Author: Denise Eisner

Denise Eisner is a senior-level web strategist and communications specialist with a passion for creating enhanced user experiences. As a member of the Government Service Excellence practice, Denise’s experience and specializations include web strategy development, information architecture, web analytics (WebTrends and Google Analytics) and web project management. She has led large-scale content audits, developed performance measurement frameworks, and coordinated site updates to meet Treasury Board policies standards and guidelines. Engaged in the evolving spheres of information technology, corporate communications and media for almost two decades, Denise has transformed business objectives into web strategies and information architectures for corporate and government clients in the U.S. and Canada.


Special Series: Taming the Intranet Beast, Part 2

Part Two: Intranets Are All about Vacation and Money

In the second of a five-part series on Taming the Intranet Beast, senior consultant Denise Eisner highlights two of the top things employees care most about when it comes to Intranets.

The essence of the employer/employee relationship is this: employees are paid for work performed and they get days off from work with pay. Understanding how pay and vacation is given in an organization is often described on departmental Intranets via policies, agreements, guidelines and forms that support how and when employees collect salary or overtime, and when they can take time off.

Unfortunately, surveys of users and heuristic (usability) reviews of Intranets reveal that many of these sites don’t provide the means to do any tasks related to pay or benefits easily or efficiently. The most common issues with Intranets include:

  • Sites that use practitioner jargon, not plain language – Employees describe compensation as pay and leave as vacation. Yet a majority of sites yield to human resources terms because those groups author the content and determine navigation labels.
  • Corporate content is outdated and/or duplicated – The new vacation request form has been posted but the old one is still available. Sound familiar?
  • Few if any of these key tasks are available via the home page – Employees might find pay and vacation content two, three or four clicks in from the home page, which is frequently the default page when the browser opens. Rather than get right to their chosen task, they have to fight the information architecture. This loss of productivity can cost the organization 90 cents a minute per employee.
  • FAQs are not – The use of the frequently asked question has devolved into a convenient format for web content but it rarely reflects what users actually want to know. By not having informative FAQs, HR advisors end up responding to the same questions over and over.
  • Bad forms – Form design is a special practice that takes into account logic models, taxonomy, visual design and functional requirements. The result of bad form design is bad data, delayed processing and a good amount of frustration for all.

Fixing the Vacation and Pay Design Problem

Identifying the key tasks related to vacation and pay and positioning those tasks within easy reach of users will go a long way toward improving Intranet usability. Task analysis, card sorting, and paper prototyping are helpful activities that can uncover most of the common issues with navigation and site structure with respect to these tasks.

However, fixing vacation and pay tasks online is not just an information architecture problem. Supporting these tasks also means analyzing how the task gets completed beyond the Intranet site. If for example a request form gets automatically sent to an email account that is monitored by one employee, what happens when that employee is away? Or, if a vacation form submitted online requires another employee to rekey that information into a legacy system, what processes are in place to prevent errors? Could there be some automation to prevent rekeying in the first place? Web teams are not typically tasked with these considerations, but given the impacts on user satisfaction and productivity, this situation calls for collaborative business process solutions to identify weaknesses, determine roles and responsibilities, design potential solutions and test them before releasing them to employees.

In Part Three of this series, Denise Eisner shows how putting tasks ahead of employee newsletters is smart Intranet management.

Special Series: Taming the Intranet Beast

Part One: the Intranet is an Expensive Help Desk

In the first of a five-part series on Taming the Intranet Beast, senior consultant Denise Eisner explains why not fixing a broken departmental Intranet wastes millions of dollars each year to lost productivity.

Several times each day, an employee goes looking for information that by all accounts should be found on a departmental Intranet. Sidestepping the dubious search engine, the hunt-and-click quest begins, pitting employee against byzantine information architectures, rogue sites, duplicated content and countless out-of-date newsletters. Ten minutes into the task and no resolution in sight, the frustrated employee consults an office mate, who now joins the task for another five minutes. In the end, they both give up, and the unfortunate employee is now left staring at the phone and plotting the next move.

The sad reality is that the answer was likely somewhere on the site but irretrievable due to confusing navigation, absent site governance, poor writing, lack of search engine optimization (or a decent search engine), etc.

This scenario is common among government employees, stemming from a series of poor decisions and inaction about the department’s Intranet. This inaction bears real consequences, not the least of which is that the employee didn’t get to do something other than the Intranet task for a portion of those 15 minutes.

