In a "static" intranet the content is hard to change, and hard to update. The control is very centralized, the authors are separated from the users, and the intranet lacks vibrancy and community spirit.
This is often because only a few authors, often in a central "Internal Communications" or "Intranet Development" team, are able to put content onto the intranet. These authors are better trained at using the intranet tools and skilled at writing for the Web. The content that they produce is of high quality, but they are often overworked and cannot produce the quantity of content that intranet users would like. In addition, they are not the people who actually have the expert knowledge, so the content must come from the experts within the company. This takes time (
A similar cause of a "static" intranet is if there are multiple authors around the organization, but one or more central authorities, such as an intranet manager or a legal department, must approve all changes. In this case, the workflow process can become a bottleneck, preventing the intranet from being up-to-date.
"In a "static" intranet the content is hard to change, and hard to update."
In both these cases it takes a reasonable amount of time and effort to make any change to the intranet content, so small changes and improvements are discouraged, and only significant new additions are
Some symptoms of a static intranet are:
The task of adding a
There is a very limited number of authors - often all in one department. These authors are often overworked as all intranet changes must come through them.
There are lengthy workflows for changing intranet content; for example, a document must written by an author, then be approved by a departmental manager, approved by the legal department, and approved by an intranet manager before it appears on the intranet.
So far, we've
For important documents that will be read by the majority of the company, it makes sense to use a professional writer. A good writer can make the documents easier to understand and more pleasant to read. This is particularly worthwhile for areas of the intranet such as new employee orientation - these will be read by a large number of people, and it is important that they are clear. A lot of technical authors work on a contract basis, so you can still use one even if your intranet doesn't have enough such documents to justify a
Accuracy is paramount, and has legal implications, for some areas of the intranet; for example a company's financial
A single team that updates the whole intranet will lead to more consistency across the intranet than if there are multiple authors in different parts of the company. For example, within a small team, the vocabulary can be consistent, as can the use of acronyms and abbreviations, and the internal formatting of articles. A Content Management System (CMS) that uses standardized templates, stylesheets, and navigation can lead to a consistent interface even with multiple authors, but there will still be stylistic differences that cannot be automated away. Later in this chapter, we'll discuss Electronic Corporate Identities (ECI), which can help multiple decentralized authors produce a consistent intranet, but this is still less effective than using a team that is all in the same office, and can easily talk to each other.
A single team is also more able to focus its efforts - that is, it can take an overall view of the intranet, and concentrate on updating and maintaining those areas of the intranet that are most important to the business. Individual, decentralized authors will concentrate on the intranet areas that are important to
"A new intranet will often begin with centralized control, but as it grows it becomes more appropriate to use a mixture of central control and decentralized authoring."
Note that these benefits depend on the intranet team taking an active role in producing or editing content - if their role is to rubber-stamp content produced by other authors, then there may be less justification for central control.
A new intranet will often begin with centralized control, but as it grows it becomes more appropriate to use a mixture of central control and de-centralized authoring. Exactly when this changeover should occur depends on the
The previous section described the parts of the intranet for which it may be appropriate to use a static model. Now we'll look at how to avoid the static model in those areas for which it is not appropriate. The major step in avoiding a static intranet is to ensure that more authors are actively contributing to the intranet, and to remove the barriers that prevent them from doing so.
If the content of the intranet is under the control of the people who are actually using it, then they are far more motivated to keep it up to date and to fix problems, because this helps them in their day-to-day work. In addition, the users of an area of the intranet are likely to be those people who have most knowledge of that area and so they are the people best placed to recognize good quality or inaccurate content.
How many authors should there be? That depends on the size of your intranet, and how
So, there are two steps needed to prevent your intranet from becoming static: make it easy for authors to contribute content and make them enthusiastic about doing so.
Making it easy for authors to contribute to the intranet has several
One easy way for intranet users to begin contributing to the intranet is by adding comments to existing content. This is a common practice on many web sites, such as the web developer community
. Although this technique may not be appropriate for all areas of the intranet, it is
It is very easy for a developer to add this functionality to an intranet - and all that a user needs to do to add content is to enter it into a simple textbox. It allows users to make useful additions to the intranet with no training and no special software. Making an initial contribution to the intranet in this way can be the first step to becoming a full intranet author.
If you set up your intranet to allow comments, then consider having the page author e-mailed whenever a comment is added. It's also useful to allow the page author to remove comments - this allows the author to transfer information from the comments into the main body of the page and then remove the now-irrelevant comments.
on Usability, we discussed the creation of an Electronic Corporate Identity (ECI) as a resource for intranet authors. The ECI is an intranet
Although the ECI may be all that is needed for an author who has written for the Web before, some authors are likely to require more support. Ideally, every intranet author should receive training, both in using the authoring environment and in writing for the Web. In practice, most organizations will consider this to be too expensive, especially when the
An alternative that keeps the training costs low is to provide training for a
It's helpful to consider the trade-off between the costs of increased intranet training, and the costs of increasing the usability of your authoring interface. Although in the previous chapter we considered usability primarily from the perspective of a user of the intranet, it is also important from the perspective of an intranet author. The intranet champions are in an
As we have discussed above, in some areas of the intranet it is appropriate to have restrictions on who can make content available and a review process in place to ensure that content is appropriate. What these restrictions should be will vary depending on how many people will see the content, what the consequences of a mistake in the content would be, how costly or
Although sharing information with others via the intranet will benefit the company, it won't happen unless it also gives benefits to the authors expected to do the sharing. In Working Knowledge , Davenport and Prusak, Harvard Business School Press, ISBN 1-578513-01-4, an excellent practical book on Knowledge Management, there are three motives identified for authors to contribute knowledge: reciprocity, repute, and altruism. In addition, authors must be given time to contribute content to the intranet.
