Archive for the ‘information architecture’ Category
My last post on site architecture was the 2nd in a series of posts where I am presenting ideas on law firm intranet functionality and content. In that post I described what a firm centric (following the firm’s organizational structure) or task centric (centered on individual tasks) site would be like. At the end I promised to discuss how combining these two structure types might serve a firm better. I can’t think of a better way of describing how this works than to talk about BenNet, the law firm Bennett Jones intranet.
Before I start, let me assure you that I haven’t forgotten about client/matter centricity. It is an important part of a law firm intranet. It just doesn’t work as the basis for site architecture. Instead, it fits into the task oriented structure or a structure that has role based access to the intranet. More on that later.
Since I wrote my last post, I learned about the well deserved Platinum Intranet Innovations Award presented to Bennett Jones at KMWorld 2010 by Step Two Designs. The award is for their intranet that was developed under Brian Bawden’s leadership. The Step Two Designs site describes the reason for the coveted award as follows:
Bennett Jones, the 2010 Platinum Award winner and the first law firm to win this award, has created a highly sophisticated site that allows users to find vital legal Precedent information quickly and easily. ‘BenNet’ is also a ‘social intranet’, replete with site-wide commenting, user-generated resource development in the form of BenNet Books (legal books created on specific topics), and more.
Last spring, I had the pleasure of speaking to Brian and Akiva Bernstein, CEO of V51, the SharePoint consulting firm that worked with Bennett Jones on their intranet, and can’t say enough about it. Aside from what Step Two found as innovative, it is one of the best examples of site architecture I’ve seen in a law firm intranet. What makes it so great?
As mentioned in the last post, the top-level navigation mirrors the site’s architecture. Bennett Jones’ intranet’s top-level navigation is a combination of firm structure, tasks and resources. Sounds messy? Not really. They’ve let the most important content bubble up to the top and presented it in a clean and cohesive manner.
The top menu includes the following (I’ve included the type of structure in a second column):
|Menu Item||Structure Type|
|Knowledge Bank (this is the part of the intranet that earned the award)||Resource / Task|
|How do I?||Task|
|CLE & Training||Resource / Task|
|Policies & Benefits||Resource / Task|
There are some links on the top right of the menu that take users to specific resources including their personalized access to the site as well as a search box, but the site’s structure is based on the menu items above with the site’s content fitting into that structure. How do they work?
- The Our Offices and Our Teams menu items take users to pages that are similar to what you would find in an intranet that was organized by the firm structure. Note: They will be adding Clients & Matters in a future release.
- The How Do I menu item takes users to a page where tasks are organized by topic. Each topic has 3-4 tasks with a More link that would allow them to go to the topic page with more tasks.
- The Knowledge Bank, CLE & Training, and Policies & Benefits menu items take users to pages that provide access to resources combined with tasks. In other words, users can find information and act on it.
I mentioned access client/matter information being best done by giving access to that information depending on the role each user plays. That will be covered in a future post. For this topic, let’s look at what Bennett Jones has done with role based access. For example, when location-specific information is presented, the tab for the user’s location is presented in the foreground panel. Similarly, in Policies & Benefits, users are taken directly to the Benefits and Programs that apply to them as partners, associates, staff, etc.
While the types of site architecture mentioned in the previous post are limiting in that a firm will often have information, tasks, or resources that don’t fit into the firm or task based structures, I would challenge you to think of one of those items that won’t fit into this combined structure.
While you are considering your site architecture, consider if you want it centered on one specific architecture type or, like Bennett & Jones, a mix that serves each purpose appropriately. The simplest approach is to follow the firm’s organizational structure, but it probably won’t give your users enough clues about where information is located and it won’t hold up in the long run
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.
We are always on the look out for articles that define intranet models. What better way to start planning for and designing your own intranet than to see what thinking others have to offer. Hopefully, our own Model for Planning and Implementing an Intranet will prove useful to you. There are more models available on the Internet that you should check out as well including James Robertson’s Five Intranet Publishing Models as outlined in his Column Two blog.
The models as he defines them include:
- fully centralised publishing
- decentralised publishing
- publishing with review
- federated publishing
- end-user content contribution
Along with defining the five models, Robertson goes on to provide a description that includes lists of advantages and disadvantages. But don’t stop at the end of the post as his reader’s comments are very interesting as well.
~ Nina Platt