Understanding Your Intranet Site Structure [Interview]

How does Bonzai helps customers better understand their intranet content to build new Intranet sites’ structure? Find out as we learn more from Bonzai' Solution Delivery Lead, Rosa Jamal, on how we need lead our clients to rethink their intranet content for intranet success.

Find out how the comprehensive Solution Delivery Methodology helps clients rethink their intranet content decisions and build the path to sustainable intranet content authoring and management.  Inquiring minds want to know, so I had to ask...

Bonzai Approach to Intranet Solutions Delivery

(Chantal) Cameron: "Rosa Jamal, as a Bonzai Solution Deliver Lead and SharePoint Analyst, talk me through some of the site structure challenges and processes that we currently face here at Bonzai."

(Rosa) Jamal: "At Bonzai, we take our customers through an entire delivery process, so once you pass sales, it gets handed off to our team, and our team is made up of a delivery specialist, and a project manager, and technical specialist, but my role specifically here is to take our customers basically from start to finish in the implementation process.

A lot of the work that we do comes down to building a new site structure, which is what we’re gonna be talking about today. That’s like taking your old content, your old structure and moving it into a new one that is more logical and more organized.

The other part of our job is to really understand your business, and it’s to understand the content that you have, the audiences that you’re trying to target, and basically from there because we know Bonzai really well. It’s from those conversations that we can start understanding how Bonzai can best be used for your organization.

After we’ve come up with the build for Bonzai, our team actually takes you through even to training, so we wanna make sure that once we’re gone, the project is complete, that your team is well on their way to be able to sustain and maintain Bonzai on your own. With that said, we’re always around, so once our team is done and we’ve got you to your launch, we always have our help desk helping you out along the way, but really our job as a delivery team is to take you from start to finish, have a new intranet, be able to use Bonzai in the best way possible, have the training around that, have the governance in place, and have a successful launch.

I’ve been doing that a long time, I know that’s a lot of things to say around our process, but we make it very clean, very organized so that you have a stress free way to get to your launch day."

Cameron: "Plus they are genuinely great people to hangout with. You definitely want these people part of your project team. So Rosa, I know we want to talk a little bit about site structure today, and thank you for that intro, I think that really gives a nice holistic view of our project management here at Bonzai."

The Role of Information Architecture in Intranet Site Structure

Cameron: "Now in the delivery process, you guys, one of the things that you do is around site structure. So how do you really kick that off and start off a site structure audit or process?"

Jamal: "One of the big things that we do is information architecture. The science of information architecture is really around how to do organize and categorize and display content for users in the way that they’re trying to complete their task, the information that they’re trying to seek.

It is a huge part of what we do, and to be honest, it doesn’t matter which product you use, whether it’s an out of the box product like Bonzai, whether you do a custom development intranet, you need to have a really solid site structure for people to be able to find content. We basically take you through that process."

De-constructing Site Structure

Jamal: "Now the new site structure, you can essentially think of it as how you organize your content, so those logical groupings of the information that you have, and the reason why this is so important is because it basically sets the foundation, the framework for your new intranet.

What we try to ensure is basically having the ability to grow. So a lot of times what we’ve seen with our customers is that they build something for their first launch but then after that they can’t grow from there because they haven’t built something that is extensible and scalable. That’s what we try really hard to establish here at Bonzai. So the site structure is basically the fundamental framework for where you can basically grow from there."

Cameron: "Great, so when you guys work with different types of companies, what are some challenges that you face within larger companies or smaller companies, are they all the same or is there some that really part of the IA process especially in card sorting?

Do you find personalities even sometimes really challenging or you have to play a bit of politics according to a brand new company you come into and you and everybody has an opinion about where things should be, how do you get through that?"

Jamal: "Well there are definitely different challenges, but it doesn’t matter the size of the company, they can have the same challenges too."

A case in Point: Creating Employee-Centric Intranet Sites

Jamal: "A couple come to mind, one is with our customers whose current environment is maybe a team site or a file structure, and within that, the way that things are built is that it’s the department that creates the content and they have an HR department, for example.

