Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.


Creating a Research Portal Webinar

Electronic resources are said to be the future of the library where the library exists on user’s desktops instead of down the hall.  While this sounds simple, providing clear access to the many resources a library licenses for its users can be complex. Register now to attend our webinar called Creating a Research Portal, to be held on Thursday, January 21st, 2010, from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM Central Time.

This session will help librarians focus on how to present electronic resources via the intranet or a research portal in a way that makes sense to users. The topics covered include:

  1. Method for design
  2. Necessary technology
  3. Successful implementation

Who should attend? Anyone in leadership who plays a part in business decisions. Participants could come from the following groups:

  • Library Directors
  • Library Managers
  • Library staff
  • Intranet Managers
  • Information Resources/Services Directors

Whether you are in the beginning stages of creating a research portal or redesigning your current solution, consider inviting your intranet committee or governance team members to attend the program with you.

Speaker: Nina Platt, Owner and Principal Consultant, Nina Platt Consulting, Inc.

Moderator: Carrie Long, MLIS – Research Analyst, Nina Platt Consulting, Inc.

Registration fees: $25.00/participant

Group registration fees: $50.00 for 2 or more participants from the same organization

Questions? Contact: Amy Witt


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Intranet/Portal Redesign: Planning for Success

j0177968.jpgBuilding an intranet or portal is tough enough but doing it without a plan is close to impossible.  I’m not talking about making even dramatic changes to what you have but starting over.  With a strategy in place as mentioned in a previous Strategic Librarian post, Intranet/Portal Redesign: Developing a Winning Strategy, planning should be straight forward if you know what to do.

Redesigning anything is a large prospect.  The good news is that even that task can be made simpler by breaking the process into phases.  The most logical approach to redesigning your firm’s intranet/portal is to use a five phase process:

  • Research
  • Design
  • Implementation
  • Rollout
  • Maintenance.

The research process allows you to learn more about what your organization needs, what platform is best for your needs, and what resources you will need to deliver a new portal or intranet. 

The design phase is where you gather your research and make decisions regarding platform, content,  and development tools.  In this phase you use the user requirements gathered in the research phase to develop a design that responds to those needs.

The implementation phase is the phase where the rubber meets the road in terms of deliverables.  Up until now, the results of the first two phases can be defined by additional planning documents but during the implementation phase, the end results take shape.

The rollout phase delivers the new intranet / portal to the organization taking into account the communication process that needs to take place with a new system.  Some version of training is part of this phase.

The maintenance phase starts after the rollout as the the intranet/portal is evaluated and improvements are made.  This phase is ongoing as long as the intranet continues to support the needs of the organization. 

During the next few weeks I will be posting an article for each phase beginning with research.   I look forward to your comments or thoughts on the topic.


Intranet/Portal Redesign: The Third-Generation Intranet

When you came to work today, you most likely started your computer and eventually made your way to your organization’s intranet. If you were lucky, you found an intuitive interface that provided access to the information you need to do your work and a guided path to the web applications your firm has implemented to support the practice of law. We take all of this for granted in 2007 and usually expect more than what we have. When and how did the intranet come in to being and what does the future hold for this very useful technology. What will the next generation intranet look like?

Depending on what articles you read, intranets introduced in 1993 or 1994.  Steven L. Telleen, working at Amdahl, first coined the term “intranet” in July 1994.  In the first iteration of intranets, the focus was on creating a universal client that provided access to information across a variety of platforms.  At the same time, the development of an intranet was intended to be an alignment of technology and business goals as demonstrated in Figure 1 published in Telleen’s early writings.

Telleen Concepts

Figure 1

As Telleen was working on what the framework of an intranet should look like, Netscape was working on the web browser with Microsoft hot on their heels. The developer of the Mosaic browser, Marc Andreessen, reported that even as he developed the browser, he was hearing from businesses who were interested in using the browser for internal purposes McCartney, L., “Intranet Business Follows Race for Cyberspace”, Upside, Dec 1996).

Following the introduction of the browser, Netscape and then Microsoft introduced their intranet server suites (Netscape Server Suite and Microsoft Back Office) that could be used to create a web environment within an organization. With the infrastructure in place for creating intranets, it would seem that the first generation intranet would be an integrated marvel.

Instead, most companies and firms who put intranets in place used little integration of disparate systems, usually due to a lack of commitment in resources (skills & dollars).  Intranets were most often developed with static pages that required updating by individuals who knew html.

Additionally, many companies had no standards or guidelines for what was added to the intranet and often the sites that were built were collections of unused documents that were poorly organized. The first generation was a good start, but the early adopters in law firms soon learned that they needed more than they had.

The second-generation intranet brought more integration with firm resources. Using portal products like Plumtree, LawPort, SharePoint many firms developed intranets that pulled content from firm databases and put it in context. An example would be the development of client pages where content would be pulled from a firm’s accounting and document management systems or any other system that held client information.

During this phase of development, more applications became web based and were accessed from the intranet. The development of RSS allowed news to be integrated as well. Some firms made huge investments in their intranets and they saw benefits for the dollars spent. Client/Matter centric intranets started to be developed.

Fast forward to today where many firms are starting to look towards the next generation of intranets. As the technology continues to develop, we are seeing new tools that make the development of a robust and feature rich intranet more attainable, even by smaller firms. Making the most of an intranet means paying attention to best practices.

Think of the intranet as a reflection of the business. The intranet has grown in purpose from an interface that allows access to a staff directory and policies and procedures, to the tool Telleen intended. Intranet strategy should be driven by the firm’s business goals and strategy.

