Briefing as an investment. Introduce intranet correctly
Last month we talked about the relationship between the customer and the contractor. We continue with the reasoning about the briefing, its components, and the obligations of partners.
The introduction of the portal is an individual process, there is no questionnaire for all occasions. Based on the N answers to specific questions, it is impossible to understand the pain, needs and requirements of the customer. There is only experience, the accumulation of knowledge and the ability to immerse in the client's business. Below, Maxim Schennikov, commercial director of our interactive agency, and Pavel Meldazhis, a leading specialist in the department of corporate decisions, relying on 15-year practice, share personal observations, feedback and pitfalls.
It should be clarified that the key aspects and principles of the briefing have nothing to do with the implementation platform.
Processes. Why is this all about?
There are basic processes in all companies: time tracking, news feed, telephone directory, employees, about the company, documents, schedule of absences, and so on. This toolkit of the corporate portal is working and in its setting even the assistance of the contractor may not be needed. However, we must remember that the functions of the portal are a consequence of the goals and objectives of the implementation. In one way or another, we talked about the goals and objectives in the first article — you need to understand how ripe the client is for implementation. If he is not old enough, as a rule, we hear: "Oh, I want the same tool!". And to the questions: “Why? How does that make it easier? Is there a need? ”- the answer is difficult to get.
The “ripe” customer read something, knows something about the possibilities, the platform comes with specific questions, and sometimes there are formalized tasks: we want to automate the 360-degree Assessment, here is the schedule, here is the survey structure. This is a huge rarity and a plus for the implementer.
A separate story is individual processes without a formalized formulation of the problem. Our partners, the Far East Development Fund, came up with the task of automating the end-to-end application process. It is necessary to transfer its way to the IT system, from filing to supporting a live project. You can go two ways: long-long briefing of each participant in the process or request regulations. The first is labor-intensive for both parties. The second can not be in a company of this level. After all, employees are somehow trained, by certain parameters they control the process of project management.
In the case of the FRDC, this was a special policy that reflects the project's path to the Fund. We analyzed it in detail, singled out reference points, asked questions for clarification, held several meetings with those responsible for different processes. As a result, formed a solution for the project.
So what are we discussing with the client?
- Processes. What specific tasks should the portal solve? This is a decisive step in the briefing, it is built from it further immersion in the client's business. The desire to make these processes easier and easier - the reason for contacting the agency.
- Regulations. How processes work here and now, before implementation. Along the way, we request the company registers, charters, any descriptions of what needs to be automated.
- Disappointment. That in the current processes are not satisfied. The major milestones define target (desired) business processes and their difference from current ones.
Functional modules. How should everything work?
Each business process forms the basis of a separate function module to be created by the developer.
In this block of questions, the executor helps the client substantively and in detail to understand what the target business process should look like inside the portal, which function and how it will perform.
Unfortunately or fortunately, not all processes that occur live, also occur in IT. The board of honor in any form - the photos at the entrance, the monthly mailing - is simply transferred to IT, the module has the same form.
Electronic document management and paper - the principles seem to be the same, but in practice they differ. We were faced with the fact that the customer imagines a specific part of the process and does not look at it entirely. For example, the agreement approval procedure.
This process is very different from the beginning. The chain of approvals in a vacuum: the agreement must be coordinated with economists and lawyers.
However, contracts are not concluded in a vacuum and difficulties arise:
- Someone did not put a visa, at what stage does the contract return? On the first or remains on the current?
- How does the interaction with the person with whom the contract is concluded? Who communicates with him? Must be a registry.
- Are notifications sent in person or is it automatic?
- Internal discussion is required, are there any limits (temporary, tender, procurement)?
- Do you want to keep the versioning of documents?
- Is the agreement parallel?
- Delegate what the employee has previously delegated, you can? Is this an automatic process or an employee with a temperature of 40 has to enter the portal and tick off what the task passes? Or is it the competence of the administrator?
