What Functionality and Content Should I Add to My Intranet: Part 2: Site Architecture
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.