The other side of intranet efficiencyPosted September 12th, 2011 by David Hamill
I haven’t written anything about intranets on my blog yet. I worked for several years on intranet usability, and after years of counselling feel I’m about ready to talk about my experiences. In this post I’ll tell a story that explains how organisations sometimes think they’re being more efficient when the opposite is true.
A task has two sides to consider on an intranet because both sides of the task equate to internal resources being used in order to complete the task. This story is entirely fictional, but based upon the type of things that happen all the time with corporate intranets.
If you work on one yourself you may recognise some of it.
On one side of the task are the people who deliver it. Let’s use the example of booking meeting rooms and an invented company called DaveTec Logisitics. Large organisations like DaveTec have numerous buildings in different towns often across several countries. In DaveTec they have a team responsible for taking room bookings in all of the company’s 82 buildings worldwide. This team is made up of a manager and 8 telephone operatives who take the room booking calls.
The manager of the room booking team has been asked to make some efficiency suggestions. His brother works at StefTec and has told him that at StefTec all room booking is handled on the corporate intranet. So the manager proposes to make such a facility available in DaveTec enabling him to halve the number of telephone operatives taking calls. The manager shows the figures to his superiors and secures some budget to have his room booking facility developed.
On the other side of the task are the users, the people trying to book meeting rooms. Before the efficiency improvement these people would call a number and book a room over the phone. Now they have to log on to the new room booking facility and do it all online.
The manager got excited and called it E-book instead of something useful. So not only has he borrowed a term that means something else, but nobody knows how to find the facility on the intranet. They don’t know they are supposed to be looking for something called E-book. It’s on the homepage of the intranet but everyone ignores it and searches for ‘Meeting rooms’ instead.
A helpline is provided manned by the 4 remaining operatives but they are only allowed to talk people through E-book rather than simply take their booking. This is to help people ‘settle in’ to the new way of doing things. In the meantime the manager gets some promotional pens and mouse mats made promoting the ‘E-book brand’
The Directors are very happy with the manager because he has reported a dramatic improvement in efficiency. Half of his operatives have been redeployed to other roles so he has reported the cost of employing them as the efficiency improvement he is responsible for. Someone from the Communications Department hears of this ‘improvement’ and writes a very well crafted application to an industry award. Before long the manager is at a posh dinner accepting an industry award for his efficiency idea.
What nobody at DaveTec ever measured was the impact E-book had on the productivity of the people that had to use it. These people outnumbered the operatives by about 10,000 to 1 and many were more expensive to employ than the operatives. Instead of being able to just pick up the phone they had to wrestle with a badly made application that it took them 30 minutes to find. When they were at the end of their tether they then picked up the phone to talk to the telephone operatives who then walked them through the process over the phone.
In time, teams within DaveTec learned workarounds. Some didn’t bother to book the rooms and just used them pretending to have booked them. In other teams the resident computer geek would be given the task of booking rooms for everyone in the team because he had worked out how to use E-book.
In reality there were no efficiency gains made with the introduction of E-book. It was expensive to build and needed to be promoted so that people knew how to find it. The cost of employing 4 operatives had been removed from the manager’s budget but hundreds of people across the company had picked up a tiny fraction of their job and were being paid more to do it. Nobody was measuring this, so nobody knew.
The very purpose of booking meeting rooms was being thwarted because people were too busy to deal with the hassle of using E-book. Instead dozens of people in each of the DaveTec buildings would waste time wandering around looking for a meeting room that was free and repeat the process when they were thrown out by the people who’d actually booked the room. Nobody was measuring it, so as far as DaveTec was concerned it didn’t exist.
Unfortunately this is a common approach for large organisations and their intranets. If they’d considered the other side of the task – that of the intranet users, then they might actually have created some real efficiency gains.
What d’you think?
Do you recognise this type of behaviour or am I exaggerating? Leave a comment below and let’s have a discussion. Sorry but comments like ‘nice post, thanks’ will be trashed.