Archive for November, 2010
This is the second of a series on law firm intranet functionality and content. See Part 1: Scope.
Before you start developing your intranet, you will need a blueprint. Imagine building a house without one? Your intranet is no different – you need a plan before starting to develop the site. Defining the site architecture for your intranet is the foundation upon which you begin. What is site architecture and what has been most prevalent in law firms?
Intranet content in a law firm is there to support the firm’s business goals. To ensure that the content is what the firm needs and that lawyers and staff can get to what they need in a productive manner, a good structure should be in place. This structure is most often referred to as the information or site architecture. Think of it as the framework that supports your intranet’s content.
Using the firm’s business goals as the starting point, keeps everyone thinking in terms of what is needed to move those goals ahead and, in the end, increase productivity. When this isn’t done, the architecture design becomes more of a political struggle with many competing to have their content at the top-level than an exercise that ensures a success structure for the content.
Again, this exercise should not be done in isolation by one department, but by a cross-functional team that represents the business.
Most of the firms we’ve talked to want to provide access to information on the intranet first on a broad level, and then, in some cases, a personalized level. A good strategy to do this is to start by creating your intranets site map. That may sound backwards but it does work.
How are most firm’s intranets organized? Using an organizational site structure. In other words, mimicking how the firm is organized. The top-level menu with drop down choices might look like this:
While this seems to make sense and is most widespread in use, there are issues in using this type of architecture. The most import is that the structure is very limiting. You will find that once you start adding content, that not everything fits within the structure.
This means that you will need to get creative about where you add content and that generally means that content starts to be added in places where users won’t find it. Your intranet could eventually come messy in structure and unusable. Think of how houses look when they’ve been added to over and over again. The outside isn’t pretty and in inside isn’t as functional as those houses that were built from a good design.
There are some firms that have gone down the avenue of structuring there intranet using a task-based architecture. The top navigation menu with drop down choices may look like this:
Click on image for a larger view
This is a very simplistic view of a task based structure but it should provide some idea of how it would work. It too has some limitations but if thought through completely with a lot of imagination, it might work better than the organizationally based intranet. I think there is one more structure that might work better than both of these.
That structure would be a combination of both structures described above. More about that in my next post.
As a consulting company, NPCI is often asked what functionality a law firm intranet should have and what content should it contain. The answer to those questions is largely, it depends. This post is the first in a series that tries to answer the questions while keeping in mind that the options for creating an intranet can be limitless. Another caveat: What follows is based on our experience and probably not complete if you want to see the whole picture.
Before we dive into functionality and content, lets start with scope. As you start planning your intranet, you will likely have many ideas as well as many needs expressed by your users. The fact is that you won’t be able to meet all the needs before the initial launch. Like development teams that create the many applications developed and marketed by commercial entities, your best bet is to keep the scope narrow enough to be able to complete your effort and release it to your users. What you don’t get done initially can go into your release planning.
While user requirements for functionality as described above are going to help define your intranet, initially, you want to develop your goals by asking questions about the firm’s goals:
- What is the purpose of the intranet?
- What problems are we solving?
- How can the intranet increase productivity?
For example, the development of the scope for a new intranet might include:
- Improve communication across the firm
- Improve employees access to information
- Improve processes that are currently paper based but could be automated
- Create a means for collaboration
More specific goals for the intranet might include:
- Integrate content across disparate applications
- Maintain native security of enterprise applications
A redesign of the intranet may include the following goals in the scope depending on your needs:
- Migrate to more up-to-date technology
- Distribute the ability to add or update content
- Increase the intranet team’s productivity (reduce development time)
- Improve search capabilities to allow searching of content stored in applications
- Reduce the time it takes for attorneys and staff to find information
What you include in the scope will depend on what your firm’s needs are. Note: developing a scope is your first step to obtaining buy-in from management and your users. For the best results and, ultimately, the buy-in you need, developing the scope should not be done in isolation. Even though it might take longer, you will be more successful if you develop a cross-functional team to define what you want your intranet to provide.
One point to remember: The success of the firm’s intranet depends on it meeting your firm’s business needs as well as your user’s needs. If you don’t plan accordingly, you will end up spending more money and more time than planned. What happens then is your loss of the firm’s partner’s confidence in how much you understand the needs of their business and ultimately what you are capable of achieving.
How to scope an intranet release, James Robertson, Step Two Designs
The Intranet Benchmarking Forum (IBF) is offering a free report, Digital Workplace Maturity Model – From Intranet to Digital Workplace. In the introduction to the report, CEO Paul Miller, described the digital workplace as
” including the intranet but also including other workplace technologies: those in operation and those yet to come…these are effectively work/technology environments that operate irrespective of location and (in the future) device”
See the graphic below to get a sense of how the intranet fits together with the digital workplace.
The digital workplace model has five levels of maturity from Base to Excel which are applied to four factors:
- Communication and information – Role of internal communications and information sharing
- Community and collaboration – Level of support for collaboration and working between groups and individuals
- Services – Delivery of online applications employee self-service, workflow, etc.
- Structure – management of the digital workplace including governance, standards, etc.
See the graphic below to get a sense of how the model works. Note that the maturity levels are Base, Low, Mid, High, and Excel radiating out from the center.
To further describe the model as it applies to intranets, an example may be in order. Note: I am simplifying the use of the model for the example.
We’ll start with an imaginary intranet. It has been in existence for about 3 years. At the outset the governance was strong with standards in place, usability tested, users involved in design, plans in order, etc. giving it a Structure level of High.
The intranet team has been successful in developing content that is up to date and relevant. Employees are able to use intranet tools that allow them to do some of their work in an interactive manner (submitting new matters for approval, signing up for and keeping track of training, etc. We’ll give them a Services level of High.
They are kept informed with firm and client news. Still, there is some functionality that is missing. We’ll give them a Mid level for Communication and Information.
The firm wants to develop more collaboration among its lawyers and staff but the culture has prevented many from feeling comfortable sharing and most of what the firm wants to do via the intranet has not been done. We’ll give them a Low level for Community and Collaboration.
If we used the same graph as above to plot the levels, it would look something like this:
A fairly mature intranet with the exception of it being used for collaboration and community. With the levels graphed out as they are, the management and intranet teams would be able to use the model with the information that supports the findings for strategic planning for future growth and development.
The report does a much better job of describing the model than I just did. If you find what I’ve described interesting, download the report for more.