”
IPOG representatives have broad responsibilities include
developing strategy for their own department sites, providing input on
site goals, day-to-day content management, as well as usability
testing. “IPOG doesn't deal with IT or network issues and doesn't get
into database driven sites or high-end-development sites,” adds Julie.
“The content management is for simple sites only. If it gets complex,
the Web Development Team (IT) steps in.”
Today, Connected is home to more than 30,000 Sprint PCS
employees and accessed by more than 80,000 total Sprint Corp.
employees. It’s a personalized portal built using Macromedia’s Cold
Fusion. Users can customize different elements of their home page
including news, links, weather, and more.
The better you understand user needs and expectations, the better
your chances of deploying a successful portal. User surveys are
excellent qualitative and quantitative tools for gauging user
requirements. Surveys need not be long, or sent to all users (a
representative cross-section will suffice), but are valuable in
determining the strengths and weaknesses of the current intranet
environment. This survey is usually best conducted online – saving time
and money, and guaranteeing a higher rate of response.
P.G. Daly, a regular Intranet Journal columnist, recently
conducted an online survey at her company (read
What Happens When the Intranet Users Have Spoken?
constructing an online survey using an off-the-shelf product, she
e-mailed all employees with a link to the actual survey and an
incentive – a random drawing for a DVD player. 650 respondents
completed the survey – an impressive 33% response rate. “Most
importantly, it managed to get people who weren't even aware the
intranet existed as well as people who very rarely use it to provide
valuable feedback,” adds P.G.
Survey results provide a great macro view of user needs and
expectations, but focus groups are excellent tools for digging deeper
into the consciousness of your employee body. While user focus groups
were used sparingly in the early days of intranets, they’ve become
standard in many organizations that demand a more intimate knowledge
about their target audience for better tailoring the portal –
maximizing use and ROI (see Measuring the Dollar Value of Intranets
information on intranet ROI). Issues that I’ve explored with client
employee focus groups range from home page color schemes, to content
preferences, to page download times and the use of scrolling.
American Century Investments recently undertook a redesign of
their enterprise portal. Before doing so they conducted formal and
informal focus groups with more than 150 employees – or approximately
5% of their users (“Pulling in the reins”, Virtual Business Magazine,
Toby Ward, a former journalist and a regular e-business columnist
and speaker, is the President and Founder of Prescient Digital
Media. For more information on Prescient’s CMS Blueprint service,
or for a free copy of the white paper “Finding ROI”, please contact us.