They have a team site or a file share that basically has their working information that is collaborative content with their team, and then maybe they have a folder that says, 'Here’s the published stuff, here’s the final policies and procedures that we want everyone to see.' Basically it’s up to the end user to navigate to the HR department, they can only see that one folder, and that’s where the published content is.

So one of the challenges with that kind of environment is that we’re really wanting to focus on that one folder. We want to understand the type of content that is in that one folder because basically that’s the only stuff that we’re bringing over to the intranet.

When we bring it over, we wanna go more with a task based approach, not who owns the content. So we know that HR will produce things like learning and development, training type content, benefits, compensation, your pay, all of that sort of thing.

What we don’t want to do is when we extract that information into a new structure, we don’t want to carry forward that departmental breakdown, we want to put it into more of an employee-centric type area where we’re driving people towards more topics rather than who produces it. For example, when you get to the intranet, you’re not going HR benefits, you’re going to employee portal benefits, or working here benefits because really at the end of the day, people don’t care too much about who owns that content, they don’t have to. We’re trying to build a new site structure that’s more on the tasks that they’re trying to do.

One of the challenges is working with customers to extract the content that’s produced by departments, but not structure it by departments. So for, depends on the internal sort of environment, the politics, how department focused customers are or their businesses are, that discussion sometimes is a quick win to get people to start structuring it more in a task based way. Sometimes the department structure is very entrenched within the corporate culture and we do have to structure things somewhat in a department way, but our team definitely pushes for a task based approach when building a new site structure. We have a good time in terms of being creative, right?"

Cameron: "Yes."

Jamal: "Because a lot of times the project team can understand definitely we have to go with a task based approach. Departments change all the time, you don’t want to be changing your content every time you have a department reorg. So, we have a good time being creative and all of that, sometimes we have to have that department structure there, but we push and make sure that we do have those task based areas as well."

How Can You Get Creative About Your Intranet Site Structure?

Cameron: "So what are some of the ways you think outside the box when it comes to something pretty repetitive like this?"

Jamal: "Well definitely I’ve been doing this a long time, so I’ve seen a lot of intranets and we have, as a team, a really good understanding of the content that belongs on an intranet. We know that across the board, across all industries, you have a lot of the same content benefits, all that HR stuff, the finance type content, you have marketing, you have all of this common content. The content itself might be different, but we know it exists where the creativity comes in and I think this is something a little bit new for a lot of our customers to think about because it doesn’t currently exist on their intranet, is bringing forward more of the line of business type content on an intranet.

What I mean by the line of business is why are you in existence? So if it’s a bank or a credit union, the line of business is your products and your services that you offer. So if you’re an engineering company, it’s about the projects that you’re working on, maybe you wanna really focus on safety because that’s a huge part of your business. That’s where the creativity comes in because for each industry, we have to really learn about the content that they have related to their line of business.

What I love about this conversation is a lot of times it’s like ‘well we either don’t have that right now, that sounds really great, or we don’t have that right now because it’s on our website.’ For me, I’m always like, ‘Yeah, I definitely understand.’ Can you imagine going to a bank’s website and they didn’t have stuff related to products and services? Of course, they have it there, but really what we want to draw from our customers is understanding you’ve got audiences within your company that are doing the work related to your line of business.

Let’s provide them that information that’s more than what’s on your website. Maybe you have a product you display on your website, but internally, who are the people working on that product, what do they need to know? Are there policies, procedures, forms, are there FAQs, are there responses to customers that are standard that corporate wants them to communicate outward? That’s where the creativity comes in, that’s where it’s interesting is to learn about those nuances.

That’s where we spend probably 80% of our time because like I said, we know 80% of that common intranet content, we spend 20% of our time there just finessing it, making sure, validating it, doing all of that, but from the line of business stuff, that might be new to us. Yes, of course we’ve worked with similar industries before so when we come forward we’ll have ideas already, but we really wanna listen to our customers, we really wanna understand what their audiences need and then from there we’re able to provide our recommendations."

Cameron: "I know we have general ideas and like you said about the industries and coming into it you know you have a predetermined set, but do you get very much from the customers in terms of data or are you guys really working with them on a person to person basis to dig out that information?"

Jamal: "Yeah, good question."

