Sometimes we assume too much

Posted: December 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Business | No Comments »

For the past few months I’ve been working with a virtual team on an integrated marketing startup. Here’s something I wrote:

Intranet Market Alignment

Posted: July 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Business, Design & UX | 1 Comment »

James Robertson of Step Two Designs raises his flag in support of quality design for intranets here.

The focus in this excellent article is on the visual design layer, and I support the point of view whole-heartedly.  I do wish to add some thoughts to the following:

Staff need have confidence that the intranet will provide them with accurate and up-to-date information. An old, ugly and dated site sends the opposite message, that the intranet is uncared for and under-resourced.

There is an also an emotional element to intranet design. Intranets should reflect the cultures of the organisations they serve, and can also help to drive cultural change.

At a basic level, intranets need to have a clear brand and identity of their own, distinct from the public-facing site and providing continuity as the organisation evolves and restructures.

What’s almost universally overlooked is the intranet brand’s deeper relationship to the company brand(s). The intranet should be a sub-brand of the corporate identity, and that relationship should run deeper than visual design. In a broader sense, an organization should consider it’s employees as another important segment of their go-to-market strategy, with a combination of shared needs vis-a-vis messaging and positioning, and unique needs that are as distinct as any other customer or prospect segment.

Disconnect in the intranet experience has much to do with the intranet being at a distance from the company’s goals and market strategies, and visual design in and of itself will not do much to align the employee segment with the organization’s strategic goals.

I’d add one last bit to the following:

New site design should be combined with broader and more significant changes, whether it’s a complete site rework or incremental improvements to key functionality.

…or when signifigant changes to public-facing brand/market messaging and design are planned. The good news is, the excellent design examples in James’ post show a high degree of consistency with the corresponding public sites in most cases.  Employees in those organizations are certain to feel more connected and aligned with their companies” strategy and go-to-market identity.

Feeling soft and mushy about Social Intranets

Posted: July 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Business, Social Media, Work | No Comments »

These thoughts are quite preliminary, soft and mushy – but I needed to get them down. I’ve been thinking about an opportunity to create an enterprise intranet from scratch – where the current state is so poor that it might well be abandoned and started afresh as a clean slate. I imagine a workplace with a small number of pillars – communications, HR, carefully selected document stores and maybe the major products – but structuring everything else around social networking models. Throw away the org charts and imposed architectures and let people organize and communicate across disciplines or channels as needed, and base the tools on connections rather than ‘knowledge’ – just like the real workplace.

I like the idea of a solution that supports collaborative creation of knowledge as compared to retrieval of old knowledge. In my experience, corporate knowledge is embodied in its workers, not stored. I don’t gain knowledge when I access a document. I’m in possession of an asset that requires context and community to make it live, and that contextualization comes from people. Even if  all that meta information could be captured, it would be frozen in a moment of time. Pragmatically speaking, document stores aren’t kept up to date at the speed of business (sorry, I know it’s a cop of a Bill Gates book title) and as a result what I learn about some asset could be badly out of alignment with the state of business right now.

My next step is thinking about knowledge assets themselves – where does their greatest value to an organization  lie and how do we identify and extract that value from an online social context? How do we make these knowledge assets accessible while  keeping them social through connections to the community of thinkers that generated them and at the same time ensure their visibility outside the community of practice or interest that nurtured it? How do we avoid the repository trap of sending people through volumes of misaligned, out-of-date data that risks diminishing value? I keep thinking that social is the answer – please weigh in.

Enterprise interface – user centricity is only one component

Posted: June 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Business, Design & UX | No Comments »

Whenever Gartner analyst and enterprisey maven Thomas Otter writes about User Experience its thought provoking and provocative. We need more like him in the enterprise app space.

Citing the work of Gartner colleagues Ray Valdes, Eric Knipp and David Mitchell Smith on HTML5 and Flash in the enterprise context, Thomas shared the following:

…the root causes for a suboptimal user experience consist of lack of appropriate process and governance, and lack of a genuine commitment to a quality user experience. Such a commitment would lead organizations to adopt a user-centered, usability-oriented development process. Rather than taking these steps, we see a lot of projects that are “stakeholder-driven” (i.e., driven by internal politics). Very few organizations center development around user needs by relying on objectively measured data about user behavior. Most enterprises don’t seem to care enough about the user experience to change their habits (in terms of processes that are developer-driven, vendor-driven and stakeholder-driven, rather than user-driven).

I agree but contend there’s more complexity than a commitment to quality user experiences and robust user-centric development processes can overcome on their own. User experience shouldn’t be centered on any single aspect at the expense of another, and I’ve seen a rush to user centricity focus too much on the bits and pieces of an interface and lose track of business imperatives and practical realities.

