Building your own technology (intranet) platform

Build it  yourself, if you dare!
So I spotted this article on the Law Society Gazette website and felt compelled to write about it as it discusses one of my favourite subjects Intranets.

First some context; in the article the author who is Managing Partner at Keystone Law talks about how as a business grows and more staff are employed there is a tendency for information to become buried and as a result for the effectiveness of individuals and their productivity to suffer. The solution, you guessed it "...an intuitive web-based intranet on which your personnel can find and do just about everything. An environment where even the most old-school solicitors can reach their desired destination with a few clicks of the mouse, whether they are in the office or at home. A tool that makes collaboration and the proactive sharing of information not just easy, but enjoyable"

So how you should you go about delivering such a tool. Well Keystone Law decided to build their own. Now this is where the article starts to trouble me. Whilst building your own intranet might sound like a good idea. It usually means that one person is responsible for coding and building it, if they leave then you're up a particular creek without a useful paddle. That's not to say there aren't some good examples of intranets that have been built in-house. For example Shepherd and Wedderburn won a Gold Award in the 2010 Intranet innovation awards for their MyShepwedd intranet site.

But I have to ask how do you build scalability and longevity into a home grown tool? If the firm decides to merger and there are an extra 100, 500, 1000 staff will the intranet be able to cope? Whilst I'm sure a piece of bespoke technology will offer lots of functionality it's not going to be able to do everything a commercial product does. As the author says "whenever a piece of non-essential functionality proved too complex or time-consuming, it was put on the back burner to be dealt with post-launch" It's good that Keystone have identified nice to haves from essential but it would have been more interesting to know what this "non-essential" functionality was.

The author does have some good advice about naming your intranet "You have a tremendous opportunity to boost morale, to reflect your firm’s personality and help create the culture you want. So for starters, give your intranet a good name, something that relates to your firm in some tangible way. The name doesn’t have to be brilliant but don’t miss a free opportunity by allowing your IT platform to be known as ‘the intranet’" This is a must if you're rolling out a new intranet, whatever you do, don't call your intranet, intranet, this is like calling a pet dog, dog!

The author also suggests that to ensure your intranet is adopted you make it essential (James Robertson would be very proud). Keystone Law have done this by making the intranet the only place to open a new client record. According to the author this means that "Luddites have no choice but to log in daily, and in so doing they discover a whole world of usefulness which is accessible in seconds. Before long they are regularly updating their profiles, submitting suppliers for approval and suggesting upgrades. Sometimes people only know what they need once you give it to them."

Unfortunately the author had to go and spoil all that hard work by revealing that Keystone law have a photo carousel with the latest pictures uploaded to it. The Intranetizen team will not be happy!

[Photo credit - Build it yourself from Flickr]