I believe your intranet can help staff find the information they are likely to need faster. It can be the popular, respected and well used digital library that your staff expect it to be. But according to CMSWire, in a recent survey of over 20,000 employees from 67 organizations, this is not often the case:
“Ease of finding information” is considered to be the most important quality of a valuable intranet and yet is considered to be the quality that is ranked as needing the most improvement.
What can we do to easily improve information retrieval on intranets? Your intranet, and the community of staff who use it, have unique needs. Firstly, in order for staff to find the content on your intranet they are looking for, your intranet needs to perform like a regular public library, promoting the most interesting, popular and sparkly new content to both browsers and searchers. Secondly, because most of the information on intranets is unique it needs to be able to perform like a records centre or archive. But it should never try to be a library and an archive in the same place at the same time. Imagine the problems people would have finding the latest bestseller if libraries never threw any books out; unfortunately many intranets suffer just this problem.
So to help get your intranet into a library-like state – one where staff can easily find the information they want on it – let us have a look at how library collections are managed. A good starting point is Stanley Slote, the definitive author of library selection policies, whose research indicated that “in every case where shelf-time has been used for weeding, contrary to expectations, usage was found to increase.” The point here is that where all books that had been left on the shelf – and not taken out – for a defined period were removed from the shelves, usage of the library service as a whole increased. Simple. Users are drawn to concise, valuable collections and turned off by collections with an abundance of dusty, disused content; even where those collections still contain the valuable content.
Let’s transfer this advice to an intranet setting. If content on your intranet hasn’t been looked at in say eighteen months there is a strong argument that it should automatically be siphoned off into an ‘inactive’ state. The tools to enable this should be available to you; a good statistics package from your content management system that can provide you with a list of content that hasn’t been accessed and the ability to one-click deactivate that content – or better still automate the process via its workflow package – is all that is required.
Libraries often make exceptions; some large books rarely get taken out but are often consulted. Some works (Chaucer, perhaps) remain ‘significant’ no matter that people take them out or not. Some classics have a cycle of popularity. Some classes (art, for instance) contain more expensive books than others so are kept longer. And there may be a case on your intranet to make similar exceptions. But beware of the slippery slope here; as soon as you acquiesce to one author, format or subject area there will be similar cases to be made to leave, ultimately, everything potentially relevant readily available. Which will leave your users frustrated at never being able to find anything pertinent. Your best and easiest move is to be firm, define a maximum period of time content can stay active without being opened, and deactivate content that passes that time limit with determination or automation.
Part of working in any organisation is the ability to access its memory however; there’s always the edge case, the person looking for that neglected trinket from days of old. So it is important to add a readily accessible option – either via a radio button, drop-down menu, or link on the results page – to ‘Search the Archive’ or, to be plainer, ‘Include content that hasn’t been viewed for over [insert your duration here]’.
Your users will soon be humming along and pleased as punch with their streamlined, easy-to-find-stuff-on intranet.