10 tips to developing a successful intranet solution

Magazine webmaster and vice president of technology at CIO, Tim Horgan recently discussed various strategies for making an intranet an indispensable business building asset rather than a failed collaboration tool and a significant expense.
The inevitable intranet solution

To say that intranets are everywhere would be an understatement.

In a recent Forrester Research Inc. survey of executives at 50 Fortune 1000 companies, 96 percent of those polled were either building or already using internal websites. Of which, Only 4 percent had no plans to invest in intranet technology.

There's no doubt that intranets have emerged as big business information infrastructure. Used appropriately, such a powerful one-stop information resource can help any organisation improve communication, cut costs and reduce time to market.

However, the best strategies for developing an intranet solution become less and less clear the bigger the organisation becomes. The evitable intranet project that is correctly undergone by most large organisiations in an attempt to improve efficiency, is patched together in a scattered manner with different divisions creating their own areas and little coordination or experience.

Left with an unreliable, outdated and conflicting solution; most organisations only realise a small amount of the benefit that a properly specified, designed and implemented intranet solution can offer. Then, left in a storm of information chaos, they either abandon the solution, cease using it or consider beginning it again.

Intranet strategy and experienced web development

Intranet creation (or recreation) should begin with an experienced Web development team interviewing a cross-section of business and IT managers in order to draft an intranet strategy which is a clear collection of business (rather than technology) goals and a sense of how the website will help achieve them.

Initially, the strategy must address ways to integrate the internal website into the company's information systems, as well as into its culture and business processes. For elements to consider in developing a strategy, see "Recipe for Intranet Strategy")

However, far more importantly, any strategy will inevitably fail should it not stimulate widespread employee interest throughout the organization.  Making an aggressive effort to increase knowledge of its development and potential is key and generating success stories based on implementations of the intranet solution into particular divisions is one proven way to increase demand for the intranet within the organization.

Important On-going Management Considerations

From the outset, any successful web development team must consider a variety of management questions in their specification and subsequent development of the intranet solution that have been outlined below:

• Applications: How will the business use the intranet? Who is our audience? How will that change down the road?

• Organization and management: Who will control the intranet? Who will set standards? Who will set policy? How will the effort be funded? How will the intranet be integrated into the business? What is the IS role?

• Staffing: What do we do about training, services, support, testing new tools, keeping an eye on emerging technologies?

• Prevention of information chaos: How do we make sure people will find the information they need? How do we prevent redundancy, dueling data, stale content? Do we want an enterprise-wide look and feel or do we want some diversity between business units?

• Publishing: Who owns information? What standards will we have for publishing, and who decides what can be published? How will it be updated? What happens to the information when users move on or lose interest?

• Network infrastructure: Can the current network handle the traffic the intranet will bring? Will it be able to handle more sophisticated types of tools, such as multimedia? Can it scale up to support thousands of users and advanced applications?

• Security: What information do we protect? How do we protect it? What are the policies, and how do we enforce them?

Once the intranet vision has been established, it is crucial to continually train and encourage users to make the most out of the solution; either in face-to-face seminars, with real-time hotline support or through online options such as FAQ (frequently asked questions) documents, help guides, tutorials and seminars.

10 tips to developing a successful intranet solution

1. Appoint an experienced business-technical Web strategy team

2. Develop a written functional specification and outline the costs in moving forward

3. Start small: Sell a target user group

4. Educate everyone and measure progress

5. Update the vision, strategy, budget and specification where required

6. Focus on Business objectives and goals and maintaining on-going planning

7. Widely communicate policies for access and publishing

8. Constantly update security procedures, including policies on access, monitoring and enforcement.

9. Engage in evangelism to both executives and employees

10. Continually innovate and focus on emerging technologies