Monday, January 22, 2007

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My RSS feed has been mucking up (or was never set-up properly in the first place!)

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Wiki your web and intranet guidelines

Those of us that develop or promote web or intranet content and development guidelines within our organisation walk a fine line between help and dictatorship.

If you work in a large federated environment like I do (University) it isn't even possible to force people to follow guidelines and it comes down to advocacy and encouragement and making sure the guidelines meet the expectations of those that may use them.

Being seen as a dictator or 'style nazi' is never a good thing.

If you've read previous posts of mine you'll see I'm a big fan of providing good solid guidelines to support best web and intranet best practice in areas such as content, accessibility, usability and front-end coding.

The whole social media and collaboration revolution currently occurring (some useful functionality to organisations some not) has risen the expectations of interacting with users and users being able to openly comment and instigate change when necessary.

My organisation is currently in the process of redeveloping web guidelines into a firmer policy framework to be made up of various areas including stand alone content and accessibility and usability guidelines.

The process we have taken for the development of new guidelines has been to reverse the standard practice from developing them (or getting an external agency to develop them), and then enforcing, to getting the users of the guidelines to determine what is appropriate and what is not (but keeping some top level editorial and management approval).

The process:

  1. Develop base framework for guidelines
  2. Meet with key stakeholders to introduce the standards and the reasoning behind them
  3. Post guidelines into a wiki accessible by all interested parties and potentially the entire organisation
  4. Monitor changes to wiki version
  5. Post initial 'official' version on the intranet based on appropriate material from the wiki
  6. Continue to monitor wiki changes and update official version when appropriate
    changes occur

While I have seen and heard of guidelines remaining in the wiki format I'm not convinced that wikis should be replaced more formal intranet publishing for these areas.

There are several reasons including the lack of consistency of language in a wiki, the possibility that user changes are not ideal for the organisation or meeting the expectation of a professional web/intranet environment and even becoming stuck with competing interests rewriting each others input (yes even in a professional environment).

The wiki is great for collecting a variety of ideas and input from across an organisation but because of the potential problems I still the need for a formal approved version published on the intranet. This may change depending as the maturity of wiki use, and the understanding of how users interact with wikis within an organisation, grows.

Both the wiki and intranet versions should be linked and the relationship explained to users.

So the positives of 'wiking' your web and intranet guidelines:

  1. Raises the level of engagement through the intranet
  2. Identifies hidden pockets of knowledge within the organisation
  3. Develops an innovative way to collect opinion and input on a variety of subjects (people like something new especially if it related to them)
  4. Provides a bottom -up approach for the further development of your website or intranet and other online environments.
It's just early days and at this stage because it the first time outside of dedicated IT teams that have been engaged to use the wiki there hasn't been too changes (which may also mean the initial guidelines are quite acceptable) but as we move to promote the use of the wiki in a variety of situations, and make others aware of the possibilities, I see the use of the wiki increasing across a multitude of areas of my organisation.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

'Best' intranets for 2007

Jakob Nielsen has announced his annual intranets of the year (2007).

The intranets are selected after an application and evaluation periuod but doesn't actually include any hands on evaluation by the judges which last year prompted Toby Ward to criticise the reporting process (although noting some value in the report).

I like when this report is announced. It gives you an insight to what major organisation are doing with their intranets. Although I haven't seen a full report for a couple of years (gets hard to justify year after year to look at cool screenshots) but even the write-up has some interesting info.

I do feel there was no need to pander to the anti-Microsoft crowd with his defence of mentioning that MS products are used. Of course they are and by more than Microsoft itself. Seems silly.

He notes that organisations are starting to use 'web 2.0' functionality for specific purposes and not just having it because it is currently well hyped. A good development in my book. Web standards etc are also being followed more regularly.

One trend with the report from previous is that it seems more an more large organisations are being included while in the past there were many smaller organisations getting a look in. I remember a winner a few years ago was a college intranet developed by a single person and today we have Microsoft and Infosys and last year was IBM etc. Perhpas it points to the growing entries for the report from large organisations or organisations taking their intranet seriously or maybe that there's more mileage to be made by highlighting multinationals rather than some small obscure college somewhere. Jakob does have a business to run.

If you do get the report remember that while ideas will easily be generated there is no value in copoying other intranets especially design. Each organisation is different and thus each intranet is different. It's those that try and be something else that tend to be problematic.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Interaction with virtual 'help' characters on the web or intranet

Jane McConnell has written an interesting post about 'spleak' a virtual character interface for knowledge base type of questions.

Now the idea of using instant messaging software to interact with a company knowledge base is fantastic (on a website or intranet).

But why do we need some cheesy cartoon character to help us do it?

If the spleak guys lose the fluff then I think they're on to something good.

I can see it being great with kids or young teens on commercial or character driven sites but am unsure of whether adult users will not find it somewhat silly. Reactionary me would not deal with a business that made me interact with a cartoon.

