The Foreign Service Journal - April 2017
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APRIL 2017



Why We Need a Better Intranet

and How to Get It


Bradley Meacham is currently preparing for a consular tour in Hanoi. Before joining

the State Department Foreign Service, he was a business and finance journalist at

organizations such as MSNMoney, Crain’s and Bloomberg, and a corporate commu-

nications executive. During his tour in Mexico City he was nominated for a depart-

mentwide award for innovative use of technology by a non-tech employee.


rganizations around the

world are spending significant

resources to better manage

their information via internal

websites, or intranets. These tools help

employees navigate oceans of data, includ-

ing news, day-to-day work and social

media. Done right, intranets empower

employees and minimize distractions.

Consider typical Foreign Service

officers. They are bombarded with news

about the United States, their current

country and previous assignments. They

navigate management updates from

post and Washington, plus a thicket of

internal online resources and web-

sites that don’t necessarily work well

together. This leaves little energy to

process important messages, let alone

think about strategy and goals.

Before joining the State Department

I had worked for years as a journalist

and corporate communications execu-

tive. I had led projects to revamp the

intranet at T-Mobile USA and at Ver-

tafore, a software company with about

1,400 employees. Here at State, I quickly

noticed opportunities to improve

communications among 80,000 people

across more than 300 locations.

During my recent tour in Mexico

City I led a revamp of the SharePoint

intranets of the embassy and nine

constituent consulates in U.S. Mission

Mexico. From the beginning the project

was much more than redesigning a

website—it involved rethinking work

processes and information flow across

a complex mission of 2,800 employees.

The goal was to share knowledge, save

time and provide common space to col-

laborate on policy goals and, ultimately,

help us become better diplomats.

Problems for users were easy to

identify through existing employee sur-

veys. There was little use of the intranet

for collaboration, and the sites were

not accomplishing the goal of sharing

information across the mission. Some

employees said they didn’t understand

how their work fit into the mission’s

goals or what other offices were doing,

and it was difficult to find the resources

they were seeking.

Introducing Mexico

Information Exchange


To fix this, we followed an ambitious

12-step plan including research, design,

development and training. Our Share-

Point was rebranded with a new name,

Mexico Information Exchange, or MIX,

with several important characteristics:

Common starting point.


homepage was designed to be the

common online starting point for

employees each day, like a virtual “town

square” for the mission community.

Updating the design of the SharePoint

master page gave the entire site a clean,

modern look consistent with the State

Department’s global branding stan-

dards and distinct from the blue-and-

white style that comes with out-of-the-

box SharePoint straight from Microsoft.

The homepage prominently fea-

tures news, including management

announcements and security notices, a

calendar and a shortlist of links to most-

used internal websites. MIX can be set

as the default homepage for Internet

Explorer and Chrome on office com-

puters so that everyone gets the same

messages at least once a day.

Simplified content structure.


matter how pretty it is, an intranet only

works if it’s useful. To that end, MIX

reflects the tasks employees do every

day instead of the organization chart.

Usage data and focus groups helped

identify those needs. The most-common

tasks and most-requested information

were grouped into new pages under a

“Services” dropdown at the top of the

Done right, intranets empower employees

and minimize distractions.