Background: Things have moved on from the File Share and the Hierarchical Intranet
When first generation intranets were developed almost 20 years ago, access to information was through a simple navigation menu and links; these normally followed the lines of the organisation chart or the conventional filing system and users found information through navigation.
The main problem with this approach is that people think differently, and much company information can logically belong in multiple different places; the result, information hierarchy's don't work for everyone and most people will complain that certain information held in a rigid structure is hard to find.
Depending on your perspective, in this simple example, customer and payroll information could belong in several logical places in the hierarchy
There are several techniques for defining information hierarchy.
Thankfully search technology has matured so that the organisation of information has become much less important.
By classifying or tagging information with a description about it, the same information can appear in search results for multiple different search terms. Even information that wasn't searchable before (such as pictures and scanned handwritten documents) can now be easily classified and found.
Problem solved then? Not quite!
Firstly for search to be effective the terminology used to tag information must be consistent across the organisation otherwise its hard to know what to search for, and secondly, a large proportion of company information isn't stored in documents and systems, it's held inside peoples heads. So how can that be changed?
Capturing Human Knowledge: Out of mind experiences
Tools to capture individual's knowledge have been around for a long time, but recently we have seen adoption explode.
3 approaches in particular are commonly requested as part of a knowledge management project; Wiki's, Blogs and Discussion Boards.
Wikis can be an effective cross business solution for capturing human knowledge and experience in a simple and unfiltered way. If you can type an email, you can contribute to a Wiki. Unlike an email though, your contribution is not passing, it can be accessible to everyone, and visible over the long term. For many, Wiki's are becoming the way of recording the tips and tricks learned in day to day activities of individuals for the benefit of the entire (and future) workforce.
In addition to the written word there is growing interest in the capture and distribution of knowledge through video for key messages and training. This is set to grow further as video capture on our phones and desktops becomes standard practice and modern intranet platforms support the incorporation of rich media.
Blogs are also growing in popularity, most often as a way of messaging out through organisations. Use of Blogs is no longer reserved for the CEO to broadcast the latest message to the company each quarter. Increasingly micro-blogs are being used for day to day communication between small groups. A good example is our virtual classroom solution where teachers use Blogs to organise resources and assignments for their classes and students can comment if they need help or find useful resources to help their peer group.
Discussion boards provide the opposite flow of information. As a popular way of posing a question and gaining feedback, they encourage inclusiveness and provide a direct communication channel on important or urgent issues.
Suddenly by using simple tools, workforces are able to stay connected both day to day and to become true learning organisations by recording the long term experiences of staff.
With all that structured and unstructured information available, the problem now becomes staying up to date with the sheer volume of new information.
How can information be filtered and presented so that I am only exposed to information that's relevant to me?
Avoiding Information Overload: Let's get personal
In our current round of projects we're seeing a drive towards personalising the interface between the individual and the intranet to maximise the relevance of the information delivered.
By capturing a personal profile and allowing individuals to subscribe to the kinds of information they are interested in, intranets are picking up on the interactive features that many staff are familiar with in their personal lives;
Combining these elements allows staff to stay informed without being overwhelmed. The personalised intranet becomes a dynamic environment that is visited often because of relevancy and currency of information displayed for the individual.
Adding alerts and feeds changes the emphasis for staff from visiting the intranet in case there's something new too see, to visiting the intranet (or accessing the same information through email) because there is something new to see.
Is a personalised intranet the right thing for you?
Some of our customers are embracing the personalisation capabilities of modern knowledge management systems, others are evaluating how to integrate personalisation into their culture , and some are resistant, believing much time can be wasted by staff socialising and being distracted.
Whilst intranets used to be cost prohibitive for smaller organisations, this is no longer the case. If your company is struggling along with a messy shared drive, an intranet can offer significant benefits.
SharePoint Online as part of Office 365 offers all of the features described in this article for a low monthly cost per user.
We offer implementation and training services that will get your team up to speed rapidly.