To clarify all the nuances it is necessary to study the prescribed regulations and real practices.
In many such processes, the mass of tweaks, which put a customer in a stupor. The task of the agency to immediately ask pinpoint questions, to tell about possible difficulties.
Of course, different variations of the same processes, not to mention the custom automation, the contractor, even with a million projects behind him, can not know. An IT agency is not a guru of metallurgy, construction, or investment.
A detailed preliminary analysis of the individual, most important functions will help you to understand whether you speak the same language and how interesting the project is for the customer, whether he is ready to dive into development, to root for it and to popularize the project in the company. We talked about these aspects in the last article .
Pavel Meldazhis, Leading Specialist, Corporate Solutions Department
What are we discussing in the conversation about functions?
- Actually functional modules. What tools should tasks be solved? The set and complexity of functional modules directly affect the cost, duration and complexity of development.
- Underwater rocks. We show options for solving problems, we explain the potential complexity of various options for implementing functions, if we foresee. Simple-looking sections and introductions can be added to the composition just like that, without proper attention. The task of the agency is not to teach, but to pay attention to the bottlenecks.
- And again materials. We find existing (and only!) Descriptions of processes, instructions, any materials that will help to understand the imaginary or apparent complexity of automation.
Access rights. Is everything standard?
HR during the briefing asks: "How do people appear on the portal?". This is one of the absolutely banal, but frequent and important issues.
In most projects, the issue is solved by integration with the client's AD.
It seems to be a standard procedure. There is a standard gateway. But, as usual, difficulties arise in the implementation process. The seeming simplicity of integration confuses the client. It is important to clarify where difficulties may arise and how to avoid them. For example:
- Access rights are directly related to the hierarchy. In AD, it is not always correct - there are no two subordinations. Sometimes the structure is unloaded from 1C: ZUP. As a result, the essentially small task of setting up accesses on the portal implies two integrations: credentials from AD, structure from 1C: ZUP.
- Closed data. AD stores full employee information. Security rules do not allow to open information on the Internet. Sometimes you need to come to the client's office, sit in the local network and edit the structure.
- Regulations of access rights. Inside the portal, a user of a certain level is assigned a list of available functions and documents. The matrix of roles is born in big disputes. There are situations when an employee cannot be accessed, but he is involved in this block at a certain stage in a small role and should see only a part. The process of setting up this access is not trivial.
Excerpt from the matrix of roles for one of our projects .
What else are we discussing?
- A pool of user groups listing the relevant access. Which add, rename, where to change permissions.
- Systems that accumulate employee accounts. Where the hierarchy is better displayed, and where personal data is, with which it is necessary to carry out integration.
- Order in the structure of AD. For the needs of the company, technical users are created: a printer, a conditional secretary. On the portal they should not be. So the structure must be straightened. Who will do this? The customer, for example, hands or contractor code.
- Data transfer. Is the client ready to transmit personal information through secure web feeds?
IT environment. What else to integrate?
As regards access rights, we raised the issue of introducing the portal into the company's general IT infrastructure. However, infrastructure is not only AD, it can be SAP, all possible configurations of 1C, LMS, calculators for goods / services, self-written systems, etc., and so on. Integration with each of them is a separate topic of conversation during a briefing with specialized experts from the client.
What do we find out?
- The presence of systems that may be affected by the implementation of the portal. These can be systems that will transfer part of their functions. For example, the OS conductors of access to local disks are transformed into a disk “file storage” with the ability to send links to colleagues and partners that are limited in duration and protected by a password.
- Is there something that does not suit in current systems? What do you want to shift on the shoulders of the portal? For example, a forum on an outdated engine (yes, they still live) will move into “working groups”.
- Aloof is the possibility of integration with telephony. Here you need to talk through various usage scenarios, ranging from CRM and ending with internal communication and replacement of the current PBX.
- Providing access to integrable systems. The customer is ready to provide them, or his specialists will organize the unloading of the necessary parameters to obtain data from the client’s systems.
