The Intranet Howto for a Small Business with Limited Resources

02/10/2013 05:12 PM | Sky Stebnicki

This is a how-to for small or medium sized organizations who know that an intranet would be helpful but don't think it's possible in your current circumstances.

As leaders we get it - having a central place (an intranet) where everyone on the team could go for information and collaboration would be a huge benefit! The only problem is that most of us barely have the time, and often the resources, to stay afloat with our current initiatives. The prospect of building and establishing an small business intranet, however helpful it would be, is simply not a reality at this time.

The truth is that rolling out an a brand new intranet that is perfectly polished and has every feature you could ever want can be an expensive and time-consuming project that most smaller organizations would do well to avoid. But that does mean small businesses should avoid the idea of an intranet altogether  There is another, more practical and realistic approach, that can work within any organization no matter what the current circumstances may be.

We call it the "Iterative Business Model" and it has the power to take companies places they never thought imaginable. The basic idea is that you take a big goal and you split it into a bunch of smaller goals that cumulatively build up to the eventual goal. This is not a new idea but  there is one stipulation that makes it different: each change can be executed and put into practice immediately - go live in weeks rather than years.

For example, lets walk through an Iterative Business Model for implementing an intranet in a small organization without disrupting too much time or incurring substantial expense. Our eventual goal is a full-fledged intranet where collaboration takes place, customers are tracked, files are managed, reports are generated and anything else you can imagine.  Our task is to split this eventual goal into a number of doable tasks that can be implemented right away. Start this process by listing out the top three things you would like to be able to do with your intranet. This list may be different for each team, but for the purpose of this article we will focus on the following three:

  1. We need one place to store all of our shared files that would be accessible from any computer.
  2. We need one place where everyone in the company goes to get news, memos and announcements.
  3. We need one shared customer database to update and get information.

So let's walk through a hypothetical implementation plan for the above three items beginning with the first initiative of establishing a central place to store files and documents that will give everyone the ability to share files and access to them from any computer.

The first step is to select a service that will meet your needs. Of course, netric fs does cloud file sharing very well, but so do other services like Google Drive, Dropbox or even Box.com.

Once you select a service and sign up then the trick is to pick one subset of your data to point everyone in your team to. If you try moving all your files at once it could create too big of a disruption. A more gentle approach would plan a slow migration of your files in one month (or you can shorten it if you want) increments that would look something like this:

Month 1

Move all document templates to the cloud and get your team used to finding the templates online as they create new documents. These templates could be letter-heads, proposals, invoices or whatever you have set up for document templates.

Month 2

Get users to start uploading new documents to the cloud but leave the current documents were they are so people can still quickly access past information if needed.

Month 3

By now people should have adopted your new file storage solution so you can move all existing data into the new solution and turn off your local file share.

Then Repeat

Follow the above process adapting to each of your initiatives. The key is to make sure you create small incremental targets or deadlines so you are always moving towards your eventual goal. It may feel like it's too painfully slow sometimes but it's far better than not doing anything at all.  Some would even argue that it is far superior to doing big changes all at once because with each iteration you have the opportunity to learn from the last one and make quick adjustments with minimal investment.

For instance, say you picked the wrong tool. The marketing for the tool made it sound like heaven but your users hate it. If this was one gigantic roll-out where developers worked on the solution for months or even years before it ever hit prime-time then you would be deeply invested in a tool that nobody likes.  At that point changing would not be a viable option.

By contrast, using the process highlighted above, you would discover in the first month, when only a small subset of your data was online, that your tool would not work allowing you to quickly "pivot" or change course.

So give it a try, pick an initiative and start slowly implementing it within the team, making sure that the changes hit prime-time with every iteration. We recommend clearly communicating this whole process with your entire team so everybody understands what is going on and gives their buy-in.

So how about you? Do you have any stories to share of successful large initiatives you implemented with an iterative model? If so, please leave a comment below. I always enjoy hearing how different people approach common implementation road-blocks.

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