Monday, September 18, 2006

An information resource

The intranet at the Red Cross provides news and information to their employees and volunteers. It is closed for people outside the organisation.

The next interview took place at Juli 19, 2006 with Aad Steenhorst from the Red Cross.

Digital comfort

“At a certain point in time it just becomes clear that you need to switch to digital ways of communicating and that happened at The Red Cross over two years ago. Digital information is easier to distribute and store. More and more of our volunteers also have e-mail addresses, so it made sense to use the internet more. Moreover it can be very convenient to have a collection of news and information that every professional and volunteer has access to. In the past when somebody, say a volunteer or somebody else, phoned up with a question, he would have been referred about five times: Nobody wanted to take the responsibility for answering. In 1999 the service bureau was set up to overcome this problem. Since then 95% of the questions can be answered right away. In 2006, the intranet now seems a very good medium to store all information, so that we can also refer to that and also where people themselves can find the information they need.” So the intranet has arisen from the need to go digital. What can be found and done on the intranet? “There is a news section, a calendar and a place for document sharing. Those are the most important features. People have access to it from home, they just need to login. Naturally the volunteers and the professionals don’t get the same access. Certain parts are disabled for the volunteers. We have different subjects on the site, which can be divided into staff information and the activities of the Red Cross. Staff information is only accessible to the professionals. The intranet can best be seen as a databank on everything concerning the Red Cross and is aimed at professionals and volunteers. One of the goals we wanted to achieve was that everybody could have access to information at their own time and place.”


How did you get started from the identifying the need to arriving at a digital resource?
“We approached a company to design a system for us. I don’t know very much about that, but they set it up for us. When we received the system, it seemed to me like we didn’t really know what we had bought. We had to figure it out when we got it and could start trying out the options. There has been a team responsible for the intranet set-up: team intranet. There are people from communications and the ICT department, for instance, in that team.” Is the intranet well set-up in your opinion? “The intranet offers great advantages and opportunities. I just think there’s hasn’t been enough thought gone into the people responsible for providing the content. There are web editors assigned to different parts of the content. The only problem is that these people are not given any extra time besides their normal duties. They are supposed to provide information for the intranet alongside what they have always done and that has proved to be problematical. You can see some parts of the intranet are quite active and up-to-date. It really depends on the time people have on their hands and how much they’re motivated to make the effort. The front page of the intranet is currently not really up-to-date. For instance, some news items should have been posted in the second column. Currently it is empty. The problem is that a date is attached to the news and when it becomes too old it is sent to the archives. You can still find some news there, but it is not a really an inviting place to visit when empty spaces appear.”

Information attracts people

What are the responses to the intranet? “Everybody was very positive in the beginning, although there were some login issues at that time. Fortunately these have been resolved now. The greatest obstacle now is the content. That should be kept up-to-date and refreshed regularly. The web editors need to be encouraged, one way or another.” How do you think this can be accomplished? “Perhaps mentioning the importance of the contents in the newsletter would help or maybe when we can maintain statistics of every page. If a lot of people visit a certain area of the intranet, these positive responses can encourage you to invest more time, because you don’t want people to get disappointed with the information available. If on the other hand relatively few people visit, you might possibly like to attract more visitors, because you don’t want to lag behind the other editors.”

Basics come before greatness

What kind of future do you envisage for the intranet? “I always say: Better have a living dwarf than a dead dinosaur! The basics must be taken care of. Web editors need to be given extra time to provide the information for their part of the intranet and the intranet must develop into a real knowledge centre. When somebody phones us with a question, which I mentioned was one of the goals we wanted to achieve, we should be able to say: go to this place on the intranet and you will find what you are looking for. If all that is going well, we can, for example, consider expanding its function and adding more interactive parts. Right now we have communities and polls, but the polls don’t work properly yet. We need to take care of the basics first before we can go thinking ahead and we really need to start thinking about using those features too.”

Another point of view

The intranet at the Red Cross is a good example of how problems can cover up other things. It is comparable to an onion skin, where every layer covers another one and the core can only be reached if all separate layers are all pealed away. For the intranet the technical problems with the log-in had to be overcome, before other problems became visible. The problem that then appeared is the lack of content. As far as they can see at the moment, the users of the intranet are positive about the system, taken into consideration that the information will be kept more up-to-date. As long as this is not the case you cannot say for sure if no other problems will arise. The users’ attitude can be very negative or perhaps people encounter difficulty in finding the information they need.


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