posted 2 Apr 2003 in Volume 6 Issue 7
On the web: Intranet restructuring at Deloitte & Touche
Having successfully launched an intranet at Deloitte & Touche, Samantha Fanning soon realised that the game was not over. A couple of months after the site had gone live, Fanning’s team revisited the structure, navigation and classification system of the intranet to align it with external developments and internal strategies.
Intranets work for myriad reasons. They can be cost effective, offer low maintenance and achieve a high ROI. And they can be a serious headache. For the Irish arm of Deloitte & Touche, with locations in three cities, developing our intranet allowed us to at least start putting a structure on a wealth of information, in disparate locations and in multiple formats. The chief aim was staff communication; the net result, better client communication.
Professional services firms are not known as great communicators, thanks to the importance of client confidentiality and the sensitive nature of the work. Knowledge-management initiatives (both internal and external) have done much to change that perception, but the education process is ongoing. If I know where the coffee machine is, if I can do my job without recourse to another department, if I hear the news at a cigarette break, why do I need an intranet? The answer is simple. We hire over 100 graduates each year, who each need a reference point for the firm, from the most basic how-tos, to rules of engagement and client interaction. We have over 100 support staff (many of whom are working on temporary or short-term contracts) who need to know what happens in each department. We have a commitment to ongoing learning and professional development for all staff via online training. No-one, despite what they may think, works in a vacuum.
And isn’t it all terribly easy? Do a bit of research, choose a vendor or buy an off-the-shelf application, talk to a few people in the company about their needs, classify the information and away you go. Not so.
What do we want to say?
The distribution of hard-copy material is not only expensive, it also involves extremely high maintenance. Latest research indicates that approximately 18 per cent of corporate printed material is out of date within a month. With that in mind the intranet had to be a repository for client and staff communications material, as well as the mundane (but ultimately work-life enhancing) details such as how to request a courier, report a technical problem or answer a client question.
It is also accepted that productivity increases where information is readily accessible, while communication costs are reduced when phone calls, couriers, faxes, etc, can be cut back, or eliminated, in favour of digital storage or data exchange systems.
But how do you put an architecture in place that answers the needs of several different service lines within the one organisation?
How do we say it?
Some believe that the operational structure of an organisation governs its intranet if it is to become an effective communications tool. Certainly no company is so small it won’t benefit from a centrally managed, user-defined communications system. The issue for us was answering the needs of several different service lines, each with a different definition of the basic terms one would expect to find on an intranet.
An external agency was commissioned to create an information architecture and made the recommendation, in line with current thoughts, to classify the site operationally rather than organisationally, so within tax, audit or consulting you navigate the site based on the information you need to do your job, not by the department you work in.
Fine in theory, except, as stated, several different service lines created several different definitions for the same terms. The tax department expected to find something very specific under a heading ‘policy and procedures’, while audit had a different understanding of ‘tools and techniques’. We were also faced with a multitude of top-level homepages for each of the topics, and further homepages for service lines represented within those sections – and no-one to take ownership of them.
If the aim of a classification system is to organise information in the way the user searches for it then it should obviously be an evolving, organic list of terms for services and industries. It should be a support system for navigation and provide access to required information. More importantly, correctly done it should connect stakeholders.
It was a couple of months after the initial launch that the issues, as outlined above, in addition to the increasing amounts of information being added to the site, made us realise we had to revisit our structure and navigation. Based on feedback from users, we realised that we would have to narrow our classification system, making it more intuitive and flexible, and move from a solely topic-based intranet to a more generic one, with multiple classifications for the same pieces of information. The motivation to change, though, ultimately came from developments external to the firm, where a number of significant drivers required consideration:
- Requirement to market by industry sector – the changing face of our market necessitated a change in how we promoted our services. There was a growing need to cross-sell multi-functional services in a more competitive environment. As the firm started to work in more cross-functional teams, and increased the amount of multi-disciplinary assignments, we needed to facilitate increased communication between service lines;
- Knowledge-management initiatives – the concept of knowledge management stopped being a buzzword and became a viable channel to increase revenue. Sharing knowledge increases the quality of the service we offer to clients. In an increasingly networked marketplace, expectations on response times are constantly improving and the fastest way to respond to clients is if you have the information to hand;
- Data protection and intelligent use of database – there is a legal onus on companies and organisations to protect the information they store on clients, customers and alliance partners. As controls become tighter the education process becomes more efficient, there is increased buy-in and vendors’ costs come down.
Back to basics
A site audit was required now that all departments were up and running in a way they were happy to promote, so we conducted a high-level examination of the top-level pages and used that to understand what the content was offering users.
