Since the conception of the private Internet in 1995, the intranet has morphed into a myriad of communications tools. It’s a private browser-accessible space for employees to manage documents, share calendars, and collaborate 24/7, as well as a place where remote workers, suppliers, partners, and clients can collaborate and share critical business and commerce information.
For IT managers, it can also serve as a tremendous communication vehicle that can enhance user relationships, as well as put IT efforts and accomplishments on center stage.
Intranets can make IT bulletproof
Discovering new ways to promote an IT department is more critical than ever, according to industry and marketing experts, as it can make the IT contribution very clear to both users and corporate chiefs.
“IT numbers and staff are being cut, outsourcing is happening nationwide,” said Meta Mehling, managing principal of Cupertino, CA-based Meta Mehling & Associates, which specializes in employee and marketing communications.
Mehling said IT executives need to figure out how IT is contributing to the bottom line and bring that message across. An intranet is a great way to highlight how IT is helping to reduce costs, increase revenue, achieve customer satisfaction, and build customer loyalty.
She explained that if an IT manager “can get the conversation around IT being a strategic asset, a strategic weapon for the enterprise, then it will make IT powerful and indispensable.”
But while building and designing the actual intranet can be easy, the actual promotion/marketing effort usually doesn’t go as smoothly.
“Promoting IT within the organization can be quite difficult; but it’s actually one of the keys things to focus on if you want to build a successful IT organization,” said Akim Canton, VP of planning and IT strategy at Cable & Wireless Panama. Canton, whose team built an internal IT intranet, believes it is a key way to accomplish the goal.
“As part of our intranet, we found it valuable to create internal pages to promote IT as a core area, and to promote our services across the whole organization.”
The payback on the effort can be multipronged, according to Elton Billings, manager of Web production at Remedy, a service management software company based in Mountain View, CA.
“If such an IT intranet is done well, its impact on the enterprise can be tremendous,” noted Billings, who runs an intranet discussion site called Cluebox. He explained that by providing people with access to information, the intranet allows them to help themselves, and, at the same time, speed the overall IT effort.
“By making it easy to request help on a project or with a problem, the focus of efforts can be on the business, and not on figuring out how to deal with the IT department.”
Putting IT in the spotlight
John Gerstner, CEO of Intranet Insider, a popular resource for intranet professionals, said an IT intranet also has another good benefit—it puts a spotlight on the usually unnoticed work of the IT staff.
“Since IT departments are often misunderstood and underappreciated, this is a good way to get the word out about critical trends, changes, and needs [pertaining to IT] along with the IT vision,” he said.
Linda Giang, an independent program analyst and Web developer in Silver Spring, MD, knows first-hand the importance of an IT-centric intranet. She worked on an extensive effort for Intel Corp.’s treasury department a year ago. Giang said the site did wonders for her and her fellow staffers.
“The intranet definitely had a positive impact on the IT staff in terms of generating a sense of pride,” she said, adding, “by publishing group or individual achievements and accomplishments, it acknowledged the worth and value of the IT employees.”
Elements of a successful intranet
One of the hurdles in actually getting an IT intranet up and running is deciding exactly what it should incorporate, and what it should offer to and for end users and the IT staff itself. Essentially, a case for everything and the kitchen sink could be made for inclusion, according to intranet creators.
For example, the tech intranet at Central Provident Fund Board of Singapore provides photos of IT staff and management.
“It was set up to introduce our IT division’s mission and vision, and we included photos so users know who we are and which department we work for,” explained Stephanie Ng, an assistant director of IT strategic planning and innovation. “In addition, we introduced an online newsletter to raise users’ awareness through articles on our in-house developments, plans, directions and market trends, and new technologies.”
At Cable & Wireless Panama, Akim Canton and staff had some different ideas when it came to their tech-centric portal. “We set up an IT portal within the corporate intranet. We publish IT security and virus news; tips and techniques to improve work, customer surveys, and how IT is working in different initiatives to improve infrastructure and compliance of SLAs for customer satisfaction.”
Canton added that the material is updated weekly, and users receive an e-mail alert to check out the latest news posted.
Max Burgstahler, director of MIS at Decatur Public Schools in Decatur, IL, has a staff of 13 providing service for 2,000 PCs. His intranet goal was to make certain his staff was getting its due. He and his team created an intranet site called “MISWeb,” which features the following elements:
- Latest news about technology changes
- Frequently asked questions
- Hardware standards and purchasing guidelines
- Software standards and purchasing guidelines
- Explanation of the Help Desk process
- District’s technology plan
- MIS policies
- Current upgrade projects
- IT vision, mission, and strategies
- Contact info
“The site really helps us communicate very clearly with our customers,” said Burgstahler, adding that “very often, instead of lengthy explanations of projects and policies [in meetings], we can say, ‘Hey, why don’t you check out our intranet for that info?’ and that info is consistent and timely.”
The tech leader added that the site has proved to be a great morale booster for the staff.
“We decided that we would post pictures of ourselves involved in personal hobbies instead of the usual boring work pictures. One staff member is pictured on her motorcycle, another in her garden…. I’m sitting behind my drum kit!”
Meta Mehling believes that IT staffers should be encouraged to have fun with their intranet, as that tone will help build a relationship with other employees and keep them coming back for more.
“Why not offer a Web cam—ever wonder who’s there [in IT] at 2 AM when you’re trying to download something, and it’s not coming through and you’re pissed? So the intranet could say, ‘Here’s the night shift!’ It could also include ‘Did You Know’ facts, such as ”We have this many servers online…or did you know that every night we back up as much data as fills the House of Congress?”
A transformative vehicle
Intranet Insider’s John Gerstner even goes a step further on how an IT-based intranet can add value for the IT staff.
“The intranet could and should be a key channel for showing what's going on in the company and in the industry [to the higher level leaders].” He said there is immense value in understanding and contributing to the CEO's vantage point. Mehling agrees that the IT-centric intranet should support a firm’s corporate productivity goals, such as how IT is helping cut costs and bringing in ROI. It could also provide a place for the Web stat knowledge base and explain how IT is tracking overall customer trends and usage while disseminating that information into useful bites for high-level players in the firm.
“This kind of thing will help executives forecast their corporate strategies more efficiently, and ultimately make the company more competitive,” explained Mehling.
Mehling noted that while most IT staffers are responsible for support issues, there are some interested in bringing transformation within the industry.
“Look at what IT is doing for Apple Computer; they’re changing the rules of the game,” he said, noting that Apple’s i-Tunes Music Store has seen over five million songs downloaded, and sold its one millionth iPod digital music player since launching this past April.
“Think of what IT at Apple has to be accountable for,” said Mehling.
Coming up next—real life advice on getting started!
IT leaders interested in get a running start on developing an IT-centric intranet should stay tuned! TechRepublic contributor Larry Lange’s next article will offer real-life case-study advice from IT professionals who have designed and built effective IT-centric intranets.
“If the IT people at Apple just sat back and just said, ‘We’re an IT computer company and something like this has never been done here,’ then Steve Jobs would’ve fired the lot of them I’m sure.”