Jane mentions a few 'characters' she's seen on company intranets (too much time on internal comms hands I'd say) and thinks the concept can be a good one.

I'd agree the concept of the interaction is a good one but think the characterisation of the interface is flawed. Keeping in mind that it is simply a character placed over what would be a standard knowledge base type of tool with answers generated from a database.

I'm sure some organisations would love it but it opens lots of room for cynicism and criticisim in an area that generally has a hard time building credibility with the wider organisation anyway.

One thing it does highlight is that there are an increasingly growing number of tools and devices becoming available as the enterprise jumps on the web 2.0 bandwagon.

It sure will keep things interesting for those of dealing with it at ground level.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Expand your intranet leadership box

Your intranet is STILL unimportant

It’s tough working on intranets. Much of your organisation may not understated what the intranet is, hate using it if they do know what it is and even though everyone wants it improved you are likely to see much of the potential budget or resourcing being diverted off into some nifty new web 2.0 folly for the external website.

So we all know the negatives no respect, no cash, no people…

What about the positives? Well it is likely that you (or if your really lucky your team) are pretty smart (based on the purely ad hoc experience of attending intranet conferences) with some good communications/IT/information management/usability/organisational/design etc skills and it is also likely that you (or your team) have a foothold at various levels across the organisation even if in some areas it’s only at an administrator content editor level.

How can you best utilise those skills and connections?

Now at the moment the intranet I’m managing isn’t fantastic (the reasons too vast and painful to go into here) but the problems are slowly being rectified as time and resources permit.

However instead of keeping quiet (or improve the same thing over and over again) while the work continues I’m laying the groundwork for the future by getting involved in projects across the organisation which will have some future bearing on the intranet or on things that will.

Intranet ideas go across internal borders and job descriptions

Basically if you don’t get yourself involved it is likely some nasty surprises may be forced on you at a future date and intranet focuses need to get beyond content and new functionality.

Most of the improvements to an organisation I’ve seen intranets make are actually not directly related to the site itself but on processes or problems that have been revealed because of the intranet.

Example 1 - source organisational structure, administration and employee data issues where all revealed because of a new intranet staff directory. The problems weren’t caused or will be resolved by the intranet but it was the intranet that clearly exposed the issues which have led to a major project of improvement in the area.

Example 2 - fundamental holes in the way policies were being managed and developed were exposed by the intranet and again the resolution of the problem had very little to do with the intranet but the improvements were fundamental to the organisation (government sector).

Don’t wait to be invited to participate - tips on expanding intranet leadership

In large organisations networking is obviously key for intranet leadership.
The people I have found best for this are the really smart individuals who may or may not be managers (usually lower or mid level if they are) but someone that everyone knows is essential to the running of the place.

These are the people their managers go to for specialised advice and it is these people that suggest others in the organisation who may be useful in a project team. Become one of those people the specialists know and respect.

  • Get into IT projects such as enterprise software – link everything to how the intranet can help (even if it is just a ‘link’).
  • Make sure the web/marketing team aren’t the only ones driving online style guides that also affect the intranet
  • Become a strong broad advocate for things others may not be touching such as accessibility, usability and good information architecture processes. These areas are still surprisingly under advocated in most organisations. Remember they apply equally to the intranet as they do the external site so don’t just sit back and watch them happen without you.
  • Don’t just harp on about things in an intranet context but take a best practice viewpoint that can set standards for various tools and systems. If people can see you making linkages across the organisation they are likely to see you as worthwhile in those things not directly related.
  • Say sensible things at sensible times in front of the right people. The intranet will languish unless someone is being a leader.
  • Set-up your own communities of practice if one doesn’t already exist in areas that are related to the intranet.
  • It’s not about being liked but about getting things done. Because intranets are tough you need a thick skin. Having said that being negative, dismissive or arrogant isn’t going to help you. Be positive, firm and useful. Say I can help you with that.
  • Meet regularly with those in the know and meet-up with newcomers who may become them.
  • Work for an organisation that understands that strict job descriptions and boxing employees into certain areas is not really a productive process in this day and age.

Stop the moaning and get out there

Yes working on intranets is a hell unbeknown to most and you have the visibility of the ivory-billed woodpecker. But so what? Toilets are essential to the running of all organisations (don’t tell me they aren’t). Do you know the manager of the building services team? Probably not.

If you want the intranet to be at the centre of the organisational universe (and we all know it should be somewhere near there) we need to network enthusiastically, boost the user and communities of practice connections and swallow a lot of crap while continually working behind the scenes with the real influencers and decision makers.


Intranet and portal personalisation

Step Two Designs are running a quick survey around the implementation and usage of intranet and portal personalisation.

It's only 9 very quick questions and it's very worthwhile doing the survey as the results will be publicly released by Step Two in their tradition of openly sharing much of the information they collect as well as the great ideas that they develop from it.