To look at this dilemma in more stark terms, assume an average loaded rate for a government employee at $94,000.00 (C.D. Howe report, page 5). Allowing for work days equal to 46.6 weeks (including three weeks for vacation and 12 stat holidays), multiply 46.6 by days (233), hours (1,747.5) and minutes (104,850), and you arrive at a per-minute employee cost of $0.90. Multiply that cost by 20 (employee #1’s 15 minutes and employee #2’s 5 minutes to help) and you have spent $18.00 to not find information that should be readily available on the Intranet.

Extrapolating this one example to a department makes the Intranet beast even more deadly. If just half of the employees in a 4,000 FTE department only had one information retrieval task a day that did not succeed (and that’s being generous), then the total cost for one day’s worth of fruitless searches is $36,000.00. The yearly tab? Your management should be astounded to learn that lost annual productivity for a department of that size at these rates to find basic information online hovers around 8.4 million dollars.

After this reality sinks in, can you afford not to fix your Intranet?

In Part Two of this series, the Intranet is distilled into the two things that employees care most about and should be fixed first.

Finding ROT Is Only the Beginning

by Denise Eisner

The ROT (Redundant, Outdated and Trivial) web content reduction exercise underway in many federal Canadian government departments and agencies will prove to be a win on several fronts:

• Users will be able to find content more easily;
• Departments will have less inventory to keep aligned with evolving Common Look and Feel standards; and
• Any energy spent on improving content will go toward high demand web assets.

The process typically begins with a content audit, looks at performance metrics to assess usage and then goes through an evaluation process to determine what stays.

But when the audit is over, will the organization know how to:

• Determine what goes on the web, why and for how long;
• Understand web content relative to official records;
• Communicate life cycle guidance and policies to content owners; or
• Identify archival strategies for low-demand content that should not be on the web?

These considerations fall under the practice of life cycle management, which brings together the communications and information management disciplines to formulate appropriate policies and guidance for the organization. It’s a relatively new piece of policymaking that simply requires an understanding of what business rules apply to online assets and then devising operational guidance that is triggered by a business decision to remove content.

If ROT is your department’s diet blitz, consider life cycle management as the ongoing maintenance plan to keep the bloat out of your web presence.

Denise Eisner is a senior consultant within the Government Service Excellence practice.

No One Wants to Follow a Government Department

by Denise Eisner

There’s an interesting yet bewildering range of efforts by federal government to be in the social media sphere. There’s the call to action: “Stay Connected”, “Stay Informed”, or “Get Connected”. There’s the obvious: labelling the area above the commercial icons as “Social Media”. And then there’s “Follow Us.”

Aside from maybe one or two notable exceptions, there’s scant evidence that users want to follow an entire department. Government departments are not task-related. They are large organizations with multiple services that may or may not translate into discrete tasks performed by users with different needs.

What users would follow however (and already are in some cases), are themed updates that correlate with tasks in their personal or professional life:

  • Alerts and recalls
  • Border crossing times
  • Harmful chemical substances in consumer products
  • Air quality readings in my geographic area
  • Vaccination clinic locations and hours of operation
  • Upcoming deadlines for public consultations
  • Tips and deadlines related to business tax filing
  • Deadlines for grants and contributions
  • Updates during natural disasters

Notice that these are highly specialized pieces of information. That’s intrinsic to what social media was meant to do: provide a communal place to share information related to a topic or event that a group of people care about.

Here are several ways to break out of the “Follow me” cycle and turn that into “Let me help you”:

  • Identify key tasks. Your web and/or marketing teams might already have the research on this one.
  • Prioritize which tasks are performed most often by audience groups. There are likely some overlaps between what different groups need with respect to timely information.
  • Brainstorm ways you can deliver value-add information via your Twitter feed or Facebook page that would correlate to users’ top tasks.
  • Determine how to measure Followers and Likes to track performance.
  • Develop a linking strategy from your updates to departmental or specialized site content and track that performance as well.

Denise Eisner is a senior consultant within the Government Service Excellence practice.

Closing the Intranet Hellmouth

by Denise Eisner

Dark, scary portals to hell typified by the Buffyverse’s Hellmouth, or “an area fraught with massive supernatural activity” require slayer-level strength to manage effectively (it also helps to know some nifty martial arts moves). So too, do some organization intranets. The byzantine navigation, mysterious rogue sites on separate servers, and complex pages overrun with management objectives, frameworks and strategies on some Intranets make one want to click away as soon as possible. Or, for some web managers, metaphorically stake the demon.

