Monday, April 29, 2013

Our Imaginary Scorecard (Part 2 of Library Intranets in Academia: Chicken nipples and fish boots?)

Welcome to part 2 of this journey into an Academic Library Intranet Review.
In Part 1 I sketched out the technologies, content and management practices of our current Intranet.

What is an Intranet?

To me an intranet is a business tool that provides access (in the broadest sense) to information and applications using network protocols (in the broadest sense) to assist the staff achieve organisational goals (not going to say 'in the broadest sense' this time but will add the caveat that the assistance to achievement can be indirect, say for example if an corporate goal was to sell x widgets, then it's conceivable that an intranet with bulletin board for staff interaction could lead to a conversation that identified a previously untapped market segment in a different geographic location).

For maximum impact minimum effort I think it is useful to consider what Intranet is meant to do and consider our experience. I'm basing this on the Wikipedia description of an Intranet.

Imaginary Scorecard

So how does our Intranet stack up against the key functions laid out in Wikipedia in my hypercritical opinion?

1. Workforce productivity

Wikipedia says: Intranets can help users to locate and view information faster and use applications relevant to their roles and responsibilities (...) increasing employees' ability to perform their jobs faster, more accurately, and with confidence that they have the right information. It also helps to improve the services provided to the users.

My Subjective Score 2/10

Alan Says: With no search engine and an Information Architecture partially based on organisational structure finding relevant information is only slightly easier than on our team silo file shares. Due to poor (or no) information management compliance there is lots of duplication, no way of checking if the version of a document you have found is the latest, and massive document bloat from the archiving of items without thought to their lifecycle.  When functions cut across team boundaries more confusion and duplication ensues.  All staff I've talked to bemoan the lack of a search engine and new staff are very bemused when faced with where to look for a document, often not realising there are team file shares as well as the Intranet. There are no codified rules for what type of information goes where.

2. Time

Wikipedia says: Intranets allow organizations to distribute information to employees on an as-needed basis; Employees may link to relevant information at their convenience, rather than being distracted indiscriminately by email.

My Subjective Score 3/10

Alan Says: While we are generally quite good at storing information that will be retrieved on an as needed basis (various statistics, team reports, workshop videos, strategic plans and project monitoring documents). We fail on making them findable - and often we opt to link to these documents in emails to help people find them, so apart from the email storage space we save we haven't really cut down indiscriminate email. Often there isn't an awareness in staff that the Intranet will hold the information they seek.

3. Communication

Wikipedia says: Intranets can serve as powerful tools for communication within an organization, vertically strategic initiatives that have a global reach throughout the organization. The type of information that can easily be conveyed is the purpose of the initiative and what the initiative is aiming to achieve, who is driving the initiative, results achieved to date, and who to speak to for more information. By providing this information on the intranet, staff have the opportunity to keep up-to-date with the strategic focus of the organization. Some examples of communication would be chat, email, and or blogs. A great real world example of where an intranet helped a company communicate is when Nestle had a number of food processing plants in Scandinavia. Their central support system had to deal with a number of queries every day. When Nestle decided to invest in an intranet, they quickly realized the savings. McGovern says the savings from the reduction in query calls was substantially greater than the investment in the intranet.

My Subjective Score 3/10

Alan Says: We are pretty good about top down communication via our Intranet in the more strategic end of the spectrum, but on operational matters we fall down, there is no one clear channel for sharing current issues/workarounds/fixes.  We've tried so many things, the JustBetweenUs newsletter has died another death after we tried rehosting it within Blackboard. We don't maintain any sort of a searchable knowledge base of common issues/solutions. The documentation for a known issue is just as likely to be in a web page, libguide, intranet page, poster, printed handout, blog entry, email, streaming media outlet or someone's head.

Particularly disappointing was the University's roll out of ServiceNow (complete with CRM/KB functionality) that we were not invited to participate in.

Being multi campus and geographically isolated from each other we are trying various techniques to share information - we have sessions where local experts discuss something widely relevant (and these are recorded and stored on the Intranet) and we are increasingly using video conferencing and telepresence tools. We are also toying with twitter and tumblr as possible ways of more generally sharing internal news and professional development materials.

In this year's operational plan there are a skills audit and reviews of our internal communications and marketing which overlap fortuitously with an Intranet review.

4. Web publishing 

Wikipedia says: Allows cumbersome corporate knowledge to be maintained and easily accessed throughout the company using hypermedia and Web technologies. Examples include: employee manuals, benefits documents, company policies, business standards, news feeds, and even training, can be accessed using common Internet standards (Acrobat files, Flash files, CGI applications). Because each business unit can update the online copy of a document, the most recent version is usually available to employees using the intranet.

