We did a post on Intranetizen a while ago called Intranet Features That Really Should Exist. It was intended to be a bit tongue in cheek, but the conversation in the comments made me think – there’s genuinely something we can all learn from a list of intranet features that, on the face of it, seem a bit ludicrous.
Is everyone familiar with Maslow’s heirarchy of needs? Before you get anywhere near self-actualisation, you need to ensure basic needs like shelter and food are ok. That’s why the lunch menu is the most popular content on the intranet.
Why not capitalise on this by adding some advanced features, like an alert to tell people when their favourite dish is on the menu. Using this kind of app, you can ensure your users don’t miss out?
Or a feature that scans your team’s calendars, figures out who’s free and books the time.
Advanced features could allow you to blacklist people you don’t want to have lunch with, creating convenient appointments whenever they invite you to join them.
Is the canteen busy? You need a webcam or other splendidly over-engineered function that allows you to pick your moment to go to lunch.
Or a handy app that lets people know who’s bought Krispy Kremes into the office today, so they can just happen to swing by.
Can also be used in reverse by people who are keen to avoid temptation.
Enterprise Social Networks allow anyone to post their thoughts, even people who use moronic phrases like YOLO!
Idiot filter can be set up to filter all such posts from your feed – or even prevent them being posted in the first place.
Why ask your users to waste valuable time looking out of the window, or looking it up on the internet, when you can give over some homepage real estate to answer the question: is it raining out?
And Microsoft make it so easy with Sharepoint!
Everyone loves a cat gif. Create an ‘in case of meltdown, click here for LOLz’ button.
See workplace stress levels go down. Your users will love you.
Ok, so these might seem silly. But some of the greatest value intranets can deliver isn’t in simply publishing, but in streamlining business processes and making work easier. For example by automating simple tasks, or using simple functionality to make the organisation work better. An intranet which really delivers business value is one which helps people to get their work done, and helps them feel more engaged and informed.
What works for one intranet doesn’t work for all – our intranets need to meet the needs of our organisations. And sometimes those might be very specific needs.
And as such, some of these ideas might actually have a place.
Let’s look at some examples…
Over the last four decades or so, IT systems have transformed organisations and delivered some big productivity gains, by automating and streamlining core processes like IT and HR. But by focusing on big-ticket macro systems, we overlook the impact of the micro.
Employees are, for the most part, committed to doing a good job. All too often, though, the organisations we work for don’t make it easy. Getting work done means overcoming tens of inefficiencies every single day.
Often these are small, affecting only a specific team or type of role. Others are more widespread, and affect almost everyone. But together these affect the overall productivity of organisations, and those minor irritants and pain points start to stack up and leave people feeling frustrated and disengaged.
At the same time, the continued reliance on manual processes or workarounds leads to missed opportunities, lost productivity and duplication of effort.
As intranet managers, we can do something about that.
In 2004, Clay Shirky wrote an essay on what he called Situated Software; “software designed for a particular social situation or context”. Some people have described it was “opportunistic software”.
He predicted that “the design center of a dozen users, so hard to serve in the past, may become normal practice… we’ll see a rise in these small-form applications”.
And he was right; the emergence of the smartphone, in particular, has given rise to a landscape in which whatever you need to do, there’s an app for that. But where we’re really seeing the value of small-form applications designed for their own specific social context is on intranets.
Take, for example, Framestore, who have a visual effects project management tool on their intranet. It’s a custom-built workflow management tool, supporting the organisation’s core business by helping artists manage their visual effects projects. A specific need for a specific group of people, removing the pain points to help make the working day a bit easier.
The engineering firm Arup have a range of these kind of things, from a project management tool to a mobile app that allows people to crate work portfolios for sales on the move.
This is, to my mind, the holy grail of web projects; turning the difficult and complicated into a good user experience that precisely meets the needs of its user group.
Like Shirky’s idea of situated software, this approach to intranet design does not embrace scale, generality or completeness as virtues; instead, the focus is on making a product which is designed for a specific group of people in a specific context performing a particular task or set of tasks.
And this is where so many intranet projects fall down. Analysts and managers fail to see the value in an application which benefits only a few hundred users performing a specific task. Instead, projects grow in scope until they’re attempting to meet the needs of myriad groups performing all manner of different tasks – and doing none of them well.
It’s argued that you need scale because web development is so expensive. Yet so much of that expense comes from the requirements of scale itself.
Design, development, testing and release becomes harder and more complex the larger a project is. If a project precisely meets the needs of 200 users, is it necessary to can it in favour of one which less precisely meets the needs of 2000? The former is cheaper and quicker to build, and more likely to meet the identified need.
This kind of thing doesn’t need to be personalised; it is personal to the group from its very inception. The bespoke nature of situated software – or intranet development – means it’s guaranteed not to work at the scale generic apps do, but for that same reason it can work in ways generic software can’t.
Framestore’s animation workflow app isn’t going to scale – but it’s because it doesn’t scale that it meets the needs of its users so well.
Designing for your own users and not generic users, development is grounded in the user community from the start. The result is form-fit tools which more precisely meet the needs of users.
There are thousands of different ways that intranets can deliver tangible benefits – from streamlining a process, to smoothing a pain point, or simply injecting some fun into the working environment.
You might – but you probably don’t – need an ESN idiot filter, or a fridge cam, or a meeting room booking tracker. The important thing to remember is that by identifying user needs, delivering tools that work for your users, even just small groups of users, in order to help them do their jobs better, intranets can deliver real business value.
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THE RIGHT TOOL Deliver business
value by meeting your own organisation’s specific needs - Automating simple tasks - Meeting local business needs - Use intranet functionality to overcome existing challenges
SITUATED SOFTWARE “software designed for
a particular social situation or context” - Doesn’t embrace scale, generality or completeness - Focused instead on designing for a specific need and group of people
FORM-FIT TOOLS By designing for
your own users and not generic users, development is grounded in the user community from the start. The result is form-fit tools which more precisely meet the needs of users.