What Has Your Intranet Site Done for You Lately?

Bob Summers, CIO, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits
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Bob Summers, CIO, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits

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"Lack of current and relevant content is the most common complaint executives have of their corporate Intranet site"

Like most companies of any size, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits (a Florida-based chain of retail wine, spirits, beer, and cigar stores) has had an employee Intranet site in place for years. During this time it has evolved – links have been added to self-service applications, a section for company news is front and center and employee anniversaries are highlighted each month–but, it has never reached “valuable daily tool” status until now.

Our communications team has been the champion for redesigning the site to address several performance-draining shortcomings common to many companies. If your company has field locations, do any of these issues sound familiar?

Our Challenges
-Dozens of operational emails are sent from the corporate office to field management teams daily. Many describe specific actions for the team to perform. -Field teams spend hours reading these emails (not necessarily the same day), taking valuable face-time away from customers, guests, and employees. However, many emails are not read within the intended timeframe, resulting in more time spent finding them later when the time to address the request is available.

-Many of these emails include time-sensitive actions to be performed, but there is no mechanism to report when required actions have been completed.

-Daily, weekly, and monthly reports are sent to regional and general managers via email with Excel spreadsheets attached detailing site-level operational exceptions and other information. These senior-level managers are forced to manually parse this detail by site and get it to the appropriate managers. This process can take hours per week.

-Corporate departments and project teams store documents in many places, including personal drives, share files and wikis, making it difficult to access across workgroups when needed.

Our approach was to embark on a traditional site design project using a firm familiar with our company. Once that work was completed we discussed Lack of current and relevant content is the most common complaint executives have of their corporate Intranet several technical implementation alternatives, including custom development in Java and in .Net (our original site was developed using .Net), and chose Microsoft’s SharePoint Online.

Why SharePoint Online?
After comparing our design storyboards with SharePoint Online’s standard features, we determined it was a good fit. Many of the major features included in our design were delivered as working templates with SharePoint Online. We were already using Office365 for Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint, so Microsoft delivered natural integration with SharePoint Online and the common look and feel helped with the decision. Microsoft has advanced this online version of SharePoint significantly over older versions, particularly in the area of ease-of-use.

Other considerations that favored SharePoint Online included the avoidance of future upgrades, as Microsoft makes frequent enhancements to this Cloud version – all transparent. The document sharing, collaboration and management features are strong and intuitive, especially if your docs are in or can be converted to Word format. However, the big attention-getting feature was workflow management– functionality that is extremely valuable when tracking approvals, collecting feedback and status, and receiving feedback from remote employees.

While SharePoint Online does not have a mobile app, you can access your employee or team account on a mobile browser using your smartphone or tablet. From there, you can open documents, add folders, upload files, and access many other standard features.

Content Management
Lack of current and relevant content is the most common complaint executives have of their corporate Intranet site. The last thing you would want to happen after redesigning your Intranet site is to fall back into the “stale content pit.”Let’s face it, everybody is busy – too busy to be scouring the department’s pages for out-of-date content and generating replacements. And, in some companies, the process for getting content approved and pushed to the site is cumbersome at best.

The team at ABC knew this challenge had to be addressed and made the decision to seek expert advice to determine best practices for content management. Following are the highlights of our approach:-

Led by our Chief Marketing Officer, we obtained support from the senior leadership team, including the CEO, to push field-directed email content to the site and onto field team pages.

-Emails with selected attributes were logged for over a month and page designs were finalized to display this content in a logical way for the audience.

-Corporate department home pages were designed to have outward facing and inward facing departmental content.

-We selected a consulting firm (Agile Thought – Tampa, FL) with deep SharePoint and Intranet site development experience. They guided us throughout this process, using an agile scrum methodology, delivering working functionality every two weeks.

-We selected a Content Administrator, as well as Content Managers from every corporate function. Appropriate SharePoint Online and ABC standards training was provided and reinforced. This team will continue to meet regularly, sharing tips and techniques, motivating each other – keeping the torch lit!

-As the site was launched, an all-employee scavenger hunt was conducted, which was great fun and very effective in introducing the new site to the company.

If you are considering addressing the needs of your Intranet site, give SharePoint Online a look. It has come a long way in the last few years – you will reduce your overall project timeline by weeks or months and your content managers will thank you.

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