Companies that have been using intranets in their daily business practices over the last two years are finding out what works and, more important, what doesnt. And what doesnt work is forgetting business objectives and not having policies and guidelines.
At Cognitive Communications, an intranet strategy and application development firm based in New York City, one key issue we provide counsel for is establishing these rules of the road, policies and guidelines for intranets.
Intranets are agents of change. Once companies have established the reasons why they want to affect change using an intranet (strategy development), the next critical step is creating parameters for making that change happen. These parameters -- communicated to users as policies and guidelines -- are crucial to a companys intranet, not only to get it off the ground, but also to keep it in line with the sites strategy and the companys business objectives.
Companies that develop intranet sites without any initial guidelines and overarching strategies are now finding that employees dont know how to interact with this new work tool. Without a structure to define behavior surrounding the intranet, employees lack the basic tools to understand how the site can be useful to them or how to contribute their ideas.
One client of Cognitive Communications was an early adopter of intranet technology. This hi-tech company eagerly embraced their intranet project and saw it as an ideal vehicle for fostering its open culture of sharing and learning. After six months of planning and strategizing, this company launched an intranet. There were no guidelines with regard to content or contributing, allowing anyone to publish content wherever and whenever they wanted -- with no regard to file size, navigational scheme or how the content fit into the sites overall strategy,
Three years later, this company is re-thinking this policy and realizing the necessity of establishing rules, such as a guideline for publishing content. The company has realized that in order to share knowledge among their constituents and allow them to disseminate information that is meaningful to them, they must implement guidelines on how to categorize content, who can publish, what they can publish and where it is located on the intranet site.
Understanding the Issues
There are many issues to consider when developing a set of polices and guidelines for your companys intranet. Some issues are technical (naming conventions, for example) and some are political (who funds content on an intranet). At Cognitive, we have identified over 20 main issues including: access, confidentiality and privacy, content and contributing, feedback, and linking.
What type of guidelines your company develops around these issues will depend on your companys culture, business objectives and the strategy for your site. As you develop these rules of the road, keep in mind that intranets should be used to create open rooms, places to share information, and not private spaces. Remember that your intranet should reflect the companys culture, but not mirror its hierarchical structure.
Content and Contributing
Companies face many issues when considering rules for employee contributions to the intranet. Criteria and appropriateness of content need to be identified and defined. Will departments, and individual employees, be allowed to develop their own sites? Will personal home pages be allowed? Where will the funding for intranet content come from?
Rules for contributing also need to be addressed. Who can contribute? What will be the procedures, the process for contribution? Who decides on links to the corporate home page? Who decides on which links, overall, are appropriate?
By the People, For the People
To help find answers to some of these critical questions and to help guide the intranet project itself, many companies create a guidelines steering committee, often made up of individuals from one or more sponsoring departments, such as Corporate Communications, Human Resources, Sales, Marketing and the Information Technology group. By establishing key contacts in a cross-section of departments, there is more assurance that the intranet will be well represented organizationally and ultimately, more effective. In addition, a collaborative approach to developing guidelines is necessary since one guideline will ultimately affect another.
Finally, keep in mind that as your corporation and employees gain more intranet experience -- and, as your site expands and grow -- you will want to revisit your policy and guidelines often for refinement and possible revisions.
Susan Wiener is a Principal and Co-founder of Cognitive Communications. Kim Hanson, ABC, is a Senior Associate, Communications.