Short of enlisting superhuman forces, there are five things organizations can do to tame their Intranet Hellmouth:

  1. Focus on employee services – There are two fundamental things people care about when it comes to their relationship with an employer: money and vacation. Manage the top user tasks related to those two areas and your web team will score big on client satisfaction. Is it easy to find the leave request form or is it eight clicks from the home page? Catalogue the top user tasks and let those guide the navigation structure.
  2. Ask real users what they think, not stakeholders – Not everyone in the organization uses the site: some people only use one or two apps or have someone else do it for them. It’s challenging to be all things to all people. Listen to the folks who are your true users. Watch them use the site for insight into behaviours.
  3. Clean out the ROT – Make sure the site isn’t cluttered with redundant, outdated or trivial content. That’s a sure way to waste users’ time. Conduct a content audit and perform mini-audits each quarter.
  4. Be a word count freak – Marissa Mayer at Google recounts how they strive to keep the word count on their home page at 28. That kind of ruthless editing takes leadership and an insane amount of negotiating. But the results at Google speak for themselves.
  5. Stay human – Intranets should not be soulless, corporate bulletin boards. Keep the community vibe going with contests, blogs, surveys and profiles of what employees are doing in and outside of work. That said, manage this activity with communication and information architecture specialists who can apply usability, content and design best practices for professional polish.

Are you sitting on an Intranet Hellmouth? Tell us your story.

Denise Eisner is a senior consultant within the Government Service Excellence practice.

GOC: Why You Need a Community Manager

by Denise Eisner

Every week it seems I hear of another government department that is drafting its social media strategy to “communicate with external and internal audiences.” Once implemented, a member of the Communications team is tasked with overseeing the social media channel, which typically involves getting approvals for messages to be posted in both official languages. The icons are put on the departmental home page, and management is content that they are in the game.

But not so fast. It isn’t a social media strategy that’s needed as much as an engagement strategy, and to engage, departments need specialists who perform that strategic role. That’s the view shared by Kelly Rusk, a consultant with Thornley Fallis here in Ottawa. With a background in PR/communications and stints as a community manager, Kelly has experienced what it takes to put the social into social media. We asked her to share her thoughts on why government needs community managers to oversee their social media efforts.

How did you start?

My first job was at a small e-marketing firm, where I carved out my own role in PR/communications which looked eerily like the role of today’s community manager. I started up and managed our company blog, managed our newsletter, updated the web site, hosted events for our customers and wrote for industry publications. Later I was head hunted by a Montreal-based start-up and hired as community manager where I managed the company newsletter, blog, Twitter account, and was responsible for finding and retaining members in our online community. I also did media relations and travelled to industry trade shows and conferences to help get our name out and meet our online followers/fans/community members in person.

There are social media managers and community managers. Which role best fits government departments and agencies and why?

Different people define roles differently, but in my eyes the community manager is a strategic role that revolves around building a community of interest, whether that is in a separate online community, through various social media and marketing channels or whatever makes sense for the audience. Building a community also means getting members to speak and interact directly with each other so engagement tactics play a huge role as well. A social media manager is usually a marketing position for someone whose main responsibility is updating social properties and creating content specifically for those properties/channels.

That definition in mind, I think community manager makes more sense for government department and agencies because it’s a goal-focused rather than tool-focused. Government needs to be adaptable and accountable when it comes to online strategies and I see the community manager as a more adaptable position. The trend is spreading where social media functions across an organization, rather than putting it in a separate silo, which is what a social media manager position might be perceived as. I like and believe in this approach and feel a good community manager is poised to lead this type of change internally both in private organizations and government departments.

Given the role you identified, what are the key activities that must be managed?

A community manager starts with a plan that feeds a business goal (i.e. increase membership, revenue, awareness etc.,) and defines target audiences (customers, partners, employees, stakeholders, etc.). Then she/he must determine the appropriate ways to reach and engage those people. In my experience this can include a mix of the following: a newsletter and/or email list, an online community site, a blog, social networking sites (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn), webinars and in-person events (meet-ups, conferences, tradeshows, seminars). Often these activities feed into each other. For example, you can collect email addresses – with permission of course – at events to add to newsletter or place social follow buttons on the blog.

To be in that role, what skill sets are needed?

Excellent communication skills are essential. Often times a community manager is the “face and voice” of the organization, so s/he needs to be able to express him/herself professionally and in a way the organization is comfortable with at all times. A community manager needs to be forward thinking and always looking out for new industry trends as things can change quickly online. This person also needs to understand how to measure his/her activity, use web analytics and probably Excel.

