Contains text: Appendix B - The Trouble with Intranets
Episode 42 -

The Trouble With Intranets

Joel Goodman
From Bravery Media. This is Appendix B, short conversations about the biggest challenges facing higher ed marketers and marketing. My name is Joel Goodman.

With me is Kristin Van Dorn. Hi Kristin. How are you?

Kristin Van Dorn
Hi Joel. So, we’re running a series on why your website needs to be as up-to-date and fresh as your paid media. And Joel, a couple of episodes back, you mentioned that we take a very engineering or IT frame of mind when we approach what audiences need and what services are on the web. I’m wondering if you could talk a bit more about your vision in comparison to this very IT-focused framework.

Joel
Yeah. So I, as I, you know, I, I stay involved in a lot of different, like, higher ed groups online, uh, whether that’s social media or, you know, slacks from different conferences and things like that. And there are fun cycles that I’ve noticed over the last decade of what these conversations kind of traverse, and we’re back into a cycle where people are asking about intranets and, you know, portals or whatever you want to call it.

This happens once a year, maybe, but every couple of years, there are a lot of people who start thinking about this again. And I think the approach that we take is so off base from how. The rest of the world uses technology or expects technology to work. And our modes of thinking around how to separate out a marketing website, which I think we need to do, the website needs to be focused on marketing, focused on prospective students, on enrollment, on those goals, but separating out the things that we need for our internal audiences.

So. The solution is almost always, oh, let’s put a portal in place. You know, and there are a bunch of products out there that are very expensive and built to lock you in, and you can’t migrate your data out. And so these are really big, these are really big conversations. ’Cause when you change up that mode of thinking, at some point, you end up having to spend a lot of money trying to do a migration or manually move stuff.

And it takes a long time. I mean, I think about ERPs that institutions have in place, that when a major new version comes out, you’ve gotta go and like do a six to eight-month migration process and sometimes longer. It’s really similar to that when it comes down to a portal.

But going back to this, I think we approach this the wrong way; like most people, they don’t view our web properties as different places. Right?

And Kristin, I think you mentioned this a couple, couple episodes ago, but you know, when someone comes to, comes to your website looking for information that they need, if they’re like a current student, right, you can train them and educate them that they need to go to my.university.edu or whatever your intranet URL is, but, we’ve also found over the last 20 plus years that you can’t get faculty to do that. You have to put a link on the homepage, in the footer, or in the header that gets them to the portal. Or at least everyone thinks you still have to.

I’m a big fan of just, like, ripping the bandaid off and making them learn how to do it. But that’s just me.

But I think there, you know, that these are opportunities. These aren’t things that we look at and say like, oh no, the only way we can solve this is by putting that link on the homepage or training these people. It’s an opportunity to figure out how you can solve this with a better user experience.

A lot of times, intranets and portals and all that kind of stuff, like the number one thing that they need or the number one thing that they’re trying to accomplish, is to educate. It’s to provide information to your communities, right?

It’s all of that, “How do I register for classes?”

“How do I drop a class?”

You know, the faculty handbook, the “What’s the policy for this?” and all of that kind of informational stuff is essentially a website for your campus community. It’s not stuff that your prospective students need to know. It’s not something that needs to be out there.

But instead of that, we treat it like a giant wiki and expect people to know how to use a wiki and have all this collaborative editing and all that kind of stuff, and that doesn’t work.

It doesn’t work in an institutional model where everyone already has a job and has a job they need to be focused on, where not everyone is as technically savvy as everyone else. Where not everyone feels like it’s their responsibility to go and edit stuff and post stuff and do all that.

Like if you need to have internal blogs, that’s one thing. But for the most part, as we said a couple of episodes ago, there’s the problem where needs aren’t being met, and maybe the need is that these internal constituents can’t post the content that they want.

I don’t think that’s the need. I think that is a symptom of them not seeing content that is for them, that is directed at them, that allows them to get their jobs done better. So, to me, the solution here is not putting more software in place. It’s not buying a massive ERP and putting that in place. It’s not looking at new ways to share and collaborate and stuff in an open, public way. It’s really about just building a really good user experience that answers the questions.

You can approach it just like you do prospective students. You know, do a usability study internally. Figure out what things your faculty, your staff, and your students are looking for and need to find. And then build a website, put a content strategy in place, and do exactly the same thing.

And then, you know what put a little login link at the top of your main website. And when they log in, switch the content out. You could use the same design; you could use all of the same stuff. You have the content directed at those internal constituents.

We talk in higher ed about wanting personalization and all of this stuff to make our prospective students’ lives better and easier, But we don’t put in place any efforts to make sure that our internal constituents, that our internal community that keeps the whole thing running, are also engaged in the same ways and are also taken care of in the same ways. Instead, we force SharePoint on them, or we force some other internal portal software on them, and IT manages it, and IT doesn’t have designers. And IT doesn’t think in terms of UX. They think in terms of how do we get this software out there. And then you have to trust that the producers of the software know how to do good UX and care about your internal structures when really all they care about is getting that really big paycheck from you so that you have their software on-premise.

Kristin
Yeah, I think about, um. The design of portal sites and how oftentimes they’re very blocky. It’s a lot about news stories; it’s a lot of duplication from what’s already happening on your main website. And it is essentially driving people to open up their email and their calendar or their learning management system.

Joel
And those are things that could be tied into the experience, you know, and you could do a lot more. You could tie in all of the classroom management stuff and actually make this more of an experience that, yeah, there’s the informational stuff that your current students need.