- Does the client have specialists who are ready to work on the side of the systems participating in the integration or at least consult on the current work of these systems?
- Should the portal be inside the local network or can it be accessed outside (for using tasks, groups, mobile applications, etc.)? What are the limitations of the information security department?
- Are client experts ready to organize server infrastructure according to developer requirements? Can they organize a DMZ if necessary?
A small part of the IT-infrastructure of the personal account of the legal entity of one of our clients, which displays all the synchronization elements for proper work with external systems.
As an example, look at the bottlenecks of the most common and "simple" integrations.
MS Exchange Sync
There is Outlook - mail, shared calendars, contacts, meeting scheduler, a handy indispensable tool in large companies. Exchange is the server where employee accounts are stored, and therefore all data from Outlook.
Relocating employees from Outlook to personal calendars and mail on the portal is a bad idea.
The first argument. Outlook is familiar. The program closes all tasks, and the duplication of functions in the portal - extra time, effort and money.
The second argument. The possibility of a smooth and successful synchronization with the Exchange server is a matter of its version. Integration with versions 13 and 16 is not supported in principle. We openly say that this tool on the portal is not working, there is no clear, well-established rules for synchronization.
What are we discussing?
- Exchange version. Is it even possible to integrate?
- Rational synchronization. Synchronization with personal calendars of employees from Exchange makes the portal a global aggregator of working tools. But this integration is often not justified due to its complexity and unprofitability for the client.
- Suggest an alternative. Some tasks of Outlook close the standard functions - the booking module of the negotiating Bitrix, correspondence within the working group, a specific task, as an analogue of overloaded communication by mail.
Integration with 1C
1C - a flexible and individual tool that adapts to the needs of the company. It is impossible to meet the same customized programs, nobody uses the standard configuration.
The situation arises: there is a typical module for integrating 1C with the corporate portal, but 1C is no longer typical and the module does not work. Integration is still possible, but it becomes much more difficult.
The confusion of the 1C service also contributes to confusion. Integration is carried out both on the portal side and on the 1C side. For the correct functioning of 1C, as a rule, a third-party company, an internal employee, an outsourcing employee are responsible. It is always access to commercial information. Changes in 1C are carried out with one hand. For an IT agency, it’s a foreign garden and it’s wrong to go there, even if the agency has excellent staff.
Consequently, work on the 1C side must be carried out by the customer himself, which adds an extra level of interaction, complicates the process, increases the integration time.
And here the client should think whether it is necessary or not. Do not get meaningless duplication of the system. Often, integration is required to reconcile invoices, contracts, upload reports. If the processes tied to the instant interaction with 1C, the portal is not laid down, then the essence without the need to multiply is not worth it.
If we work on 1C-Biriks base, the Customer may object: “1C and 1C-Bitrix are one field of the company, there can be no difficulties between them”. In fact, there is nothing in common with the technical point of view, there is no product between them. These are absolutely third-party solutions with a different set of modules.
What are we discussing?
- The need for integration. If the portal is a tool for reconciliation, endorsement of accounts, contracts, then the integration procedure makes sense. This is a clear task for an online store, but controversial for an intranet, which is not always the primary interaction with financial data.
- Uploading data. Is the client ready to give any access to 1C, or will he himself unload the required fields from the program?
- Additional development. Warn that the standard data transfer gateway is not applicable in most projects, it needs customization.
Interfaces Beauty will direct?
First user contact with the portal
The main page is the first impression that users will receive from the portal. If they are not clear, difficult, inconvenient, then the work on the implementation of the portal can be done in vain.
The corporate tool will not fly, it will be abandoned and will not be understood, because the old way is clearer and faster. Of course, a user-friendly interface is only a small part of the process of implementation in a corporate culture, but with its own separate role.
The formation of the main page is a question not only of user experience, usability and navigation, but also the tasks of business customers:
- Why does the block need or does not need to be output?
- How deep should these tools be hidden?
- What notifications are priority?
