The Importance of Relevance in Intranet CommunicationsBy: Nigel Davies
The desire to leverage intranet communications is one of the principal reasons for intranet deployment in a wide range of companies. Real time information flows on intranets provide data and messages to an audience and ultimately encourage engagement and participation.
However, many intranet platforms do not allow companies to adjust communications permissions, or the messages are general – this lack of relevance to the end user significantly reduces the engagement generated, and lowers the value of the communication.
The value of intranet communications can be illustrated using four of the most common ways that modern intranets communicate with the user base.
In each case, the intranet platforms will be using an integrated permission system that can control the information exposure according to the individual user's identity, or their membership in functional groups or roles.
News systems in modern intranet platforms have the concept of permission-based channels. Intranet communications allow news to be segregated so that irrelevant news does not appear on the home page, or in any other location on the company's intranets, if it is of little interest to that particular user.
For example: detailed technical product news might be very relevant to engineers in a company, and possibly to marketing – but irrelevant to accounting or HR staff. At a basic level, releasing such news to the wrong audience through intranets – normally too broad a user base – devalues the intranet communications through clutter. Significant collaborative engagement and learning opportunities for the company are then lost due to such poor use of intranet platforms.
A clear example of this would be a new goal in a large corporation to reduce waste throughout the company by 50%. This would often be announced as headline news on the intranet's home page, authored by the CEO and providing general information on why this is important for the company as a whole. This certainly meets the basic goal of relaying a business objective through intranet communications, but is not focused on each user.
A better way to utilize this function of intranet platforms would be to plan a series of messages from each department head that echoed the communication from the CEO across each of the company's intranets, but then put that message into specific contexts and goals for each department. By using engagement functionality within the news from the department head, either by creating this departmental news as a blog, or at least by enabling commenting – users of intranets can interact and understand their own role in contributing to this top level business objective.
Intranet platforms will almost always have menu systems that provide content-managed pages for various operational units or services of the business. For example these may be general intranet communications, like a departmental summary page containing various pages of more detailed content in a call out or sidebar menu.
However, I have noticed that in the great majority of intranets there is only one active menu that is identical for all users. Because content managed information is often used to provide context, and to provide links to specific resources such as detailed documents, policies or project plans – it is assumed that such general intranet communications would be equally useful for all users.
However this is not the case with all intranets. Modern intranet platforms that allow menus to be built dynamically for each user provide an excellent opportunity to focus the content-managed pages with very little effort or ongoing maintenance once the project has been planned and the initial permission structures implemented.
For example, someone working in the sales department would expect significantly more detailed intranet communications on recent sales results, best practice guidelines, and access to recent collateral and detailed forecasts from a sales menu – often supported and customized by modern intranet platforms. This person would not expect to encounter the same menu system as seen by someone from another area of the business.
Content-managed pages have become very powerful, they are much more than one dimensional web pages on intranets – they often contain embedded business processes, smart objects and components that provide real time views of other parts of the intranet or external systems. It is therefore increasingly important to focus this information according to the interests of the user.
With the rise of enterprise 2.0 and the drive for innovation and collaboration, companies with an appropriate culture are deploying micro blogging within intranet communications on their intranet platforms.
Focus here requires considerable thought as to the channels that should be presented for all users across intranets, depending on their interests. Too often the system is launched with very general streams only – such as 'sales', 'marketing' and 'people'. However, if the users work in product development or marketing, and the company is focused on five new products – then for these employees it would be much more relevant and exciting to see micro blogging streams that reflect this very granular interest – a stream within the general intranet communications for each of the new products.
Many companies do deploy some kind of key performance indicators (KPI) on intranet platforms – most often as a graphical summary on the intranet's home page. These are normally real time and provide useful summaries of how the business is currently performing against agreed targets.
For many businesses there is a lot of supporting data that goes into each one of the intranet communications areas of the dashboard. For example, a bank might have over a dozen values that it collects to reflect various types of risk and exposure to various products and geographies. In our view, users of intranets should be able to select from various options so that the dashboard shows detailed data for the areas they are interested in and can contribute to – but only summarize information from the performance-related data generated by other departments and functions.
Again, focus on intranet communications is the key – providing detailed data to users that are interested and involved in that particular KPI makes the dashboard significantly more meaningful than presenting the identical summary to all users across all intranet platforms.
By using a modern permission system, the granularity that can be obtained in intranets allows companies to focus messages on each user and thus encourage interest and ultimately engagement and participation.
© Copyright 2011, Nigel Davies
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