Thursday, 26 February 2009

Freehills - how to create a classy intranet with a laughably small amount of time and money

Yesterday I attended the NSW KM Roundtable, which is always good value for ideas and networking. The absolute standout presentation for me was how Freehills put together a fantastic intranet using Sharepoint within 9 months. I nearly fell over when I heard how little it cost them despite having both a usability consultant and professional sharepoint developers.

So how did they pull it off? Here's a few points.

  • They engaged a usability consultant (Janders Dean) with expertise in law firm intranets because they couldn't engage their lawyers in user consultation (not billable hours you know!)
  • They determined that phase 1 would be a fairly shallow intranet that really focused on core information and they refused to be distracted by Sharepoint's bells and whistles.
  • The Sharepoint consultants, usability consultant, Freehills IT folk and the KM folk all co-located for the duration of the project. This cut out the time-consuming process of the consultants taking the spec, going away, building it and then coming back to present it and request changes/clarification. They could spec directly with the writer of the spec for any clarfication they needed and show them the progress of the model before they got too far down the wrong track.
  • The final result had to be so easy to use that no user training was required.

So what did the final product look like? Not Sharepoint, that's for sure. With the exception of a small amount of news and navigation on either side of the screen, the front page looks like Google. That's right, lots of white space with a big search box in the middle. The aim is to encourage searching over browsing.

That said, the structure of the content is great, and based around function rather than organisation structure. There is a "How Do I?" section for forms, policies etc. There is also both a "white pages" AND a "yellow pages" directory - so it's easy to work out who to call eg when the aircon breaks down. There is a company page that is kept rigorously up to date with information on board members, financial situation etc (this was in response to a perceived lack of transparency around business processes). The front page also has constantly updated company and external news AND a regularly updated mulimedia presentation. Oh, and most importantly it has a "Did you find what you were looking for?" link to solicit feedback on improvements.

The most important lesson from their consultants was to make sure you had a vision of the future while designing the first phase. Sharepoint is very flexible, but the way you design an element in phase 1 WILL affect your ability to scale/expand its functionality in the future. If you want to continue to grow the intranet over the next 5 or more years, you have to be thinking about how you want to do that from day 1. The value of their usability consultant was to show them the potential of the technology and challenge them to think of ways to improve efficiency that they didn't even think were possible. Amazing stuff.