THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
Why We Need a Better Intranet
and How to Get It
BY BRADL EY MEACHAM
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.
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.