My Subjective Score 4/10

Alan Says: We do make procedures, training materials, even blog and twitter feeds available through the Intranet - but we fall down in the idea that the only version is the Intranet version, a lot of operational procedure documentation is stored on file shares we have little confidence that the version of a procedure is the latest, or only available, one.

There is patchy understanding across the organisation of information management practices as they relate to document structure and life cycle. Few staff use embedded metadata to record additional information about the document and its creation and maintenance. Word is our most popular document creation tool, HTML skills are not widely held, and the primacy of print is still evident. An understanding of the value of marking up content in heading hierarchies in Word documents is not widespread, although the public website through UCM does require a knowledge of style application for successful web publishing (Word source documents are harvested into XML and UCM then publishes them as HTML for viewing (or Word for editing), the process limits you from higher Word and HTML functionality.

5. Business operations and management 

Wikipedia says: Intranets are also being used as a platform for developing and deploying applications to support business operations and decisions across the internetworked enterprise.

My Subjective Score 5/10

Alan Says:We don't do a lot of this, although we do have some gadgets using PHP and JS to perform repetitive tasks that are vulnerable to human error if done manually (constructing proxied URLs for example).  Enterprise systems for the most part fall outside the scope of the Library Intranet, and are more likely provided by other business unit's extranets (Finance reports and HR systems, for example).  The intranet has been used to develop packages for later deployment into Blackboard - but for the most part the current Operating Environment is very cutback Apache  - no scope for introducing PHP libraries or MySQL for example, we do this on other servers as either public web or extranet.

6. Cost-effective 

Wikipedia says: Users can view information and data via web-browser rather than maintaining physical documents such as procedure manuals, internal phone list and requisition forms. This can potentially save the business money on printing, duplicating documents, and the environment as well as document maintenance overhead. [HR example removed]

My Subjective Score 7/10

Alan Says: Mostly we do not rely on large printed procedural manuals, although quite often it is staff preference to print out a copy of an oft repeated procedure - which can make promoting awareness to  the changes in master documents problematic, particularly if a staff member is absent when a change notification is circulated. We are long past needing a printed phone directory, but printed lists of library staff telephone numbers are still regularly distributed.

7. Enhance collaboration 

Wikipedia says: Information is easily accessible by all authorised users, which enables teamwork.

My Subjective Score 4/10

Alan Says: While all staff have access to the Intranet there is little document collaboration. Publishing is restricted to a small group of staff, based on skills alone (everyone has write permissions). Dreamweaver use (or html editing) is not a widespread skill.  The team silo file shares have been partially opened up but I doubt many staff have access to every share.  The faculty and liaison librarians in Townsville and Cairns did initiate using the Intranet to share Information Literacy training materials (saving documents to it as a SAMBA file share, but navigating via the web using some simple scripts I hacked together to list files and traverse folders).  Usage stats indicate it isn't getting much use. My gut tells me what collaboration on documents there is, is managed using email attachments and 'Track Changes'.

8. Built for one audience

Wikipedia says: Many companies dictate computer specifications which, in turn, may allow Intranet developers to write applications that only have to work on one browser (no cross-browser compatibility issues). Being able to specifically address your "viewer" is a great advantage. Since Intranets are user-specific (requiring database/network authentication prior to access), you know exactly who you are interfacing with and can personalize your Intranet based on role (job title, department) or individual ("Congratulations Jane, on your 3rd year with our company!").

My Subjective Score 0/10

Alan Says: We do have homogenous IT (Windows 7) although any browser is possible most staff use one of the three most popular  (IE, FF and Chrome). The number of tablet computers is expanding as well, I think least a quarter of staff would have one or a smart phone. We have the technical capability of customising the Intranet experience based on the identity of the user this have never been done.

9. Promote common corporate culture 

Wikipedia says: Every user has the ability to view the same information within the Intranet.

My Subjective Score 8/10

Alan Says: Generally the higher levels of management are committed to placing documents on the Intranet where all staff can see them. I mark our Intranet down on how easily findable these documents are, and also subtract a mark because it appears our corporate culture is such that we would rarely look for those documents in any case.

10. Immediate updates

Wikipedia says: When dealing with the public in any capacity, laws, specifications, and parameters can change. Intranets make it possible to provide your audience with "live" changes so they are kept up-to-date, which can limit a company's liability.

My Subjective Score 2/10

Alan Says: Editing and adding items is cumbersome, there is no organisational commitment to using the Intranet for this purpose, and generally it is not in our corporate DNA to look for information when we can ask someone else.

11. Supports a distributed computing architecture

Wikipedia says: The intranet can also be linked to a company’s management information system, for example a time keeping system.

My Subjective Score 2/10

Alan Says: The current operating environment is restrictive in terms of coding possibilities, and generally management information systems are either rudimentary (if in house) or are black boxes controlled by other business units with other priorities.

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