But then also, you can start thinking in terms of product, like you’re building services for your internal community. And you can start thinking about it, well. What would be beneficial to ’em? Maybe it’s to see upcoming class assignments or just to have their class schedule there so that they’re reminded that, oh yeah, I’ve gotta get up and go to class at 7:00 AM tomorrow.

Um, you know, and be able to tie that into your LMS and have, you know, assignments come through, and special projects come through instead of making people go to six different places. You know, most of the software that’s being used in all these other service areas have APIs. It’s just they don’t talk to each other because at an institution, you’ve gotta have a developer to do it, or you’ve gotta hire someone to come out and do that integration work.

But it opens up a lot of possibilities when you think in terms of how we develop a great user experience or great community experience for our current students, faculty, and staff that allows them to get their jobs done, whether their job is learning or their job is doing marketing, or their job is teaching, or their job is HR or registrar or, you know, whatever.

But we don’t do that. we put in place a perpetual 30-year-old bandaid that makes everyone really not like their job, but eventually they kind of ignore it. and then we’re just dumping money into, into products that don’t, don’t do anything for us.

Kristin
Yeah. So explain to me how, if we had the Joel Goodman vision of, uh, website environments for a university, um, if I’m a current student or a faculty, how do I get to the resources I need? How is this different from what already exists?

Joel
Yeah, so. Uh, the last university job that I worked at, we did a version of this. the way that I envisioned it is you just go to university.edu, and there’s a login link. And that login link actually should do a couple things.

One, if you don’t have a login, cool. It’s an inquiry. It allows you to create that account and start the admissions process, right? If you do have a login and it’s, you know, so you have a single sign-on, and you know, most institutions have single sign-on implemented already.

If you don’t, you implement it. It’s not that hard to do. You sign in, and then we know who you are. We know, we know, we know what your job role is, we know what department you’re in. If you’re a student, we know what your major is. We know, uh, we know what department you’re studying under. We know what residence hall you live in. We have all this information, and we have all the data on campus. We just pull that all together. And then you’re presented with not necessarily a different website that looks entirely different. You could run this in the same CMS; you can run this in the same designs in most cases.

Um, you’re presented with content that is targeted at you. It’s content that isn’t viewable; it isn’t findable outside of being logged in. That’s not content necessarily that we want to get on Google. We don’t want people to be able to just jump into search and find it until they’re logged in.

But once you are logged in, you have this other campus layer that goes on top of the experience that you have. And it does a couple of things. One, it makes brand parity across all of your audiences a lot better. And we know that institutions struggle with that, right? They struggle with making sure that the brand that they’re extending out through their marketing efforts actually incorporates the culture or incorporates into the culture on campus and actually gets people excited to be representing that brand.

And at the same time, it allows you to build on usability practices you’ve already put in place for other people. You know, in my mind, it goes back to this hospitable design concept. It’s really about making sure that you are putting in place an experience that is taking care of everyone that’s on campus, taking care of your students, taking care of your faculty, taking care of your staff, making sure that they feel empowered and happy and energized to do their role, whatever their role is in, in your organization.

That pays dividends. That means that you have people that are like, yeah, I had the best possible experience ever.

I think I’ve talked about this before; I did my master’s program online, and it was awful. The program was great. I liked the program. I learned a lot. I’m glad I did it. I still keep in touch with a lot of folks that I was in classes with.

But the rest of the experience was so bad. It was old Blackboard. When I graduated, when it was time for graduation, those of us who were online were told that we needed to go to New York City to pick up our cap and gown a week and a half before commencement, and there was no other option for us.

I was like, I am not flying from Chicago to New York to pick up a cap and gown and then coming back two weeks later for graduation. It doesn’t make any sense. Like, give us an option otherwise.

During my first term there, I took an Intro to Media Studies course. And they had someone come and do a colloquium, and I really wanted to be there. I wanted to hear this person. It’s a media studies program. You’d think they would at least record the video and put it up for us to watch later, and they should have been live-streaming it.

They did none of that. So, we weren’t able to actually participate as online students. It made, it made the experience terrible. I don’t know what the on-campus experience is like, but I’ve worked on campuses, and I, you know, I was an undergrad once on a campus. Those experiences shouldn’t be that different.

And if you’re able to extend your brand between those two experiences in ways that make a lot of sense, um, visually usability-wise, content-wise. The ideal is that you don’t feel like you have to find the information. You should feel like the information that you need is there for you, and you know, it’s just natural. You shouldn’t have to think about it.

That’s what I envision. It’s taking all of the data that we have across campus. And not just putting it in a design, putting it in really good usable design that is focused on our internal constituents in the same ways that we focus on making sure, well, hopefully making sure that our UX and design for our marketing websites focus on prospective students and our enrollment goals. because the easiest way to get away from being dependent on new tuition dollars is to make sure that you retain the students you have.

And that’s one huge step that could be taken to retain students. If they feel like they are equipped and confident, know what they’re doing, and have a great experience, they’re going to be less likely to look at another institution, drop out, or stop out. I mean, to me, that’s low-hanging fruit.

It costs money. You have to have someone that can think in that way. You have to work with partners who understand this sort of thing and be willing to invest in those people. But in the same way that you can invest, you know, half a million dollars in a website design and see millions of dollars in return in a year because you did it right, you could do the same thing internally with the retention numbers. If you can fix your retention numbers and increase those by, you know, five or ten percent, the money you would spend to do that integration piece is paid for in a year. Then, you just have to go through the rest of maintaining it and improving it and building a culture of product development and product design that’s focused on your internal constituents.