Intranets represent enterprises’ information architecture. They help an organisation’s staff find information and tools which help them do their jobs. They make it easy to capture, share and find all the information the enterprise has, that might help someone do their job.
Here in Cambridge our intranet comprises several systems. The Old Schools maintain web pages about central administration and services and the admissions process. Departmental and group sites present research and the details of courses of study. Private sites in CamTools (our virtual research and learning environment) are used for collaboration and teaching. This may be the most natural state for us as an organisation, being more public and centrifugal than a business, but it is still useful to compare what other big organisations are finding valuable in their intranets.
Usability guru Jakob Nielsen has just written a useful overview of the “10 Best Intranets” in his consultancy’s annual intranet awards. The “knowledge management” and “ROI” sections in particular make valuable reading for anyone interested in what better course information and technology support for curriculum design would look like, and what benefits they would bring.
Here are some pertinent extracts:
On intranets’ use for knowledge management:
“Companies managed and encouraged innovation by offering users tools for taking ideas and improvements from conception to completion.”
This sounds a lot like our informal process support.
On other trends:
“Better employee profile pages. In addition to offering information beyond plain contact listings, profiles were typically coupled with a more structured way of finding employees with specific expertise.”
The next version of CamTools features profile pages, for those who want to use them.
“The use of pre-designed page layouts and a CMS to establish and maintain content consistency.”
So it’s not just us! Capturing information in a consistent structure makes it immediately easier to re-use and share. This is why we are developing a ‘course information template’ for potential use as part of a course information system.
“As in past years, the return on investment from better intranet design seemed strong, but was mainly supported by anecdotal evidence: happy users, extensive use of new features, and fewer calls to support.”
It’s interesting to see this picked up on in another context to Course Tools, where we’ve been grappling with how to show evidence of how the cost of better information infrastructure is justified by lower barriers to innovation, reduced overheads, and more time for academic staff to concentrate on teaching and research. Mr Nielsen goes on to argue, as we have, that if people are using features more and making fewer support they’re not only saving support time, they’re saving their own valuable time too.