Niche Cooking for Intranet Success

Creating a winning recipe for an internally facing corporate portal is a daunting task. At the onset of a project there is a natural tendency to think that having a large target audience is the route to success and value. What has been found through practice though can actually be quite the opposite. Whether we are experienced with portal deployments or not, there are some fundamental dynamics that if carefully orchestrated can help to ensure a deployment’s success.

When working with powerful, versatile technology it is not uncommon to loose sight of the human element that we need to cater to for success. The “because it can” factor is tough to ignore and often initiatives tend to gravitate toward this. In order for a deployment to be successful, people need to walk away from their experience with added value. Using a restaurant analogy, this added value differentiates the quality of a portal deployment from an outstanding four star meal to an unappealingly average fast food meal.

A Grand Opening
Just as with a restaurant opening, a portal deployment goes through a series of phases that ultimately will determine if the investment (servers and software licensing) is worth it.
1. Grand Opening
2. Quality Assessment
3. Reputation Establishment
4. Patronage Level Establishment
5. Patronage Fluctuation

Grand Opening
When a new restaurant opens its doors people are drawn by a mix of marketing effort and personal curiosity. In our case we are most likely going to get exposure through a corporate email or newsletter that lets people know that a new project has been deployed with the portal.

Quality Assessment
What happens next is absolutely crucial. Users visit, or in the case of our restaurant, people eat there. This might seem obvious, but when we look at a corporate portal it is easy to overlook since we have a tendency to be drawn toward and tout features over the applicability of an experience, or meal, to the individual.

Reputation Establishment
Users need to have a rewarding, compelling experience. With the ability to quickly communicate and multitask via email and other electronic means, people have tight schedules and are generally unwilling to incorporate an additional tool if it does not provide significant value. When they experience the portal deployment they will ask themselves a few simple questions: “Did this make my life easier? Cut down on my workload? Enable a process more effectively that my traditional communication and information management methods?” The portal will not grow or assist the business through its novelty, but by the outcome of this hard, black and white examination.

Based on this assessment a reputation is established about the value provided by the new service within the portal or the portal itself. This provided value is where our target audience becomes so crucial. Did we just cook generic food in an attempt to satisfy a wide range of people? Or did we cook a specialty food that directly targeted a particular group of enthusiasts? The word that spreads throughout the enterprise is based on this crucial experience. It will ultimately come down to either satisfying a small group of people who will become vocal advocates, or frustrating a large group of people with a mediocre experience and creating a stigma around the portal platform.

Patronage Level Establishment
If we were able to deliver a satisfying meal we will have done our job to establish devoted patrons. Having this group of individuals will allow us to have sustained value within our portal deployment.

If we did not provide a good meal, people will say “Yeah, I have eaten there, but it was nothing special.” This means that whatever value we provided was quickly realized and then lost, leaving our organization with an “Empty Portal” or failed project.

Patronage Fluctuation
Assuming that we did provide a good experience for our users by adding value, we will pick up positive word of mouth. This will ideally open a good dialogue between these patrons and our business and technology teams. With this communication channel we can continue to invest in shaping value for this group of users, growing out patronage. Beyond this, as more people become advocates of the platform, we can continue to develop solutions for the business members we are serving and gain even more return from our investment with additional, iterative, focused releases leveraging the portal framework.

Getting the Recipe Right – Tips for Success
Continuing with the restaurant analogy, we need to make sure that when they ask for a soufflé we serve it to them instead of crème brulee (as good as our crème brulee might be). The portal is a “top down” tool and that means the business needs to dictate the direction of development initiatives with these needs. In order to make sure that the platform can best assist in driving us toward our business goals, the following items are imperative for success:

1. Invite Food Critics – Get participation from the business unit that you are targeting. These are the people who will be eating at your establishment. This is about what they need, not the buffet of things that you can place in front of them.

2. Serve Bite Sized Pieces – Remember that small is manageable. Let your menu evolve based on the demands of the business. Do not try to pack it full of choices from the onset.

3. Time Food Preparation – Great restaurants have impeccable timing to ensure that their dishes are served in the proper order and correct temperature. Be sure to heavily weigh the benefits of any major development portion of a project. Having one piece of the project get away from you could ruin an otherwise good project as the business will be eager to complete their meal.

4. Maintain Great Ingredients – Governance is essential to maintaining value for a deployment. Just because we served up a great meal the first time does not mean that we are set and can move on. We need to put controls in place to ensure that the quality of the meals stays consistent or improves over time in order to retain patrons and grow our business.

Final Thoughts
Thinking back to how all of this applies to the overall value that we can provide, it is apparent that a large scale launch, although seemingly impressive, serves up less value in the long run if we are not focused on serving targeted, high value tools to our audience. We are sometimes tempted to do things just because we have the ingredients, but in order to build a thriving business, it is vital that we listen to and deliver the great treats that our customer base is interested in.

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