Design Firm Intranet
Pages on Becker Morgan Group's intranet contain a navigation field on the left side of the screen that includes a menu of the major sections of the site. The navigation field includes submenus when users are in the major sections. It also contains a log-in for the firm's Web-based e-mail program along with a search field that allows users to search projects and contacts from its database.
The major sections of the Becker Morgan Group intranet include:
Corporate news and a listing of what's new in the other sections of the site.
The firm profile, including awards, services, vision statement, and pictures and maps of office locations.
Project descriptions, the most heavily used part of the site. This section includes the firm's contact and project database. Employees can choose from multiple search criteria, such as keyword, principal, and location. The search lets users pull up detailed project descriptions. The popular archive of past projects provides a history of projects and photographs to get an enlargement. The intranet contains a wizard that guides employees through the steps of uploading photos onto the intranet.
Standard forms for memos and transmittal forms; users can draw on the contact database to fill in the fields.
Job standards for project management, forms for field memos and reports.
Human resources information including benefits and office policies.
The marketing section includes press releases, a list of the firm's market sectors, and training resources.
Training and instructions on administrative functions and software tutorials.
References to codes, government data, manufacturers' Web sites, and design guidelines.
Developing an Intranet
Each section of Becker Morgan Group's intranet has its own distinctive color, which enhances the navigation of the site. Anna Hoge, the firm's graphic designer, has been responsible for the site's design. "Anna helped to make over our external Web site," says Ernest Olds, a partner with Becker Morgan Group. "You usually don't look at the intranet in the same way. There's such an emphasis on packaging for the outside that you don't think of the inside. But she has been instrumental in giving us a new Web-like look."
Hoge is also responsible for updating most of the content information on the site. There are updates to make just about every day. Hamby explains: "As we grow, we're constantly looking at the navigation of the site. We have Anna make the updates to make sure information gets posted in the right section."
In addition, there are a number of automated posting areas that certain administrative personnel can use. Since there are users unfamiliar with HTML, any database updates can be made using Web-based, form-submission pages. Maintaining the site takes a few hours of employees' time each week.
How has the firm gotten employees to use the intranet? "We tend to put it in front of them as often as we can," says Hamby. Becker Morgan Group has information technology (IT) meetings with each office once a month and makes sure the intranet gets lots of exposure at these meetings. The IT staff also directs employees to consult the intranet rather than asking an administrative person when looking for information. "Making it the default location also forces people to understand the intranet and use it," says Olds.
An Aid to Expansion
The firm saw a real benefit from the intranet when it acquired a 30-person firm and needed to get the new employees up to speed on the firm. "By having projects, vision statements, and photo histories," says Olds, "it gave the new people a real feel about who we were and where we came from. We couldn't do it any other way."
The firm has seen other benefits as well. Rather than print out 50 copies of an announcement that must be circulated and have everyone sign off on, the firm can just post an announcement to the home page. "It's taken the place of a lot of the paper copies that are stuck up on walls and located in different file locations."
In addition, the database tells employees where to find stored, inactive projects. "Saving people the trouble of finding something obscure has proven to be very important. I think people have begun to see it can save everyone headaches," says Olds. Hamby agrees. "Information is available to the end user at a drop of a hat. There's no excuse not to get information now."
Becker Morgan Group does not allow clients access to the intranet, but it is something the firm is considering for the future. "When we have them in, they'll probably be on a separate site and come in through the external Web site," says Olds. The firm runs a firewall and intrusion detection programs.
What has Becker Morgan Group learned from its experience? "For most companies," Olds advises, "start small and leverage the information that's most important. Project data probably has the most benefit, whether you're looking at a body of work or a particular job. I recommend starting with the data and building from there."
Olds concludes: "It can be a tough sell when revenue generation really drives the business. If you can benefit on the money-making side of the equation, it will help later. From an IT standpoint, we're not bringing on wholesale changes. It's not a huge investment. It's a hard thing to quantify IT-wise, but I think by paying a little as you go, it's more tolerable."
Christopher Klein is a principal with ZweigWhite, a management consulting firm for the design and construction industry. He is responsible for researching, writing, and editing publications for ZweigWhite.
This article is excerpted from AEC Intranet Cookbook, copyright © 2002, available from ZweigWhite.