Users need to get their due but that must happen in the context of what the company needs them to do in order to accomplish goals and strategies that the software is meant to enable. Giving the user what they ‘want’ may be at odds with what the company needs. Business goals come first, and user experience must be reconciled to those goals.

IT always has a position on customizing UIs, often for good reason. That needs to be reconciled against the impact of a poor UI – whether it’s productivity loss, missed opportunities and targets, non-compliance, etc., those factors may override the impact of rework when upgrades and patches are applied. To be certain, vendors don’t make it easy for companies to affect UI changes – they historically discourage them, so it’s no surprise IT wants to stay as close to shipped as possible.

Ray, Eric and David are astute analysts so I suspect they would suggest that governance is the proper forum for working through these issues. I agree, and balancing of business and stakeholder needs, user experience and needs and IT support/sustainability should be at the top of their mandate. In my experience, governance with that robustness and commitment is hard to find.

Deja view

Posted: May 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Business, Design & UX | No Comments »

I’ve often noted that design work done a just few years back can look dated – I feel this is very true with web properties.  So when a site I designed some four years ago finally went live recently, I was surprised to see that  it looked – pretty good!

Let me explain: when my job at Citigroup was discontinued in early 2007 I had been working on a strategic redesign of the Corporate intranet. New portal platform, personalization, customization, editorial workflow, global reach, multiple languages – a fairly complex set of requirements met with a careully thought-out approach. We’d done usability testing all around the world and were working hard on socializing it to get buy-in with the business lines (some of which have been sold off since then).

Given the turmoil Citi has gone through and the tens of thousands of people like me who were laid off, I wasn’t surprised to hear that the project wasn’t exactly front-burner. After a while, I forgot abut it.

The other week I happened to be looking over the shoulder of someone who was working remotely on Citi’s VPN and there it was – live at last. The visual layer had been tweaked but the information architecture, structural elements, personalization and user customizations were all there. Shortly after, one of my colleagues still at Citi contacted me to let me know it had finally made it.

It’s odd to think of that solution maintaining viability over time in some kind of suspended animation, and my instinctive reaction was to wonder how it could still be viable. And yet, I’ve worked on similar solutions for global companies since then and I’ve come around to thinking that a good architecture and well-planned foundational structure can have a greater shelf life than I might think, and in this case the changes to the visual design (generally simplifications – IMHO too much so) allowed the structure to do it’s work while providing a ‘skin’ that’s harmonious with the current brand identity.

So I’ve come away feeling a ‘job well done’ satisfaction, and I’m both pleased and amused that this solution that was sketched out so long ago has finally been released…the longest gestation I know of.

What are intranets good for?

Posted: May 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Business, Work | No Comments »

Interesting discussion kicked off by James over here:

Having weighed in in the comments, here’s some more considered thinking that seemed too wordy for a comment.

Intranets matter and deliver when distributed service levels and scale are factors. One of the best examples I can cite is in a global consumer goods company that was driving a centralized procurement system. They could achieve millions of dollars of savings annually through this, but they weren’t getting the penetration and usage they needed because folks found the SAP system behind it hard to use, and the policies and procedures were…somewhere else. Here, the intranet integrated SAP transactions into step-by-step pages that explained the policies and process, leveraging personalization to deliver content for country-specific variations (i.e., different office supply vendors in each country, local procurement contacts) and in the local language.

Solutions like this are far from easy, and I believe this is why so many intranets are as you describe. This project cost a lot of money and took almost a year, but the savings were huge and ongoing. Thankfully the sponsor was a finance person and understood that this effort and cost were necessary to achieve her larger savings targets.

Intranets need to support business processes and reduce complexity and friction if they’re going to add value. It may well be that solutions like that one only work for global enterprises, not for organizations that have only a few thousands of folks.

On the Social Enterprise

Posted: May 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Business, Social Media, Systematic Viewpoints | Tags: , | No Comments »

Dion Hinchcliffe continues the conversation sparked by’s recent announcement of social features in their product. While we still can’t say whether this continued trend is going to have a clear value- in fact the results will be decidedly mixed – I like his Five benefits of making enterprise IT social. Go read it if you haven’t already and store those thoughts for when you’ll need them.

Admiral’s Club LAX

Posted: October 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Business, Photos, Travel | No Comments »

Dinner in Malibu

Posted: October 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Business, Food, Photos, Travel | No Comments »

Nobu wasn't open yet.

Juan Valdez @JFK

Posted: October 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Business, Coffee, Photos, Travel | No Comments »

Hola mi amgo!