The Operational Intranet

May 6, 2011

When DWG asked me to write a briefing paper about “The Operational Intranet” I thought it would be a tonic. After many years designing group intranets and with the prevailing desire for all things social I felt it would be an interesting area to delve into. But what did it mean? I retreated to do some reading and came across descriptions of the Toyota Production System, summarised beautifully in the classic work by Womack and Jones called “Lean Thinking”. In the context of production lines, Toyota started to see waste everywhere. It was termed ‘muda’ and represented everything that slowed down a process without adding value. For example not only having the right component in time to weld it to the car, but also the waste that is involved by having too many of the same component stacked up waiting to be welded, taking up space, inventory and money.

In the briefing paper (available for download exclusively to members of the Digital Workplace Group), I look at how this concept has been adopted in the sorts of systems and processes that organisations are using within their digital workplace. Under the headings of Controlling, Monitoring and Reminding, the paper describes the ways that intranets and digital workplaces are being used by employees of organisations to manage their business processes today. By allowing employees to visualise the flow of value to the customer encapsulated within their daily processes and letting employees know when something is going wrong and the “flow” is being disrupted, employees can correct the process and unblock the flow. Done successfully, this makes processes self-managing so they do not require constant attention from managers or direct oversight by another department. The paper contains three case studies examples from an DWG member organisation which illustrate these concepts in practice with descriptions and screenshots.

The paper concludes with thoughts about how the digital workplace will support operational excellence in the future. With data feeds becoming more available both within organisations, and externally available from data markets we can imagine data from internal systems such as finance, sales and distribution and HR being put in the hands of business analysts and cost centre managers to make much more timely decisions. This could also be thrown into the mix with external feeds such as financial, geographic and socio-economic data within easy to use visualisation environments to liberate data for making business decisions. An interesting trend may be the liberation of data that currently sits within spreadsheets and local databases, and the opportunities and risks that will come from making this static data widely available. The paper also discusses how “Composites” within SharePoint 2010 may leverage this sort of data and whether SharePoint Composites may become a de facto standard for mashups on intranets.

Around the same time as writing the paper, DWG asked me conduct a workshop at the November member meeting based around this topic. As this included a workshop session I took the opportunity to work on a hunch that this sort of process led thinking would be useful in a design context. Usually when we design intranets we tend to think in terms of what content we have, what we want audiences to know and how pages and sections could be structured. Would it be useful to think about the design process driven by the goals and tasks users wanted to achieve, the business processes they need use, and what data and triggers would be useful to them?

With that in mind I designed an information architecture workshop for DWG members and provided them with a variety of personas to choose from, then asked participants to think about tasks, processes, data and triggers and then ask them to think about an intranet solution that would be useful to the persona. This was presented back as a wireframe. For example one of these fictitious personas was an overworked Internal Communications Head. She was being dragged into administrative and budgetary tasks, when she wanted to concentrate on managing her team, the messages and advising the CEO.

Participants went through this scenario by thinking about processes that were important to her such as recruitment, performance management, budget approvals and quarterly financial reporting. Then they considered the data that would be required (HR records; Budget spend to date; Project statuses) and they triggers that they would need to be informed about when something was required: performance management deadlines, budget forecast deadlines, approvals required. The interesting part of the workshop were the resulting wireframes – they were workplaces. The teams had envisioned screens where work gets done, not forests of impenetrable and unending content. With the increasing integration between systems and availability of data, someone will need to take control of the layer of user experience for operational processes within your ever expanding digital workplace.

Will it be you?

This is a guest post by Chris Tubb. Chris is a benchmarker for DWG in the management benchmarking areas. He is an intranet consultant and information architect and was responsible for global intranets at Orange and France Telecom.

Categorised in: Digital workplace, ROI & Business Case

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