What is the best way to design an Intranet? Should each department have their own portal, or should there be a single corporate portal? This article will discuss several Intranet design examples offering my advice for the best route to take.
As we previously covered in the other articles in this series, there are some big benefits and drawbacks to having your own Intranet. One of the most important things to consider when implementing an Intranet is it’s design. Once you start putting materials on your Intranet, it will be difficult and time consuming to drastically alter the structure of the site.
I’ll cover some of the step by step items needed to start designing and building your Intranet in the next article. This article will simply discuss philosophical design.
In this design, individual portals are set up for each department. No central portal exists.
Pros: Less management resources as each department is responsible for their portal and it’s contents.
Cons: No centralized management or oversight of portals. Limits knowledge sharing just within a department as opposed to corporate wide.
Summary: This design is really only useful for small businesses. It lessens the administrative burden on a central IT department, but due to the need for departments to train their workers on administering their site, user buy-in may be low. Recommended only for pilot testing or small businesses who don’t need a centralized formal portal.
In a centralized design, all resources are kept on a single portal. This design is the best place to start when first designing an Intranet as it is a natural launch pad for expanding out to other departments. What corporate resources do you want people to be able to find and collaborate on? Keeping the site small will make it more manageable and focused while you learn your way around the technology and work out what your stakeholders want to see.
Pros: Good starting point for new Intranets – ability to scale up to hub and spoke model. Centralized management.
Cons: No real disadvantages to this method.
Summary: If you’ve never had an Intranet at your company and are exploring the idea, this is the place to start. See the next article in this series that discusses how to kick off your Intranet project.
Hub and Spoke
This design is probably the most popular for medium to large portals. A central portal exists which keeps high level corporate information and is a central “gather" place for people to keep up on news around the business. The “spoke" part of this design is individual departmental portals that are linked to from the central hub.
Pros: Flexible – not all departments will need or want a portal. Good for organizing – central hub links to other resources and other portals on the Intranet.
Cons: Requires the biggest investment in time (and possibly money). In this arrangement, there is an administrator of the Intranet as a whole, with departmental administrators or coordinators responsible for their areas.
Summary: This design gives flexibility for departments to set up resources for their departments while maintaining some order over corporate “shared" resources.
A Note About Deployment
You really have two options when it comes to deploying your design into your environment – on-site or hosted. Some companies offer both solutions, such as Microsoft Office SharePoint Server. You can purchase the software, install it on your servers and host it internally, or you can subscribe to a service that has Microsoft (or another provider) hosting the IT infrastructure, giving you web access to your site.
Each method has it’s pros and cons, but it typically boils down to costs and maintenance. On-site solutions typically cost more up front (unless you go open source) than a hosted solution. However, with hosted solutions you typically pay more in the long run. Hosted solutions are easier to manage since you don’t need to administer servers, but on-site installs give you more flexibility over configuration.
Part five in this article series will cover getting started with building an Intranet.