If you were hired by a government department to lead the organization’s social media efforts, what would be the first three things you would try to accomplish and why?

I would conduct a social media audit by looking at what’s happening inside and outside the organization with relation to social media, what tools are available, training etc. Then I would focus on developing internal guidelines and policy. Ideally a community manager is most effective when he/she has buy in and support from the entire organization. The guidelines and policy help make other employees comfortable with potentially using social media at work, as well as to help management understand and buy in to employee usage. And lastly, I would build a strategy – this would outline what I would be doing, how it will be executed, and how it will be measured. It would feed into or be part of a larger communications strategy.

Kelly Rusk is a consultant at Thornley Fallis. Follow Kelly at @krusk.

Denise Eisner is a senior consultant focusing on information architecture, performance measurement and web strategy. Follow Denise at @2denise.

Kathy Roy and Ryan Gideon join Systemscope

Systemscope welcomed two new members to its team of consultants:

Kathy Roy has implemented business transformation and change management projects in complex organizations for over a decade. She has worked with major companies, both public and private, and with numerous business sectors in both Canada and the United States.

As a Management Consultant, Kathy has partnered with her clients as they sought innovative ways to reduce costs and improve service delivery. She has worked with clients at all levels and can offer both strategic and operational perspectives on business solutions. She has created and analysed detailed process maps, integrated process metrics into work activities, and utilized this information to develop powerful management decision-making tools, such as scorecards and dashboards. She has a unique perspective on how to truly effect change, as she has gained extensive feedback on all of her change implementations as an auditor. This unique insight has delivered lessons learned that she applies with all of her clients to deliver truly sustainable solutions.

As an Executive Coach, Kathy enjoys the flexibility and precision that may be applied to the highly specific business objectives of her clients. She has assessed client needs and crafted engagements to best suit them. She has the hands-on experience required to provide guidance that considers both strategic and operational requirements. Years of managing business transformation projects have afforded her the ability to see opportunities where others see obstacles, and this quality is effectively applied through her coaching.

Kathy is driven and dedicated to solving the problem at hand; she has never met a challenge too big.

Kathy can be found on LinkedIn, and reached via email at roy@systemscope.com.

Ryan Gideon is a consultant in Systemscope’s Enterprise Information Management practice. With a Master of Library and Information Science degree from the University of Western Ontario combined with his employment history, he offers a broad range of experience and knowledge. He has worked with a number of federal government clients on various projects including electronic records disposition, preparation for implementation or upgrade of electronic documents and records management systems, and IM training and awareness.

Clean out the ROT in your Web Closet

There’s something eerily satisfying about cleaning out a closet, or at least it is to chaosphobes likes myself who can’t function in a messy space. With less stuff to search through and now organized in neat categories, that closet is a place where I know I’ll find what I need and whether there’s a gap that has to be filled.

There’s a strong parallel to looking for content on a large Web site. Too much badly organized and irrelevant content makes finding the good stuff harder and more frustrating. But cleaning out the ROT (Redundant, Outdated or Trivial content), is not exactly a priority for most government departments. Putting up content, particularly reports and news releases, seems to dominate the priorities for most Web teams. And so the ROT builds up, until someone says a major overhaul is needed.

A major overhaul is like moving to a new house: expensive, stressful and time-consuming. A regular content audit however, is like cleaning out a closet every so often: cheaper, manageable and faster. For a site or subsite of less than 5,000 pages, it can be done in approximately two months, barring any other major drains on the team’s time. The steps are straight forward:

  • Designate a project manager to oversee the content audit and track progress.
  • Capture all the existing content information in a spreadsheet.
  • Determine what you want to know about your content: accuracy, findability in search engines, usefulness to audiences, etc. and share that methodology with the project team.
  • Engage content owners to identify their content and determine its accuracy, and web specialists to rate the content’s findability and usefulness.
  • Collate the findings to see what content can be archived, refurbished or kept as is.
  • Report recommendations to senior management for action.

If nothing has been done to the website in three years, a good content audit should identify at least 50% ROT. One of our clients just completed an audit with 67% ROT. They now can focus on improving the remaining content, and thus make their site more useful to the people that visit it.

With departments starting the planning process for the next fiscal year, now is the time to determine which older sections of the Web site (or the entire site) need a review, identify available project resources and build timelines for a content audit.