Developing an Intranet Content Management Strategy
Tim Wilkes Kelly McCurry
ScratchCat Communication Consulting ScratchCat Communication Consulting
Our client is a Canadian organization that provides financial solutions (loans, insurance and business services) to the agricultural sector. In 2003, its fledgling intranet was suffering from navigation and content issues.
In a bid to move the intranet from an under-funded "off the side of the desk" project to a business-critical tool that would increase productivity, the organization researched and purchased an enterprise content management system (Interwoven's TeamSite) and hired an intranet manager. The intranet manager brought us in to develop and help implement a content management strategy for the intranet.
Our initial assessment indicated that the organization's intranet wasn't meeting the needs of its users or the business. Content creation and management costs were increasing even as employee productivity and satisfaction levels were decreasing. The organization had realized no return on investment for its content management system.
- The organization didn't have a centralized content development group or qualified writers in the business units. There were no unified content standards or processes. Content was produced and maintained by the subject matter experts who didn't have the necessary skills or time to produce quality content.
- The information architecture and interface design didn't make it easy for users to find information or create a positive user experience.
- Content didn't meet minimum usability and accessibility standards. It consisted primarily of Word documents and Excel spreadsheets hidden behind HTML menus. These documents were difficult to find, scan, or use online.
- The organization had a powerful content management system, but it wasn't being used to automate workflow or manage content effectively. It simply served up the paper-based documents, which were more difficult to use online than when they were distributed as paper documents.
Goals and opportunities
Our goals for this project were to deliver an information architecture plan and a content management strategy that the client could implement and build on for several years. We wanted to help the organization develop new standards and processes for developing and maintaining internal content through a centralized content management group. Specifically, we set out to:
- Support the organization's commitment to customer service, innovation, leadership, and knowledge management.
- Make information more accessible and usable. In the early stages of developing its intranet, the organization's priority was to make information available online. While that was a step in the right direction, the organization now needed to realize significant productivity gains and employee satisfaction.
- Reduce costs for developing and managing information. We wanted to help the organization maximize its investment in TeamSite to automate workflow and manage content. We wanted to help eliminate information silos and duplication of effort and content across the organization.
Given the content management system the organization had purchased, we saw many opportunities for reusing content for multiple audiences and across multiple media. We also planned to leverage the power of the system to support archival, version control, and bilingual content requirements and use metadata to facilitate content relationships and more accurate searching.
What we did and why
We started by doing an inventory of the intranet's content. We met with content developers to review content standards and processes and we studied users' needs.
Based on the results of our analyses, we prepared a comprehensive, long-term content management strategy, documenting priorities, roles and responsibilities, governance, workflow, content standards, and guidelines and metrics for success. We developed information models and metadata dimensions, and then created a new information architecture, layout, and navigation plans.
To test our new architecture, we built a prototype of the first and second navigation levels of the intranet, designed a new search interface, and rewrote two content modules using structured writing principles. The results of the testing were positive. Users were able to learn the new navigation and layout very quickly, and in comparative tests, all users found information more quickly than with the existing site. Those users who preferred to use search found the new interface more comprehensive and intuitive. Only one label posed a problem for our users, so we modified it based on their comments.
Once the new architecture, navigation and layout were approved, we began work on a pilot project. We redeveloped and repurposed the Human Resources policies to demonstrate how quality content should be structured for online use.
The biggest challenge was the organization's attitude towards internal documentation. It was viewed as necessary overhead expense rather than a valuable corporate asset.
Another challenge was the technology. The technical side of the intranet was handled by an in-house web team, rather than the corporate IT department. While the web team was comfortable with web design and HTML, implementing and managing an enterprise level content management system was outside their experience. The web team faced a steep learning curve with TeamSite.
Added to these challenges was the reluctance of the subject matter experts to relinquish their role as content developers to the centralized content management group or to adopt the content standards and guidelines.
The redesigned intranet was only recently launched, so we're still in the process of gathering information to assess the tangible benefits of the project, but here's what we know so far...
- User feedback about the structure and navigation has been very positive.
- Usage has doubled from a year ago.
- A recent survey by a Human Resources consultant indicates employees view the intranet as the leading source of performance support in the organization.
- We decreased the word count of the Human Resources policies by 40%; the content is modular, concise, scannable-and less costly to translate.
While we're pleased with the outcome of the project so far, not everything has been positive. Some problems stem from the web team's inability to implement TeamSite in the way needed to support the information architecture and content management strategy. For example, search was implemented incorrectly. Metadata was not implemented, affecting not only the search, but also the ability to reuse and link to related content. Workflow was not implemented, affecting the automation of the content creation and maintenance processes.
Some of the business-critical content is still being developed by subject matter experts, who are not following the structured writing standards and guidelines set out in the content management strategy. They produce long, convoluted content that's difficult to link to and impossible to reuse.
In addition, the organization didn't establish a number of the baseline metrics set out in the content management strategy, making it difficult to obtain a true measure of the project's success.
While content management is business process, not technology, enterprise content management requires the business process be supported by the chosen technology. The quality of the technical implementation is as critical to the success of the project as the quality of the strategy-and in this case, the strategy was built around leveraging the capabilities of TeamSite. As long as the organization uses TeamSite as an authoring tool rather than a content management system, it won't fully realize the goals and benefits set out in its content management strategy.
In implementing content management, compromise needs to be weighed carefully. Throughout implementation, the content management team made what it thought were small compromises to save time and avoid conflict with subject matter experts, graphics designers, and technical staff. But these compromises caused usability issues, e.g., using a fixed-pixel layout resulted in a printing problem for users. And, not capturing baseline metrics means that it's now difficult to demonstrate return on investment.