Poor Information Architecture Is Hurting Your Business
Business managers seldom put a high value on something as technical as the information architecture of the intranet. But not doing so leads to a number of issues. Here are five business situations where poor intranet information architecture has a direct business impact.
1. Customer Experience
I was in a call center one day and noticed a strange behavior: Call reps would listen to a customer request, cover the phone's microphone and ask their colleagues for answers. The result was customers spending a much longer time on the phone than necessary, not to mention the answers were not as professional as they should have been.
Explanation: The staff received all the required answers from their managers via email during their induction training and during subsequent meetings, yet it was obvious this method did not work.
The solution: What they need is a knowledge-base structured around products and processes. Structuring information and making it easily accessible would allow the employees to deliver faster and better answers to the customers.
Related Article: Intranet Search Is More Than a Technology Problem
2. Poor Internal Services
I asked a bank employee about their intranet and she said it looks nice and was filled with HR information. She had recently been sick so I asked if the intranet provided an easy way to track sick time. She said no. In fact, she said most things on the intranet were either poorly documented or not documented at all. Mostly, you'd have to ask around to learn how to take care of those kinds of issues, wasting a lot of time in the process. For example, another employee told me he spent 30 minutes on a similar issue.
Explanation: Those in HR, as most internal service providers, designed their intranets to describe who they are, what procedures they use and so on. They are not designing the intranet in terms of the services they provide to their internal customers.
Solution: Each department should present the services they provide internally in a very transactional manner. The employees are first and foremost interested in what you are doing for them and then about who you are. Each internal service provided should be presented in one place on the intranet with all the relevant resources (news, changes, procedures, FAQs, support contacts, deep app links) to simplify the employee's access to the information they need.
Related Article: What Employees Always Want From Their Intranet
3. Slow Change Management
Someone working in sales support told me that any change in their network, a network with hundreds of locations and thousands of employees, took months to implement and was painful for everyone involved.
Explanation: When implementing a change there are two important moments: 1. when the change happens and it is communicated to the employees and 2. when the employee is required to perform the task taking the change into account. In this case, the change would be communicated to the employee through email or intranet. From that point the management relied on the employee's memory to implement the change properly when the time came. Their information architecture was structured around types of information (news, procedures, product information, HR, etc.).
Solution: A good intranet would relay the information in advance, in a visually rich manner to allow employees to prepare for the change. It would also require a read confirmation. Then at the moment of the implementation, when the employee would access the topic page, the change would be highlighted along with the other necessary resources.
Related Article: Why Change Needs to Be Managed in the Digital Workplace
4. Failing Operations
My wife had to replace an expired debit card. For no less than 30 minutes the customer representative and even the branch manager searched for the app screen that would print the form she needed to sign to confirm delivery of the card.
Explanation: Today's employees are facing complex application systems and loads of products, documentations and procedures. In this case, the information architecture of the intranet was oriented on types of information (news, procedures, training resources, etc.).
Solution: Build an information architecture around topics (cards) and subtopics (card replacement, how to do it).
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5. Customer Experience and Lack of Feedback
My cousin opened an additional bank account for her small company. She went to the bank, filled out the request form and received the account number. Going home, she was expecting to see the new account show up in the online banking app. She contacted the call center and was told she should have filled out an additional form to request that the account would be accessible via online banking.
Explanation: The process could have been improved by having a "Do you want the account to be accessible over online banking" checkbox on the initial form. This company has thousands of employees that could conceivably come with ideas like this and yet they fail to do so because there is no simple, direct feedback system between the process/product owner and their internal customers.
Solution: For each internal service, your information architecture should include a feedback loop. It may be as simple as the email address of the process owner or it can be a full-blown feedback tracking system. Regardless of method, it is critical to have one.
What to Expect From Your Information Architecture
There are many more problems people attribute to other causes — poor training, motivation, human errors — yet in fact have their origin in the way an intranet is designed.
Good information architecture doesn't just make your intranet site more efficient, it changes the way your business performs by improving key support information flows within the company.
To build a good information architecture, you have to:
- Identify all the important topics for the employees. An easy way to identify them is to make an inventory of all internal services provided to the employees.
For each topic, the information architecture should provide users with the following:
- Inform: Gather in one place all the information a person needs to do the job right: procedures, forms, news, changes, app deep links, FAQs.
- Educate: The same way marketers use advertising to sell us stuff, use the intranet to expose information that educates users.
- Motivate: Explain why the topic is important, "sell" them the task at hand.
- Support: Pinpoint the exact person/ticketing app/group email where an employee can request support.
- Feedback: Build a clear connection between the internal customers and the topic owner.
- Task management: Gather all the tasks the employees have to perform, display them on the homepage and filtered at each topic level.
Do you have any similar experiences you want to share? Are there cases where poor/improved access to corporate information had a negative/positive effect on company results?
About the Author
Cristian Salanti is working as a Digital Employee Experience Architect at Zenify.net. He has been developing Intranets for the past 20 years. He is advocating for a more practical, managerial approach to Digital workplace design.