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How to build your intranet with Google Sites

There are many reasons not to use Google Sites for your intranet. Maybe you have an intranet already, maybe you want (need?) java applications for some complicated business application and custom builds. Maybe you want lots and lots social features built right into the page. But maybe not. Maybe you want a flexible, easy to use, easy to share, content management system that is free (for many, cheap for all) and ready to use out of the box.

Double down on your priorities

The dangers of any “requirements gathering” and all the typical IT building and design processes is the lack of prioritization. Traditionally, you lay out all the different things you need a certain piece of technology to do, and the IT tells you how long it will take and how much it will cost. A recent HBR article noted that these projects, both big and small, not only go over budget, but sometimes cripple companies and carriers.

Now, let’s say you have an organization with 1,000 people and $50,000 you haven’t spent, but budgeted, on IT projects. You have a choice:

  1. hire someone good to lead the development of a social intranet (or pay a few more with a promotion) with tools you already have access to
  2. buy some out of the box solution in a subscription cost range of $5-25 per user that works nicely, but requires a lot of customization per team and system integration
  3. upgrade an existing enterprise server to whatever new ‘social’ extension they have

Your choice will depend on your priority. On my team, communication, content, collaboration, and documents were ours and so we sought out the simplest tool that met those demands and focused on the people that could move it forward. Enter Google Sites. [full disclosure: Google Sites isn’t the only internal social intranet solution my organization, or even team, uses. It’s one part of a bigger quilt.

What do you use it for anyway

Anyone who has ever experienced a good intranet knows that org news, calendars, updates, etc are on the bottom 5% of reasons why we use web-based content management systems. We use them to share knowledge, stories, resources, and connect with one another to get work done faster, easier, and with better information. For that reason, the team and community is at the heart of a social intranet – and that’s where Google sites comes in.

Precisely because it is so flexible, so easy to use by everyone, and deeply integrated into the rest of the google app ecosystem, google sites delivers team/community based systems that are built from the ground up, have good access/visibility controls if you need them, and require almost no outside support. If your team wants to add content or a group, or change the navigation structure and layout, you can do it in a few minutes – not a few weeks. That is the new world of iterative, fast, and agile collaboration and improvement. And it’s all readily mobile too with no customization or tweaking.

How to start

Answering this question is as simple as “what do you do in your job”? Here’s a quick quote from one of my real colleagues in development (fundraising, whatever you want to call it):

We start with goal setting – looking at our donor landscape, what we can realistically raise, and set our program goals based in that reality. We’re always looking at what donors we can renew, how we can grow our pie, who we can upgrade, and who’s in our pipeline for upcoming years. When we map out our grant calendar and meetings, we’re always looking to maximize our existing relationships while building new ones and finding new ways to engage those who are our biggest champions. We use a lot of data and data systems for all of this – for our projections, managing our relationships, and mapping our progress. We’re always moving, looking for new ways to engage, new ways to expand our base while keeping ourselves diversified. By closely building and managing portfolios, our staff pushes toward individual and team goals.

Let’s dissect that for a moment. There are four themes that jump out:

  • communicate with donors
  • cultivate donors through specific appeals, campaigns, and events
  • manage teams
  • use data

Complexity will destroy you if you try to match every task with a separate category, site, group, etc. Having too much in one place is superior to having many different places.

Here’s what we did:

  1. divided a site into those four categories (the top level/islands)
  2. categorized the different steps needed from “training” to “planning” to “execution” so there is consistency across the site for better use and navigation (e.g. training to use the data systems, templates and examples for planning a big event, and example language and docs to write grants, reports, and other collateral)
  3. mapped out the sub pages and categories, and found who had the right knowledge to get the wiki started

Ask questions first

Here are some questions that you should ask your team if you’re thinking about building an intranet (with Google Sites or really anything else):

  1. What is the single most important piece of shared information that your team needs?
  2. What are the 3 most common tasks that your team (or your client teams if you’re in HR, marketing, etc.) need to do?
  3. Who needs the information?
  4. Who has the information?
  5. How often is the information updated?

That’s a good way to get started. We’ll look at how those questions map to building a plan and building a site in an upcoming post.