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Expert Advice on Developing an Intranet Strategy

March 1, 1997
Related Topics: Intranets/Extranets, Featured Article
For more than a decade, David Link, principal consultant with Baltimore, Maryland-based The Hunter Group, has consulted on information systems and strategic planning for organizations such as Oracle, Apple, Intel, Merck and Delta Airlines. The former strategic systems analyst with Watson Wyatt has authored articles for magazines and is a member of the International Association for Human Resources Management (IHRIM). Here he answers questions about developing a strategic approach to implementing an intranet.

How important of a development is the intranet for HR?
There's a dramatic transformation taking place in information technology. It's changing profoundly the way entire enterprises operate. Intranets have exploded because they solve real-world problems. Right now, human resources has a wonderful opportunity to jump on this bandwagon, and in many cases, to lead the charge. It's the only department that touches every employee in the organization, and it's the one in the greatest position to cut administrative costs.

Is HR ready for the challenge?
We have found that HR professionals are like deer caught in headlights. HR always has been at the bottom of the technology heap. We can't think of a time when HR got any technology sooner than five or 10 years after it was released—whether you're looking at imaging systems, relational databases or client/ server technology. Now, human resources professionals are being asked to help pave the way for intranets within the organization. This is a wonderful thing. But it's also very dangerous. People need to make the right decisions.

How does a company begin to formulate a strategy?
The question is: What do you want to do with the intranet? Do you want to deliver services better? Employee self-service is a culture shift. Instead of human resources spoon-feeding employees, HR has to create a system that's useful and attractive—so that it doesn't wind up buried under phone calls and routine questions. Taking existing processes and putting them on an intranet doesn't take advantage of the technology. All that does is put all the paper into an electronic form, which still gets routed to everyone. What HR should be thinking is: How can a person go to a Web site and complete work without involving anyone else? The other important thing is that an intranet doesn't replace other forms of self-service technology—such as kiosks and interactive voice response. It complements them.

What is the biggest obstacle to building an intranet that really works?
Too often, HR departments simply take existing Word or WordPerfect documents and spin them through an HTML converter and then throw them onto an intranet. Suddenly, employees can go get that information, but do they really want to? Unless there's a compelling reason to use the intranet—and the site is attractive and easy to use—you've lost them. Once they log on and have a negative experience, it's tough to get them back. It's a bit like going into a restaurant and not liking the food. A company should never roll out an intranet with mundane information. They should put something exciting and interesting up there.

What sells a site to the workforce?
Value. The site needs to be designed so people can get the information they need quickly and make changes to their benefits and various accounts. Like a store, there has to be something to attract people. Human resources departments need to think about other services that really would have high value to employees. It's different in every organization. But we've found that anything related to pay is of high value to employees. That could mean electronic copies of paychecks online, 401(k) transactions or benefits enrollment or job postings—which can translate into a better position and more money.

How important is it to make the right choices in technology?
The nice thing about intranets is that companies don't have to worry about many of the traditional problems related to technology. They're inexpensive, easy to set up and use existing network technology. They're based on open standards and they aren't going to become obsolete by next year. The fact is, virtually everything an HR department does today can be delivered on a network through an intranet, and the company can save time and money in the process. If human resources really wants to become more strategic—and in many organizations it doesn't have a choice—then this is a way to accomplish that goal. The main thing to remember is: An Intranet has to be designed around business goals, not technology.

Workforce, March 1997, Vol. 76, No. 3, p. 92.

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