The idea for the intranet-as-house analogy first came about when our team experienced communication challenges as we embarked on a major intranet refresh. Although we were using the same words to describe things like content and pages, it became clear we were really on different planets. Once I started using the analogy, I found that it worked just as well with executive sponsors and user focus groups to explain what we were trying to achieve with the upgrade.
Using an analogy provides you with an alternative to the specialized language used in web and portal technology.
The intranet is a home for all your prized business possessions … it has equipment to support systems, bookshelves to store knowledge, filing cabinets for important documents, places to meet colleagues, areas for entertaining, communication systems so you can stay in touch. Get the idea?
When doing a major renovation or building a home, the first logical step is to take your ideas to an architect or designer. The architect will build out your ideas into a visual plan that your builder or contractor can follow. These blueprints define how the infrastructure and mechanical systems will be integrated into the final structure.
In the intranet world, these schematics will include details about operating systems, hardware, software, user authentication protocols, security, firewalls, data storage, throughput, capacity, and dozens of other technical elements. Not the kind of things most of us on the content side are familiar with.
Think of intranet hardware as the foundation and framing structure
Think of the hardware as the foundation and framing and the software as the plumbing, electrical and heating systems. Once a house is built, you are barely aware of their existence, but your house becomes uninhabitable if they are not working. It’s important to ask as many questions as possible about how these systems and structures interact and what limitations (if any) there are that may have to be addressed in other phases. In house parlance, if you are hoping for a vast open plan concept, the architect needs to ensure the supporting structure will handle a ceiling without load-bearing walls and that heating systems are configured to handle the volume of air to be heated and cooled.
Do your research
Just as you might collect a lot of magazine or web clippings of ideas you’d like to include in your new home, do the same before sitting down with your developers and architects by researching best practices and case studies. Work to ensure they understand exactly what you want to accomplish with your intranet by presenting your end vision as clearly as possible. This helps them help you to achieve your objectives.
If you are having difficulty understanding or expressing a concept, try and re-frame your question using your analogy to reach a common understanding. For instance, if access to multiple applications using a single log on id is a requirement, ask if you could incorporate a single key (password) to unlock the doors to all the rooms (applications) in your house (intranet) from a single point of entry (log-on screen).
The number of configuration decisions to be made at this phase can be significant, often overwhelming and will profoundly impact what can be incorporated at the later development stages of design (decorating) and management (housekeeping). Once built, changes are not only difficult but expensive. Understanding your choices and options so that you have the right foundation and structure gives the project the best chance of completing on time and budget.
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