When it comes to electronic media, I have little patience. I am easily frustrated with overly complex web site navigation schemes, and I figure that if a web page won't load within eight seconds or so, it was never worth viewing in the first place (heck, even AnnaKournikova.com is worth waiting more than an hour or two for). This truth becomes even more powerful in the case of corporate intranets (see sidebar for definition) where performance is the key to success or failure. Planners are faced with a number of unique challenges in designing a functional and effective intranet site.
Damn You, Technology... Damn You to Hell!
OK, so maybe I'm being a little dramatic. The point is that in a world where almost anything is possible on the web, technology can sometimes be your worst enemy. Because intranets are typically not seen by outside users, planners are usually afforded more freedom when it comes to content and navigation. That makes it easy to lose sight of their original goals in favor of more exciting-albeit unnecessary and sometimes costly-features. Your intranet site's animated corporate logo and slide show of the recent company picnic are nice features that everyone enjoys looking at-but were they developed at the expense of more useful applications, such as a travel-booking utility or a pension calculator?
The Consistency Factor
It's not uncommon for large companies to develop unique intranet sites for each department or project group. For an organization employing half a million people, this could mean hundreds or even thousands of intranet sites. By itself, this is not necessarily a bad thing. But when those sites lack central oversight and planning, the results can be chaotic, and costly. If your company does have multiple intranets, require that each one conform to a defined set of development guidelines. Furthermore, when somebody proposes a new internal site, ask them to submit a development proposal that clearly outlines the site's objectives and content.
If You Build It, They May Not Come
The fact that you've established a company intranet doesn't mean that you can expect workers to flock to it... at least, not without some incentives. Oftentimes, anticipated cost-savings are not fully realized because users continue to rely on more traditional (read: comfortable) means of getting and sharing information (e.g. filling out a printed expense report instead of submitting one electronically). Consider taking the "comfortable" option away by ridding the supply closet of paper forms or by setting target dates after which point all forms must be submitted electronically. Communicate regularly with users to make them aware of the features available on your intranet. This will also give them the opportunity to inform you of reservations or concerns that they may have about using the intranet.
Keeping Up With the Jones'
Just as there was a sense in the mid and late 90's that EVERYBODY needed a web site, the same mentality now seems to drive everybody and their brother to establish an intranet site. Smaller companies, in particular, may simply find that they don't need an intranet site. This is not a bad thing. Prior to sinking the time and resources into development, analyze carefully the situation to make sure that an intranet site will have practical applications and long-term benefits for your company. Remember, just because you can doesn't mean you should.