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