Information Architecture

Building An Online Community – Organisational Intranet

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You may find that colleagues, especailly senior colleagues are cautious over the implimentation of so-called community building or collaborative software. However, with the correct departmental governance and policing, and best practice of this area, community software can be utilised to its full benefit as a useful and integrated business tool.

Community building software can promote organic connections between colleagues. This will, as a by-product, act as a structured storage mechanism for unstructured corporate knowledge which otherwise would only be held between individuals in an un-retrievable unstructured manner.

These types of electronic storage mechanisms are used to great effect within industry leading technology companies such as IBM and Microsoft. Organically structured groups of colleagues are able to liaise from a single recordable point removing the obvious issues of geographical displacement. There is also an instant removal of cottage industries updating and managing phone lists, structure charts, etc. The community area can remove pressure from traditional means of business communication such as email.

Software such as Microsoft SharePoint MySite’s potential, for instance, can be realised if embedded within already established business processes. For the majority, people associate social networking with Internet based networks such as Facebook and MySpace; certainly at the opposite end of the spectrum and barely recognisable as productivity tools! The potential though to improve performance and cut costs is certainly possible should such an Intranet community be used productively and ring-fenced in a business setting.

The key to successfully utilising social media at work lies in comprehending it is very different in nature to its vaguely similar consumer cousins. With a different approach social networking can exploit the simple rationale pulling individuals into consumer resources: that of a simple purpose! Business social networking requires a defined business purpose with specific usage guidelines providing real leverage such as building teamwork, organisation around projects, and organically building a corporate knowledge base.

A community Wiki building a corporate knowledge base, for instance, categorising and built from what would otherwise be unobtainable unstructured data kept in varying hetrogeneous systems, paperwork, peoples heads, can be fashioned to store searchable data and information access to the entire organisation – of what would generally only be available to the few.

Historically, teamwork built through staff meetings, company team building workshops, team nights out, departmental parties, etc. are face-to-face interactions. The flip-side can be an electronically stored impressionistic sense of business activity formed around colleagues actively publishing activities around them. Largely self-organising and leaving a permanent organic record of communication around, say, a project otherwise not existing, can generate implicit awareness to colleague work groups.

Ultimately this can replace, but probably not in its entirety, traditional communication mediums such as the email list which lacks structure and is difficult to manage. An Intranet social network on the other hand provides many-to-many communication within a structured and collaborative environment.


First published on yaduk on Nov 16, 2009

Business Strategies, Information Systems and People: Holistic Approach

Posted by | Information Architecture, Intranet | No Comments

Information Architecture and Information Retrieval

Intranet information retrieval requires more often than not implicit end-user understanding to the nature and location of information sought since architecturally information organically mirrors organisational layout rather than information ‘typing’. Semantic linkage and intelligible meta data unfortunately take a back seat. As a result it is commonplace for “Intranet” users to consider Intranets an unresponsive technology in respect to finding and utilising information in their day to day jobs. One of the tenants to having an organisational Intranet in the first place!

For the majority, Intranet information retrieval issues are born from how individuals have learned ‘web technology interaction’ from the Internet. Bringing learned behaviours with them, end-users directly influence the effectiveness of organisational Intranets. For developers, Intranets should then be considered essentially as “socio-technical” devices requiring understanding of end-user interaction in the dissemination and retrieval of information.

It must be said that Internet users have a humungous resource from which they can narrow down something of interest or a link to a site of value in their quest. Within an Intranet environment this same search strategy fails due to the need for a defined information nugget rather as a rough guestimate.

Intranet Strategy – An holistic approach

Varying academic studies detail the extent of which Intranet implementation and use within individual organisations has significant implications for organisational performance. A key component in that performance is “technology adoption in the workplace [and its acceptance being directly] influenced […] individual differences, social influences, beliefs, attitudes, and situational influences.” (Lee, S., & Kim, B.).

Evidence that organisations are “cultures, tribes, political battlegrounds, networks, […]” (Checkland & Scholes, 1990); non-deterministic open systems, directly refutes the traditional deterministic approach to information systems development.