Reciprocity is giving knowledge in the expectation of receiving benefits in return. These benefits may be in the form of more knowledge, or the author could receive benefits in a more indirect way. For example, if the exchange of information benefits the company as a whole, then it may increase the value of the author's stock options or increase their job security. On an intranet, if an author has benefited in the past from knowledge found on the intranet, then they are more likely to contribute their knowledge to the intranet in return. We'll talk more about increasing the
One form of reciprocity that has been very important in motivating me to add knowledge to an intranet is the awareness that I will probably refer to it
Another form of reciprocity that has motivated me is entering knowledge to receive "freedom from interruptions" in return. If you can direct people to the knowledge base to learn how to perform a task themselves, then they won't need to ask you to do it. This is the "teach a man to fish" principle. It can backfire - once you become recognized as an expert in a field, then you may face even more interruptions with questions upon that topic.
This motivation emphasizes once again the importance of crediting authors for their contributions to the intranet. Being known as an expert in a particular subject can increase job security, lead to promotion, or lead to projects based on a topic in which the author is interested. Some companies (such as the
It may be outside your remit to change your company's employee review process, but you can set up the intranet so it can be used for providing rewards. For a small intranet it is possible for one person to scan through the changes to the intranet and assess their value to find the "top contributors", but this
At Xerox there is a "Eureka Hall of Fame" that lists the top contributors to their Eureka knowledge base. Users, who vote as they use the system, identify the most useful contributions. This is using peer review and peer recognition as a reward process. You can find more information at http://choo.fis.utoronto.ca/mgt/KM.xeroxCase.html .
Altruism is the sharing of knowledge for the
The Internet is perhaps the finest example of altruism on a computer network. You can benefit from this altruism on your intranet by encouraging intranet content authors to provide links to existing Internet resources, such as FAQs, mailing lists, and USENET newsgroups.
If authors don't have any time to contribute to their intranet then they won't, no matter how motivated they are. Authors need to be able to take time away from their immediate projects to update the intranet. As discussed above, they may receive immediate benefits from doing this, as they are
Official recognition needs to be given to the intranet; for example, by adding "updating the intranet" as a valid task in the timesheets system, by including intranet contributions as a performance criterion in employee reviews, by adding "creating intranet content" to the job descriptions of
Even when authors are keen to contribute, you need to provide the tools for them to do so. In the case of non-HTML document types, such as PDFs, MS Word documents, or Photoshop files, this can pose problems to intranet authors unless dealt with by a centralized team. You need to decide what formats of documents are to be standard on the intranet, and how they can be produced.
Non-HTML documents have a number of drawbacks when used on an intranet:
They require reader software that may not be installed on all computers (particularly non-Windows computers)
They are hard for content authors to edit and update without having expensive specialist software, such as Adobe Acrobat
Even if you've got the appropriate software, you may also require the correct version of that software. Several formats have multiple versions that are not
They cause a delay while the reader software opens - this is a particular problem when you're evaluating a list of search results to see which are relevant
Some search engines won't index non-HTML documents, or may require additional setup in order to do so
Often, the document formats are proprietary, and may be hard or
They are prone to a whole new set of
This is not to say that non-HTML formats are
Of the problems listed above, the most significant issue for intranet authors is the availability of software for viewing and editing the documents.
Viewer programs for PDF, Word document, or other binary formats may not be available on all of your users' computers. This is particularly a problem if there are intranet users who are not using Windows; for example a CAD (Computer Aided Design) department that uses Unix exclusively. This is not an insurmountable difficulty as there are free
For Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files, OpenOffice (
) is a free viewer and editor for Windows and Unix. Microsoft also
For PDF files, Adobe's Acrobat Reader (although not the full Acrobat PDF creator) is available free from http://www.adobe.com . For both PDF and PostScript files, GhostScript ( http://www.ghostscript.com/ ) is a free viewer that is available for more platforms than are supported by Adobe Acrobat.
Editor programs present more of a problem. Although most document formats have
For some formats, this problem can be
Don't assume that this will solve all your authoring problems immediately. Automatically generated content invariably requires considerable tweaking before it looks just right. The main benefit of using a PDF is that (unlike HTML) it will look exactly the same on every computer, and print out exactly the same. However, this doesn't mean that it will be correct everywhere, unless you take the time to adjust the automated PDF generation tool to suit your needs.
In addition, content management systems are beginning to support WebDAV as a mechanism for updating content. This allows authors to edit intranet content within their standard tools, such as Word and Excel, and save it directly to the intranet. This support is neither widespread nor mature as yet, but has a great deal of potential. Within Windows, support for WebDAV is provided by the Web Folders mechanism in Explorer, which allows a remote directory on a server that also uses WebDAV (such as IIS, Apache using mod_dav, or some CMSs) to be edited as if it was a local directory. WebDAV also allows metadata to be added to describe files, and can support versioning. There is more information at http://www.webdav.org .