Few weeks go by without another new software solution aimed at solving an age-old problem faced by private and public sector organisations alike: namely, how to make policies and procedures easily available to all staff and how to keep them up to date.
But against the backdrop of spending cuts and uncertainty over further financial contraction, organisations will not be easily swayed by solutions requiring significant additional IT spend and will be looking instead for efficiency improvements. Moreover, spending money isn’t always the answer – you can buy different software but the problems are likely to remain the same; it’s the content and how it is presented and managed that ultimately makes a difference.
Single set of policies and procedures
The extent to which this can be successfully achieved will depend largely on the approach adopted. The most effective approach will focus initially on pulling information together to a single point so that duplications can be eliminated and gaps filled. The aim is to have a single accurate set of policies and procedures which can then be managed and updated on a regular basis. While this data synchronisation activity may seem onerous, it will quickly pay for itself in efficiency savings.
Of course, the majority of housing providers already have intranets and extranets in their on-going efforts to improve the level of communication and information to staff and customers. However, the fact is that many are dissatisfied with what they have and the extent to which they are used. In an age of information overload, a staggering 60 per cent of time spent by intranet users is spent looking for what they want rather than viewing it and using it. So, the second stage is therefore to assess how best to present information to users in order to encourage high repeat usage.
Keep it simple
The intranet’s presentation layer must be easy to access, preferably via single sign- on, and contain relevant information in order to repeatedly attract staff back to it. In the first instance, this is likely to be routine administrative information such as holiday entitlements, room bookings, timesheets or expenses forms. The key here is the mantra of ‘keep it simple’. You may like the prose, but people seldom read large amounts of text unless it’s relevant or personal to their needs.
A visually attractive solution which uses intuitive click-through options will encourage usage far more than elaborate navigation structures and complex menus. Equally, help options should be immediately visible with a straightforward FAQ which can be understood by all users, while good search engines can point users in the direction of related documents. Not only will this approach make staff induction easier, it will also help with on-going training requirements.
Staff must believe in the quality of the information on an intranet. Therefore, the third stage concerns excellent data management and a commitment to keeping information and policies up to date. This, coupled with ownership and delegated authority at a departmental level, is vital if policies and procedures are to be maintained. A single point of contact in terms of responsibility for updates and maintenance is also worth considering. All of this will help to promote the intranet as well as keeping it fresh.
It’s worth remembering that policies are in effect the rules which govern the way an organisation works while procedures represent the implementation of those policies which evolve over time as policies change or new ones come into effect.
So, the answer is not necessarily to go out and buy new software, but to think carefully about your overall strategy. The priorities in designing and building an intranet should naturally reflect the priorities of the business, but do you know how the information is going to be being pulled together, how is it going to be presented and how is it going to be maintained?
If you can answer those questions, you have significantly increased your chances of implementing a successful intranet.
Ann Martin is co-director of First Adapt.