What Functionality and Content Should I Add to My Intranet: Part 3: Site Architecture and the Bennett Jones Award

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
Our Teams Firm
How do I? Task
CLE & Training Resource / Task
Policies & Benefits Resource / Task
Our Offices Firm

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


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