In a recent study of benchmark data collected by the Worldwide Intranet Challenge (WIC), Enterprise Strategies reconfirmed that tasks on an intranet drive usage.

Really?

Don’t get me wrong--I’m totally on board. I think what Enterprise Strategies is doing is super interesting.

I just cannot believe we are still musing about the value of web-enabling tasks on an intranet. Witness this quote from The 10 Best Intranet Designs of 2001:

“Productivity gains can also be huge from streamlined applications, such as the Cisco intranet’s sales force tool.” __Jakob Nielsen, November 25, 2001

Yep, that was from 2001.

Now, here we are 13 years later still pretending to be surprised.

Of course Nielsen Norman Group has confirmed this more recently in a June article about findings in their fifth Intranet Portals report. Here they report that “applications attract users and keep them coming back.”

What Stops You from Web-Enabling Business Processes?

After more than 10 years talking with clients about web-enabling tasks, I’ve narrowed it down to four reasons (or excuses if you prefer):

  1. “The intranet is a communication tool.”
  2. “I don’t know what business processes are important.”
  3. “I don’t know how to judge ROI so we web-enable the right business processes.”
  4. “I’ll never get funding to do that.”

The first is idiotic and the last one is especially humorous.

They can find the funds to create online classifieds, employee personal photo sharing, or even a cafeteria line web cam. But they cannot commit funds to web-enable important business processes in the intranet, the very things that drive adoption and usage.

Gather Insights

Start by talking to users. Do this by function: small groups of people from the same function (e.g., human resources, finance, marketing, operations, etc.). Grouping them by function enables you to discover needs and opportunities that can be targeted.

Ask questions about their jobs, even observing their work where possible. It’s difficult for people to tell you what they need or are missing. They cannot conceive of the potential. So, ask about their workday:

  • What information do you need and how does it come to you?
  • What information do you produce and how do you distribute it?
  • What frustrations do you have with your routine work?
  • What solutions or workarounds do you use to solve those frustrations?
  • What manual business processes do you engage in routinely?
  • What online processes do you regularly use and how do those work for you?
  • What things have you seen at a prior employer that would be useful to have here?

Work with your governance team to prioritize processes uncovered into an initial top 10 list. Hopefully that team includes people from a wide variety of functions.

Conduct Feasibility on the Top 6 Processes

Spend time with process owners and a small group of regular process users to identify the ideal process. Consider this within the context of the online experience. Sometimes processes must change significantly to fit an online environment.

An example is the defense contractor I helped web-enable life events. Marriage, divorce and birth of a child were events that – in the old manual process – required paper documentation.

Would they still require documentation in the online process? The organization decided not to require documentation. They implemented a random audit to ensure compliance.

To get your analysis right, you need to be able to answer 5 important questions:

  1. How does this process affect other processes?
  2. Must it be integrated into those other processes?
  3. What resources are required to web-enable the process?
  4. How easy or difficult will it be for employees to learn the new process?
  5. What are the tangible and intangible benefits to the organization?

Don’t ignore savings of time. Time can be translated into a dollar value based upon a blended loaded salary (with all benefits included).

For example, a major airline looked at web-enabling address changes. Their manual process involved 3-4 different HR people touching almost as many different systems to update the address for just one employee.

The airline industry has a transient workforce, resulting in thousands of address changes every year. Savings in HR time alone approached $1 million in year one.

Think Simple

I can’t end without one final striking example that not everything is a huge effort.

Working with a large global commodities company, our research uncovered that after the issue of finding internal experts, the next greatest frustration was using the health club reimbursement form.

The PDF form had to be downloaded, printed, filled out, scanned and faxed or emailed to HR. Annually.

Web enabling led to greater satisfaction, time savings and reduced errors.

So, have you found the right processes to web-enable yourself to greater adoption, usage and success?