Strategic Intranet Design

Strategic Intranet Design
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An intranet is not a website. Employees are not consumers.

Employees don’t shop or seek to be entertained on the intranet. They use the intranet far differently than they use the Internet. They want something very specific, as fast as possible, and then they’re gone.

No employee goes to the intranet to “see what’s happening” or what’s new. They are want a phone number, a form, a policy, a document – and then they’re off to a meeting, a call or email.

Don’t market to employees; give them what they want, as fast as possible. Aesthetics are a secondary concern; the application of color and images – should be the last thing applied to the intranet user experience. The creative designer should be the last person involved with a new intranet ‘design’ or ‘redesign’.

The intranet is not a project, it’s a process. In fact, the intranet has more to do with people and process than technology, which is merely an enabler.

Redesigning an intranet requires a completely different approach to design than a consumer website (or mobile site, or mobile app). For starters, typical websites are primarily marketing vehicles, created with the purpose of selling a product, a service, an idea, a concept. Employees do not want to be sold anything. An employee uses the intranet to find information for their job, and they want it fast!

Secondarily, management requires the intranet to also target key messages and initiatives, and to engage employees. So the intranet must cater jointly to both employee and business / management requirements.

inranet project methodology-prescient digital media prescientdigital.com

Intranet Project Methodology of Prescient Digital Media

Your focus as an intranet manager must be on speed, access and content. Employees want information fast. They want it on all their devices. And they want it tailored to their specific situation. So the intranet design, the look-and-feel, must come last in the design process.

However, the look-and-feel shouldn’t be overlooked. The visual look of your intranet is the first thing companies seek to change; it’s the first thing people notice. It should be last on the to-do list.

Case in point: what is the first and most frequent complaint about the intranet? “I can’t find anything.”

STRATEGIC INTRANET DESIGN

An intranet is a business system – the gateway to the digital workplace – for supporting the entire business, and fostering communications and collaboration.

The design approach must be strategically driven: aligned to the goals and objectives of the company, it’s organization and management. The end intranet user experience design must help employees find what they need, and also support measurable goals of the business.

The risk of having a web-designer with little intranet experience attempt an intranet redesign is obvious: they focus on creating a highly visual design, but often overlook the core online behaviors that drive intranet value: content, transactional content, and business processes.

A strategic intranet design is driven by business requirements, recognizing that design should help to achieve the measurable business goals. Design must facilitate the usability of the site and aid in guiding users to where they need to go while also adding appeal and assisting with engagement.

intranet information architecture mind map

Intranet information architecture (mind map)

Sound intranet design follows a process that incorporates:

  • Business requirements (as expressed by management)
  • User requirements (as expressed by employees)
  • Strategic & functional planning
  • Governance modelling
  • Information architecture and wireframes (usability)
  • Personas (employee roles)
  • Design concepts
  • Design guidelines

SELLING AN INTRANET REDESIGN

Even before you plan a new intranet design or redesign, you need to ‘sell’ the intranet. The truth of the matter: an intranet manger’s number one job is sales – selling the value of the intranet. Most c-level executives are uninformed about the intranet, and it’s potential, and what it can do for the organization. So, at the very beginning, before there is light, you need to put on your sales cap, and sell it.

How many of you have an intranet that is 4, 6, maybe 10 years-old or older? I’m working with a Fortune 200 client that hasn’t had a redesign in more than 12 years. The reason: executives don’t get the intranet, and therefore don’t see any value in it. And so, there was no impetus to undertake a redesign, and certainly no money for it.

“You need executive buy-in,” says Chris Harrer, Director, Digital Communications at Cox Communications. “You cannot do anything without executive buy-in (support). It’s key to everything.”

“I knew as I was going into the funding process, my fate was in their hands,” adds Harrer.

Cox is the 3rd largest cable television provider in the US, connecting more than 6 million residential and business customers to the things they care about most via advanced digital video, internet, phone and home security and automation services. Cox has 24,000 intranet users.

Before Cox began their intranet redesign, Chris undertook 6 months of research with countless dozens of executives, managers and frontline users. Anyone that wanted a say or had an opinion about the old, dated intranet.

“For another 6 months, I went and presented to anyone that would listen to me at the VP level,” says Harrer. “I would (put on my sales hat) ask for 30 minutes and sit in their office and walk through the key points and tell them that I just wanted them to be aware that I am looking to create a new intranet. Then came the test…”

Chris created a detailed sales presentation on ‘why’ Cox needed a new intranet. It featured research, user comments, best practices and leading intranet case studies. For the busy and easily distracted c-suite executives, he created a one-page business case. One page that ‘sold’ the need and benefits of a new intranet.

The Cox Communications Intranet

The Cox Communications Intranet, Cox One

“From this point I went and presented to each of our SVPs and EVPs with my intention to rebuild our intranet,” says Harrer. “Creating the one-pager (business case) from my 45-page presentation was not easy, but I got all relevant information into one document for executives to look at.”

And it wasn’t merely limited to print documents and presentations. Chris also mastered the art of the elevator pitch, and used it whenever he bumped into an executive.

“Your elevator speech (30 seconds, or one-minute). Get that down-pat. Executives have no time, so master the short speech.”

Chris credits his executives, and their support, as the key to the entire redesign process. ““If I didn’t do that, this project would never have gotten off the ground.”

INTRANET REDESIGN PLANNING

When redesigning an intranet, you need to follow a process that is grounded in a thorough understanding of the current environment (not the least of which are senior management concerns and needs, business requirements, and user needs), and then plan accordingly.

The intranet plan begins with strategic planning (vision, mission, measurable objectives, KPIs), governance (ownership, management, policies), and moves into functional planning (intranet features), information architecture and wireframes.

Intranet information architecture, the key foundation for effective content structure and navigation, begins with understanding user needs, and strategic plans, supported by card sorting, and relying on experience and best practices for usability.

Intranet wireframes, or page layouts, are then developed to show positioning of elements on the page. At this stage some usability testing can be conducted to test the intuitiveness of the navigation. Then design is applied to the approved wireframes based on brand guidelines.

intranet wireframes

Intranet wireframes

Follow Prescient Digital Media’s intranet methodology, which establishes the strategic elements long before it’s time to consider applying graphic design and color to the home page. Detail your organization’s business requirements, undertake extensive user research, apply best practices, and then develop detailed plans. Among the plans that must be created prior to engaging a graphic designer or intranet design consultant, is the creative brief with detailed design elements including color palettes, font types, etc.

By listening to your users and stakeholders you may implement content and tools that will provide employees with what they need to do their jobs, which in turn will help your intranet achieve the desired business goals. And of course the best way to know and articulate that achievement is by having defined measures that are tracked on a regular basis.

When you know and intimately understand the needs of management and employees, and deliver the subsequent plans, including content management and information architecture, then you can worry about the creative design.

Before the creative designer starts coloring boxes.

Attend intranet consultant Prescient Digital Media’s free webinar on Intranet Design Fundamentals on November 21.

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