Reinvent your intranet: Page 2

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Keep it simple

Riley has learned that a next-generation intranet brings greater demands in how information and applications are organized and presented. "You need to make it so insanely intuitive that a four-year-old could use it, but have the backend complexity that requires your best people," he says. Donnelley's intranet group has 15 members, composed of application developers, graphics designers, and project managers.

The company's intranet contains numerous Java-scripted rollovers that provide images to accompany the printed word. These are icons that display subtle text on top of them when users roll over the graphic--kind of like a tool tip built into the graphic.

Lessons learned about next-generation intranets

Make the intranet "insanely intuitive," through good organization and presentation arrangements.

Meet with users often to see first hand how they use the intranet.

Search for hidden costs, like training and employee tours, that the intranet can cut to justify new applications.

Use tools, such as avatars, to guide less technologically savvy users through the intranet.

Try e-commerce apps on less important internal projects before rolling them out to mission-critical uses.

Donnelley is now searching for the best ways to make all information accessible within a single mouse click. Riley is pondering whether the information is best organized by business units, by initiatives, or according to the needs of newcomers to the organization. "Ultimately, we are looking for how the information can be categorized according to each individual end user's needs," he says.

Riley schedules meetings with end users, from administration assistants to senior vice presidents, at least two afternoons a week quizzing them about future applications. Mostly, though, he's trying to discern how they use RRDnet by observing how they work at their keyboards. "It keeps me attuned to the needs of end users who don't live in this stuff everyday," he says. "What I've learned so far is reinforcement of the KISS principle--keep it simple, stupid."

He is also finding what applications don't work well on an intranet. "A form that requires 100 fields is not effective on an online browser because it has such a long scroll," Riley says. "It's pretty painful if the user has to fill in 150 variables and after all that, the server kicks it back because he filled out one wrong." For instance, Donnelley created a few prototypes from several paper-based forms that just didn't work well with a testing group. "We determined that over time, most users would enter the absolute minimum amount of data into the fields, which came as no surprise," Riley says. "Since then, our most field-intensive online form consists of less than 10 required fields, with most of the fields preloaded with default values."

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