The Importance of Content Audit in Intranet Site Structuring

Jamal: "The way our framework works is that for the first part of the project, we’re doing a ton of research. Our research basically comes a lot from the customer, we ask them for anything that they can provide to us, so do they have any analytics, have they done any surveys?

One big thing that we ask for is a content audit, and in that content audit, it is a cumbersome task, can you imagine thinking about auditing all the content that you have and that you want on an intranet? But what that does is two things, one, it helps identify the current content you have today whether it’s out of date, whether it’s garbage, we still want to know about it because from there we can understand the type of content that they have. If it’s truly garbage, you can get rid of it, you don’t even have to think about it anymore, it gives you the ability to also add content that you want to add to the new intranet.

A lot of times our customers don’t have platforms that are easy to use. They have the bare minimum on their intranet maybe a small team is responsible for it, but now with Bonzai because it’s so easy to author content, this is the opportunity to engage with other content owners, bring them forward, train them, get them working on their content and get that into the new intranet. The audit allows them to start thinking about that as well, so it helps us understand what they have, it helps us understand the owners of that content and it basically serves as being an input into the new intranet.

Basically from all that research that we do, we get from the customer, we ask them to provide to us, we take all that information and then we basically start pulling together all the patterns we’ve seen, the best practices we’ve seen, we start taking that content and merging together the best practices.

The last thing that we ever want our customers to go through is totally blue skying, starting from scratch. We don’t want our customers to go through that, we don’t feel it’s necessary, we’re here to take you through that process, so why don’t we start further down the line because we’ve got our history and our research behind us to help with this.

If there’s ever a time that a customer doesn’t have the research themselves, they haven’t done surveys, we can run those too. We’ve got really easy ways that we can say, “Send out this user story survey out to your end users,” and from there we get information about who’s using the intranet, what types of tasks they’re trying to complete, the content that they need around that as well, so we have things in our back pocket too, in case the customer hasn’t done any of those surveys to get that information."

Cameron: "Wonderful. You guys are nice and data-centric, and you get them from all different areas."

Jamal: "Totally."

Build Your Site Structure in Phases: Start Small and then Scale

Cameron: "Get the nice perfect site structure and IA for everyone. So if you were to wrap up things that you’ve learned over the years, what would you say that you’ve learned specifically with this practice in general that you have reiterated or changed your process of it to fit how you’ve seen things?"

Jamal: "Yeah, so in our early days, we really started with each customer trying to learn right from the ground up. Trying to start from scratch every time, because we’re all business analysts, so we wanted to make sure we’re listening to the customer, that we’re starting from the ground up, we weren’t sure at that time what the patterns were, so we started from scratch all the time when we first started this. Now that we have a ton of intranets under our belt here, we’ve learned a lot.

What I would say is start with the basics, start with the fundamentals that we share with you, and then from there, you can grow. So one of the things that I would say to think about when getting started with this is that you don’t need to think of absolutely everything right from the start.

You can take this in a phased approach, I think a lot of times, people get really overwhelmed with basically trying to think of absolutely everything. So if you’re working with us, going through our delivery process, the way that we’ve built out those patterns and best practices is so that you have something that’s scalable. We’ve tried to start with a structure that is scalable so that later on in six months, in one year, if you have content, brand new content that you want to put on the intranet, we’ve actually built something out for you so that you can easily place that in your structure.

Jamal: The last thing that we want is for our customers to say, “We’ve got this new stuff, and we don’t have anywhere to put it, so we’re going to put it over here and then we’re going to put a link over here to take you over there because it’s too hard to find.” That’s the last thing that we want."

Cameron: "That’s buried."

Jamal: "Yeah, so definitely one of the recommendations is to not feel like you have to do everything. Do start off with what you know, what you know about your content, and then going through the process with us, you can be assured that you’ll have something that’s scalable for the future as well."

Building Intranet Site Structure Sustainably

Learn more about building sustainable intranet site structure by joining our Information Architecture webinar: https://info.bonzai-intranet.com/webinar/planning-intranet-success-in-2018

We hope you were able to take away best practices from our interview with Bonzai Solution Delivery Lead, Rosa Jamal, and her many years of experience leading intranet site structure sustainability and intranet success for many years.

Still have questions? Please comment below and we are happy to discuss further.

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