Wednesday, 1 February 2012

SharePoint Intranets

SharePoint with its collaborative capabilities has become a very popular platform for Intranet.
Yet, building a company intranet with SharePoint has its own challenges in terms of design flexibility because intranet designers may not be building intranets from scratch as in the past. The focus has now shifted towards improving usability and accessibility as important drivers for the look and feel.
Just like any website, to improve the usability, it’s important to define who the user is and what activities are expected to be performed by the users For general public websites, the user is a consumer, the focus area is business transactions whereas for a company intranet, the user is the employee and the intranet is designed to help enable business workflows for greater internal organization efficiency. It is also important to consider usability and accessibility while designing intranets.
Visual Interface
The general paradigm for designing the visual interfaces is to either have traditional home pages or have a dashboard of user controls. It is good to have integrated widgets and tools to help the employees find relevant relevant information easily. Just because widgets can be easily embedded and act as place fillers organisations tend to go overboard It is important to understand whether it is a Weather or a Calendar widget does it actually help the employee save time or supply information that’s time taking  to access otherwise..
Rather than focusing on widgets and embeddable in spite of the fun and excitement factor organizations should focus on Service and Employees Time. The true value of sharepoint intranet comes from relentlessly saving employees time. Many organisations today are recognizing the needs for creating specific interfaces for smart phones and tablets considering their mobile workforce
Many organizations commit the mistake of not devoting enough time and strategy in creating navigation for intranet just because internal users will be using it. Designers should study the tasks involved by the employees and lay out the site accordingly. A well thought taxonomy based navigation goes a long way in saving employees time and making the content of intranet evident to everyone
Once we decide on the tasks and the activities to be carried out by the employees we need to consider how the organization works and how the employees go about doing their work. Some of the typical top level navigation for intranet sites is as follows

Corporate Colours and Spirit
While it is important that company intranet should prioritize on employee’s workflows to enable more business efficiency, it is also very important that the intranet should also reflect the corporate spirit and culture. It should also be fun place to interact with colleagues and share knowledge intrinsically.
Many organizations use the default interface of SharePoint and go for a utilitarian approach due to limitations in the out of the box design limitations.  Organisations should invest on branding and make the intranet vibrant and leverage the platform to sell itself to its own employees and retain them. Employee Retention means happy employees and more productivity. If the employees feel good about the organization the word of mouth spreads and talent hunts become easier.
Understanding the corporate spirit and culture is important for designing the intranet e.g. If the culture in the organization is collaborative, it makes sense to have blogs and communities in the intranet to foster and encourage the culture, whereas if the culture or the kind of work is not so collaborative, putting blogs and communities do not add any value to the intranet. So the functionality of the intranet is also importantly derived from the corporate culture within.
Social 2.0
Recently there has been an emerging trend wherein social media is becoming more and more integrated with the enterprise, social media tools like IM, wikis, social networking, discussion forums and blogs are helping to increase productivity and communication between departments and stakeholders.
The organization needs to be careful in deciding which tools to integrate and consider the actual and perceived participation and ROI that they will likely generate. The organization should also provide employees training and policies that dictate proper usage and behaviors should be widely addressed and communicated, so as to alleviate risk and meet compliance standards, depending upon the industry.
Ultimately, using SharePoint shouldn’t impair an organization’s ability to design a functional and productive intranet. However, building a successful intranet requires a combination of information architecture and human resources, all of which helps your employees manage their time and work better.
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