Five Winning Intranet Characteristics

By Toby Ward

The answer to any question by
any Cisco employee is “check the website.” Cisco Systems has gone to great
lengths to web-enable almost all work-related information and nearly every
single work function on its corporate intranet. The effort has translated into
an annual return on investment of more than $800 million.

What are the winning
characteristics of successful corporate intranets such as Cisco’s? While there
are too many to mention in this column, here are five winning characteristics
of leading intranets that will help drive success on your intranet:

1. ENGAGE: Engage your users; ask them what they want and need, and incorporate your

learnings into the site plan.

e*Trade regularly engages users by undertaking employee surveys. Surveys
include questions on
overall satisfaction, most frequently used areas, favorite areas and can
include a call to action such as “Are you interested in becoming an e*Channel
roving reporter?”

continues to keep users engaged through various channels including one that
encourages each employee’s journalistic ambitions. Located directly under the
“News Headlines” at the top of Cisco’s global intranet home page, Cisco
Employee Connection, is a button labeled “SUBMIT”. This button encourages all of
Cisco’s employees, approximately 40,000, to submit their own news stories to
the home page. While all potential stories must adhere to certain guidelines
(available adjacent to the SUBMIT button) the SUBMIT button encourages all
employees to become Cisco journalists and to drive knowledge sharing and
collaboration through the home page.

2. STANDARDS: Develop guidelines and site standards to be applied to and used by all

sites on your intranet/extranet.

Swiss-based Adecco is the largest staffing/personnel firm in the
world with more than 5000 offices in 59 countries. A highly decentralized
company with managerial decisions largely resting with the respective regions
and offices, Adecco has a centralized intranet team that is primarily focused
on developing and managing intranet standards rather than actually managing the
intranet itself.

While overall administration, and some news headlines, is
centrally managed, Adecco employs a decentralized or distributed publishing
model for its 150-plus sites containing more than 130,000 documents for users in 55
countries. Content is published using a centralized publishing tool in four
principal languages.

A core international intranet team is responsible for global
intranet strategy and standards, international internal communications (content
relevant to all users), overall management of the centralized portal, core
application development, and intranet training and tools. Most of the 55 user
countries have their own intranet site with their own management that that may
include an executive champion, a team leader, a strategist, department level
publishers and content writers that all must adhere to global standards, use
standardized templates and production procedures while relying on centralized
support and training from the international team.

3. SIMPLIFY: Keep the site design clean and simple; don’t overload with Java,

multimedia and other memory hogs.

There are many surfers on the Internet who have high-speed
connections and are impressed by Flash animation, cool gadgets and media-rich
pages. This is not the case for intranet users. Employees want to find and
download information as quick as possible. As such, intranet pages should
download quickly and be designed for those users with the slowest access speeds
(usually users dialing-in remotely such as on-the-road sales reps).

A general rule-of-thumb is to limit page design to a maximum of
64KBs (requiring about 8 seconds to download via a standard 56KB per second
connection). Some companies are more aggressive in their development standards.
The Royal Bank Financial Group limits its intranet page size to 17KBs.

Microsoft’s global intranet home page, MSWeb, closely adheres to
the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid). MS largely re-uses the design and
look-and-feel of for
its intranet. The look is simple, mainly white with a splash of light blue,
with very few graphics, and no animation.

4. MEASURE: Each intranet must be measured by a set of pre-determined Critical Success

Indicators (CSIs) that measure both quantitative and qualitative performance.

While each of the five winning characteristics listed in this
piece is not necessarily any more important than the other, measuring your
intranet’s performance is perhaps the most important element for justifying
your intranet’s existence and budget. One of the great advantages of an
intranet is the availability of multiple measurement channels – both online and
offline – for appraising performance. Popularly employed measurement channels
include metrics or log analysis, online and offline surveys, focus groups (also
available online), feedback email, help desk calls and email, usability testing
and return on investment (ROI).

The last measure, ROI, is increasingly becoming the most critical
measurement as intranets grow in importance and demand more funding and
investment. By early 2000, Mitre Corp.,
a not-for-profit technology company that services several U.S. federal
agencies, regularly appraises both hard and soft cost savings on their
intranets. Since deploying an intranet in 1996, Mitre has measured HR and
administration, IS management, financial operations, technical operations,
employee productivity and other miscellaneous intranet savings. In total, a
$7.2 million intranet investment has returned $62.1 million in reduced
operating costs and improved productivity.

Metrics are also an important measurement tool in the yearly,
monthly, weekly and even daily measurement of intranet traffic and usage.
Popular metrics or log analysis software packages such as WebTrends enable you
to measure “hits”, page views, unique visitors, average user session, entry and
disembarkation points, clickstreams, etc. SGI uses hourly metrics to help
determine the daily news headline rotation on its corporate portal home page,
Silicon Junction. An analysis of page views for each news story determines the
order or ranking each receives on the home page and how quickly it is rotated
into the archives.

5. PROMOTE: Every intranet needs to be promoted so that users know its value and are

motivated to use it.

If you build it, they will not come (necessarily);Users need
to be motivated and educated on why the site is of value to both them
and the company. While each organization has its web-head keeners that need no
prompting, many more users are not as keen and need to be educated on the
intranet’s value.

Firstly, your intranet’s potential success and performance measures
will be less than optimal if your user audience does not use the intranet.
Users need to be informed and motivated; organization-wide understanding,
acceptance, and intranet use is mandatory. A marketing or promotion plan is
required, particularly in an organization where there is not a proliferation of
desk workers (manufacturing, distribution, sales, etc.). Marketing tactics
could include email broadcasts, newsletter stories and promotion, an internal
press conference, executive promotion, hosted chats with the CEO, posters,
premiums, etc.

A regional subsidiary of a large financial/investment services
company embarked on an ambitious marketing campaign to promote the launch of
their redesigned corporate portal. The campaign included an email campaign,
promotional cookies for each employee, posters and even a professionally
produced 10-minute promotional video replete with a famous voice as the
narrator. In total, the company spent about $20 per employee on promoting the
new portal.

The key to managing the above tactics is to plan each
out during the planning phase prior to launching a new or redesigned intranet.
Stakeholders and users should participate, and measurable goals need to be
documented. While many more important tips and tactics exist for deploying and
managing a “winning” intranet, the five listed above are amongst the most important and
should be given particular attention during the planning of a new or redesigned

Toby Ward is the principal consultant at Prescient Digital Media– an e-business

consulting firm specializing in corporate portal and intranet strategic and functional