I saw one of the best definitions of an intranet as “what the employees experience” earlier this month. The point that Stephen Fishman was making, and poignantly so, was that it doesn’t really matter where the tools are, your average employee doesn’t distinguish between portals, benefit centers, wikis, and whether it’s a platform, suite, mash up, or other option.
The “intranet” is very much an IT-created concept and the more we focus on user experience and design, the better off everyone is.
As Google Apps proliferate across small and medium sized businesses, across education, non profit, and for profit businesses, and even in some larger enterprises, there’s a real question of whether Google Sites can stand up to traditionally defined “intranet” projects.
To dig in, I connected with a Google Sites expert from Kirksville Web Design, Kyle Horst, to get the scoop on how he’s worked with clients recently to meet their intranet needs with a combination of Google Apps.
Here’s our Q&A
1. In the last two years, it sounds like you’ve seen a growth in folks turning to Google Sites for intranet solutions. Can you describe why you think this is and what people are hoping to accomplish?
As interest for cloud computing and Google Apps continues to grow, so does the interest in Google Sites for intranet solutions. I think particularly now in the government and education sectors there is a need for the collaborative and data-sharing solutions that are so integral in their traditionally paper driven world.
Kirksville Web Design started out focusing purely on public-facing websites. We’re now marketing ourselves in equal parts towards intranet and extranet. We want to meet the demand for cloud computing environments and Google Sites is just the tool. As more companies Go Google, more companies are asking about Google Sites, “What does Google Sites do?” and “How can we use it?” After all, they are already paying for this application in the Google Apps suite. It’s best to take advantage of it.
Overall, it all comes down to money. Google Sites is part of the Google Apps package. So if your organization is on Google Apps, why shell out money for Sharepoint or some third party intranet? Organizations are willing to give Google Sites a shot at competing with these more costly options, especially in economically tight times. It can mean big annual cost savings, ranging into the tens of thousands.
2. Are the “intranets” that folks are asking you to build different than traditional intranet portals? If so, in what ways?
I wouldn’t say so. The goal is really to stretch Google Sites as far as it can go. Oftentimes, that means tapping into Google Apps Script, which extends the usefulness of Sites into the other Google Apps, mostly Google Drive.
There seems to be a bigger emphasis on design and stylization with these new intranet projects. Many organizations are stuck using an intranet solution that looks like it crept out the 90s and so they want an intranet that matches their brand and looks professional, and therefore inviting. It’s not enough just to be practical, it has to look good and that’s where we have really excelled coming from a graphic design and user experience background.
3. Are you able to follow up with your customers to get a sense of their satisfaction? What are some of the trends you’re finding?
It important to leave your client happy and empowered when providing an intranet. After all, they will be the ones maintaining it and helping it grow to suit their needs. Thus far, all my clients have been happy with their Google Sites product. It’s simple to use, basically free, and looks nice – you can’t beat that.
There is a need for ongoing support. Inevitably, there will be those tasks that the client doesn’t feel totally confident in carrying out. For instance, they might come back to me asking about creating an embeddable gadget of some sort: a slideshow, a web form, or a workflow. These are little add-on features, since the bulk of integrations are already quite easy to implement, such as Google Groups or Google Calendar.
4. How quickly are you typically able to complete a project? Is this faster or slower than typical client expectations?
I design and develop all our intranet projects for Kirksville Web Design, so I have a good grasp of the timeline. The time to complete a project boils down to three factors: the look and feel, the number of pages, and the needed functionalities. The look and feel takes between 5-10 hours. The number of pages I would estimate 30 minutes per page. The needed functionalities really are dependent. A Google Calendar will take 15 minutes, but a complex workflow could take days of programming.
I would say that most of my projects take a month. These are projects consisting of less than 20 pages. Considering the expectations that our client have had, this is fast. Google Sites is an efficient platform to develop on. There are a lot of opportunities to duplicate pages or even whole Sites with templates, not to mention to don’t have to write in code all day long. What you see is what you get (WYSIWYG), it’s great instant gratification.
5. What’s the advantage of working with you? So many people – including Google – talk about how easy Google Sites are to use, so shouldn’t they be able to do everything you are themselves?
The advantage of working with Kirksville Web Design is that you can expedite the entire process of learning Google Sites and implementing it. Certain principles of design aren’t so easy to just pick up. Clear navigation, purposeful design, organized structure, these are all important for a first rate intranet solution.
The first assistance that client ask me for is to help them build a scope of work with Google Sites. They aren’t entirely sure of what Google Sites is capable of, so all my project start out as kind of a feasibility study.
Don’t get me wrong, working with Google Sites is easy-as-pie for editing a page or writing a new announcement. It’s the jump from good to great I suppose, that where we come in. It’s nice to have a Google Sites expert on your side.
6. Google Sites certainly isn’t perfect – what are some of the big changes you’d like to see?
There are simple things that could be asked for. For instance, the ability to increase the font size of the horizontal navigation links. Overall, there’s not a whole lot to ask for since the platform has great potential and scalability. I think everyone wants the ability to create more of a blog out of the announcements page, where anyone can comment on articles. That’s got to be on the list for many.