Organisations generally are viewed as “unitary systems with coherent purposes and goals rather than collections of people with many (sometimes conflicting) concerns”, (Clarke & Lehaney, 1997), in turn influencing the traditional approach that systems are – “autonomous purpose-directed systems […] with predetermined goals or sets of goals”, (Introna, 1996). These “hard systems” define objectives, modelled and measured against declared criteria, in an attempt to fulfil information needs and organisational goals.

“Soft systems” thinking, in comparison, gives credence to user perceptions and interaction, allowing us to understand underlying causal factors in Intranet complexity and their use. Examining and understanding these factors and their impact assists movement towards effective distribution and retrieval of information.

The intrinsic qualities of organisations generate a complex relationship between information creation, dissemination and use by end users – expectations of success of business strategies, information systems and people themselves disseminating and retrieving information impact on the implementation and use of an Intranet.

Important Intranet Considerations

Information systems are socio-technical systems requiring an understanding not only of technical/information infrastructure, but in the case of an Intranet, the end-user and how they inherently interact with the interface that is an Intranet.

Taking a view of “human computer interaction” in not only technology but also the overlying information, the process of Intranet information systems development and their inherent issues can much more readily be appreciated.

The predominant influence on Intranet use is learnt a priori from “outside-of-organisation” use of the Internet. When users come to Intranets, they do not usually experience the whole resource, but sub-sections of it, the parts they frequent regularly. It is therefore, imperitive that Intranets be designed with these factors in mind, limiting the scope of the resource as it is presented to each individual user, yet bringing those parts to the fore that are required habitually.

Significantly, a causal factor of Intranet failure is a distinct lack of process governance in content handling with the accuracy and relevance of information often going unchecked. Consequently content structuring ends up disparate across sub-sections leading to contrasting navigation systems independent from content types which in turn compounds retrieval issues.

The inability then to find information directly impacts “carrying out tasks and activities” and ultimately reduces productivity around the use of information disseminated through an Intranet. Addressing user expectations in their use of an organisational Intranet will aid in their alignment with any overall organisational strategy.

What are these? Well … email to find out! Taking stock of HCI: Human Computer Interaction against human interfaces is key to any ‘application’! – Hmm? What’s an Intranet or Internet interface? …… Hmm..!!?

Checkland, P. & Scholes, J. (1990). “Soft systems methodology in action“. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

Clarke, S. & Lehaney, B. (1997). “Critical approaches to information systems development: Some practical implications“. In Stowell, F., Ison, R., Holloway, R., Jackson, S. & McRobb, S., (Eds.), “Systems for sustainability: People, organisations and environments“, 333–337. New York: Plenum.

Introna, L. D. (1996). “Notes on ateological information systems development“. Information Technology & People, 9, 20–39.

Lee, S., & Kim, B. (2009, January). “Factors affecting the usage of intranet: A confirmatory study. Computers in Human Behavior”, 25(1), 191-201. Retrieved January 13, 2009, doi:10.1016/j.chb.2008.08.007


First published on yaduk on May 31, 2009

Ownership of Intranets? Information Architecture.

Posted by | Information Architecture, Intranet | No Comments

I was passed a fantastic link to Joel Olesons’s blog post on the Microsoft Developer Network at:

MSDN

Though Joel’s post is essentially discussing the deployment of Microsoft Sharepoint in an Enterprise environment its essentially questioning the very core of what is an Intranet environment for any content management! Not only deloying technology but past/current Intranet structures too on whatever CMS!

Noted painfully is the central question missed time and time again of  “Who actually owns an Intranet?”. Large organisations inherently contain internal power struggles between various departments as a matter of course, but to miss the potential glue between these with a misconfigured and misunderstood “Intranet” is not only costly in technology itself, but also collaborative and  potential productivity that can be gained from having one in the first place. Siloed information architecture and strategy is the exact opposite of these key tenants.

Why do companies have an Intranet? Mostly because someone somewhere managed to convince those with the purse strings that it would increase these key tenants of collaboration and productivity or simply just in having a centralised communicative point. “Rhetorically” … why then are these points in their entirety lost and never fulfilled?


First published on yaduk on 21 July, 2009