Problems we identified with topic/operational structure were that:
- The current structure was not intuitive enough for our ‘lowest common denominator’;
- It created myriad homepages but no-one to claim ownership of them;
- There was nowhere (other than homepage) to flag information of general interest;
- Too much drilling down was needed to access information;
- There was no starting point if you wanted to know about other groups;
- New people were easily lost;
- Core information, such as IT, was split between too many sections.
The benefits of departmental classification are that it:
- Creates easily maintained homepage for each relevant link;
- Creates easier to navigate site;
- Creates a starting point for people to read about colleagues’ work.
If you already have everyone on board and regularly using the intranet, it is sometimes just a matter of leading them into the new structure. In our case, we were dealing with a lot of traditional thinking. How can we sell our intranet as an efficient information resource if users needed to re-educate themselves so soon after the initial launch? We would effectively be undoing all the work that went into the first phase of the roll-out.
We found that the best way to deal with this issue was to mirror a structure they were used to and multi- classify (taking each service line’s definitions of the same terms into account). It is worth noting that this is really only an option with a database-driven site. Manually replicating information is a poor use of time and resources, and only pleases your audience in the short term.
So each department had now decided what information it wanted to publish, keep and replace, it had identified the people to publish it and now had a navigation system and classification anyone, from the newest to the longest serving, could understand.
Our intranet was created using a content-management tool built by Deloitte’s Dutch firm, the SMT, which allows for a tree structure site, a document and image repository, and a user-friendly interface that required no HTML skills. Several sites could be managed via the one application and with several levels of access.
Organisation and navigation
- The operational structure of an organisation governs its intranet if it is to become an effective communications tool – how do I do my job? What information do I need to do my job?
- A good checkpoint is designing it with the ‘new starter’ in mind: you shouldn’t have to know the organisation inside out before you get a handle on the intranet classification system;
- To keep information relevant it must be planned around the most easily updated structure with defined homepage ownership.
We initially organised by topic. However, this eventually caused major navigation issues for anyone not familiar with the company or if you just wanted to find out a little about each service line.
It also created a wealth of homepages but no-one to take ownership of them. We found a way around this (without having to revert totally to an organisationally navigated site) by creating homepages for each service line and linking them from the homepage of each topic. As long as addressing is carefully monitored this is a simple solution that takes account of all browsing habits.
Promoting use of the site
As the firm grows, all staff e-mails of a news or non-work-related variety become a serious issue. To drive people to the intranet, and have them view it as the place for such items, you may consider a ban on all-staff e-mails or require manager/head of department sign-off. It means news, events and staff communications will all go through the intranet and a regularly e-mailed newsletter can highlight new items, links, etc.
Firm-wide bulletins, new wins, starters/leavers etc, are all great ways of getting people on the site: if a mail has to be sent, then it doesn’t give all the information, it just says ‘check the intranet’.
Our intranet loads with IE automatically, and staff can’t change the login scripts. Therefore by regularly changing the image with the lead story you attract people’s eye before they navigate away or on to other web-based practice software. Traffic spikes when a new image goes live and people see the update.
Regular promotions and prize giveaways also generate interest (marketing companies, venues and distributors are always keen to link up with large organisations and do joint promotions).
Ease of use will draw in even the least tech-savvy individual – if you make it as easy as possible to access their favourite websites, or news providers, practice software etc, they are more likely to use the intranet as their homepage.
Sites need active management with regular updating, latest news, facts, changes and general housekeeping. We came across two problems: keeping content teams motivated to publish their information (or more significantly, information other groups would be interested in) and getting groups to consider how their information is presented on the site.
- Motivation – a team of content providers had been nominated for each group/floor/service line to update the site, with content editors approving the work, but enthusiasm falls off quickly. This ties in with KM initiatives: ask a manager to nominate the most ‘sociable’ person in each group – someone who will ‘spread the word’ and someone that if you call them up a couple of times a month with requests for news, will normally know who to ask. Someone in the middle of the management structure is best: too senior and it will get passed around, too junior and sign-off becomes a laborious process;
- Presentation – when assisting departments to organise their content we found they didn’t think in terms of their own website use. We usually put an example to them: the Revenue Commission updates its site with information on a new piece of legislation. You have to read it as part of your job, but it becomes a chore. Why? What actually frustrates you about the presentation? Why is it so difficult to read? What was your experience of the site that left you so annoyed with their structure?
Samantha Fanning is content-management specialist at Deloitte & Touche. She can be contacted at email@example.com