Take time to plan. Installing SharePoint and throwing a portal together without taking time to plan will create problems. Get the right people to the table to discuss what the goals are for the intranet. Turn the goals into actionable steps with defined deliverables. Decide on a timeline and the development approach.

Do usability testing before, during and after the new intranet is developed. Success of an intranet hinges on content but also on how easy it is for your users to find what they are looking for. Along with the testing, survey and interview users to determine what needs have been met and what additional functionality is needed in the new intranet. You cannot overdo involving users in the planning.

Define requirements for the new intranet. What will it look like and what do you need it to do? Who will maintain content? How will they accomplish that task? If you are planning an intranet that is role based, what will each roll need when they open their browser? Do not get hung up on how the development will be done. Focus on functional requirements. The technical requirements will come later.

Define the architecture of the site and select the software needed to support the architecture. Will you use something like SharePoint? If so, are there web parts or third party solutions you should consider like LawPort, xmLaw, HubbardOne, or Handshake? What are other firms using? What do they consider their successes?

Develop a detailed project plan for the development phase. Depending on your goals, it may take weeks or years to develop the site. Create a plan that works for your unique needs. If you know you cannot accomplish all you want to do before you deliver the first version, divide the project into phases with version releases as you go from one phase to another.

Communicate with your users. The plan that will not work is one that does not involve the users of the intranet. “If you build it, they will come” does not always work. If you involve your users in the building process, they will be more likely to use what you have developed.

So what makes an intranet innovative? It probably depends on the firm but there are common threads. It is:

  • Based on business needs and reflects the business
  • Built using state of the art technology but not for technology’s sake – the technology meets a need whether you are using .NET, XML, RSS, web services, or other technologies that are becoming new standards.
  • Integrates with other firm systems in a meaningful way – it puts content in context
  • Provides customized and context based search at the point of need regardless of where one is on the site
  • Empowers the content creators – consider using a content management system
  • Empowers the users – give them what they need when they need it based on role, task, or other organizational structures

 It is becoming clear that the next generation intranet is one that uses the latest in technology but goes many steps further if viewed as a tool to further business strategy. Firms are finding that their intranets can increase communication, make the business operate more smoothly and make them more competitive. Combine the technology with strategy and add good planning and you will have a platform for innovation for years to come.

This article was previously published in Practice Innovations, Oct 2006.


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Intranet/Portal Redesign: How to Develop a Winning Strategy

intranet.jpg

You want to redesign your intranet or portal?  Success in such an initiative is fleeting at best if you approach it without a strategy.  Doing the work up front outlines why you want to engage in such a project, what content or resources you will provide via your site, when you plan to do the work, and who gets to take on the task. To create such a strategy, you will need to ask yourself a few questions.

Why do you need a redesigned/ new intranet or portal?  A few reasons may be to:

  • Move to new or improved technology platform.  As new development tools are released to the market, new standards for development evolve.  A redesign may be needed to keep up.
  • Improve content management.  Your firm may be one of the many who still maintain sites with static html pages or you may have the need to direct all new additions or changes of content be done by a select individual or individuals, creating a bottleneck in updating the system.  Distributing management of content to those who are subject experts or who own the content could improve the situation.
  • Reduce development time.  Firms with Intranets that are well used generally have a backlog of pages and/or applications that need to be created.  New tools for creating web pages or sites can reduce the time spent by developers and may even allow the staff who manage content to develop simple pages/sites.
  • Improve usability/navigation.  Each user may have different needs when it comes to using an intranet.  Using employee roles or workflow are just a couple ways to make usability and navigation better.   Examining how work is done in your organization could be the key to improved usability.  Other factors like improved search or site structure improve usability and navigation as well.
  • Improve support of intended purpose.  Perhaps your goal is to use the intranet as a communication tool, computer desktop, knowledge management platform, or other purpose.  You may need functionality you don’t have in your current implementation.

What are you going to make available on your internal site?  The answer to this will help you determine platform and tools needed for implementation.  Content can be vastly different depending on organization and purpose. 

  • Will you use the site for communication, knowledge management or various other functions?  
  • Do you have web applications that will be linked to the site? 
  • What will your structure look like? 
  • Will it be developed according to how the firm is organized or will you be using another organizational structure?
  • Will you focus on building a client/matter centric site?

When will you be implementing each part of the site?  Part of the strategy should include how you plan to maintain the site.

  • Are there components that need to be done in phases? 
  • Once they are complete, will you be following a calendar for changes and updates? 

Who will create and maintain the site? You will also need someone to develop the content management and communication plans.  This isn’t an exhaustive list of tasks but it is a good start.

  • Will it be done in-house or outsourced? 
  • Do you need to outsource parts of the project like the initial planning? 
  • Does your staff include people who can provide project planning including strategy, timelines, and more? 
  • Do you have someone who will be able to address usability, gather user requirements, develop the user and technical requirement documents, develop the site and do project management? 

How will you create and maintain the site?  The platform used for the site will drive how the site is developed.  However, unless there is a good reason, you should wait to determine platform after developing user requirements.  SharePoint, Plumtree and other intranet/portal products are similar in many ways but also have distinct differences.  Building a custom site will give you exactly what you want, but at what cost?  At the same time the portal products require development time as well.

There are many good reasons for wanting to redesign or develop a new portal/intranet and many ways to go about doing so.  The key is to have planned your strategy before starting to make sure the initiative is successful.