Here you can build on the needs of the client. We need a task tracker - we deduce, nothing is needed except news and a telephone directory - we act in the same way.
What are we discussing?
- Priority tools. Stakeholders should be well acquainted with the routine work of their subordinates, which will become easier due to the competent structure of the main page.
- Hypotheses. What should become a user habit? Many elements are hidden in order not to crush and simplify the interface - this is normal. Turning an intranet into 1C, where you get lost and you do not understand what to do, is not practical. Using a Word, you understand perfectly well that the three dashes to the left are left justified, and the three to the right are aligned. The user works in the system every day and gets used to new solutions quickly.
Daily work in a space that reflects the company's corporate identity - maintaining corporate spirit, culture and a little pride. Customers and contractors see corporate identity differently. In fact:
- Change fonts, underlay, add logo is a simple story. It does not require additional costs. A basic level of.
- Move, remove, add blocks, widgets, change the modular grid is another story and also about the design. Advanced level.
We can completely modify the design template from the authorization page to the “ok” button when creating a task. But you always need an answer to the question: "Why?".
One of the pages of the corporate portal of the First Freight Company. For the project, not only the individual interfaces have been changed, but also its own design system is supported.
What are we discussing?
- The importance and necessity. For most customers, redesign is optional. It becomes necessary for very large companies, where issues of compliance with the corporate identity are spelled out and installed.
- Brandbooks, guidelines, design systems. Does the client have anything? If there is no logo, slogan, symbols, corporate color, we return to the first item or we advise you to contact a branding marketing agency.
- Framework for standard visual changes. Indicate what is included in the basic level of visual changes to the portal.
- Subtleties and the complexity of deep redesign.
Interaction and implementation approach
At the briefing, we ask the client to call all interested parties: these are project initiators, decision makers, project managers on the client’s side, and heads of departments of future users - depending on the type of system. Perhaps techies if they have a specific vision and specific requirements for the platform, although we believe that the primary business objectives, rather than technical limitations.
Questions not about the product. They are no less important and determine not so much the result itself, as the way to achieve it. Answers help to organize the process correctly, prioritize and plan interaction, both at the implementation stage and at the stage of solution preparation.
What are we discussing?
- Business customers in the company of the client. From whom does the task of implementing a corporate portal come? What, when and with what phasing do they want to see as a business result? Are there any criteria for project success?
- Reasons for implementation. What was the catalyst for the solution? Is this related to any KPIs?
- Formation of business requirements for the portal. Is the contractor's help required to collect feedback, formulate business requirements for tasks, and develop business decisions?
- Willingness of the client to participate closely and regularly in the implementation process. First of all, the selection of a separate manager or workgroup on the client side, for the implementation of the project. No less important is the regular participation of all business users of the system in making key project decisions.
- Departments, branches and departments. Do the tasks in the subdivisions coincide with the tasks that are planned to be solved in the central office, or do they have their own vision? Should I take it into account?
Customers have a lot of stakeholders, everyone either pulls the blanket over himself or does not want to take responsibility for decisions. They may not have time to agree on something, to develop common tools. The agency is trying to make friends with them and create a project that is useful for everyone.
- Negative previous experience. Perhaps the client was trying to start a project with another contractor - someone said that the work was “three days”. Plus, the customer wanted a quick result, because the average for the market (conditionally) is three days. And it turns out no one brought information about the nuances and the long stage of implementation, and the client was disappointed in the tool, in the contractor, in the platform.
- Further operation. How does the client plan to support and develop the solution? Does he have experts or support will fall on the shoulders of the developer?
- Formalities. Terms and procedure for the selection of the performer. Does the client have requirements for holding open tenders, tenders for ETP or is it discussed?
The role of the contractor in the project
The participation of an IT agency in a project for the implementation of a corporate portal can proceed in different ways, depending on the needs, capabilities and readiness of the client.
At the briefing stage, it is important to understand which of the possible options is optimal for the parties and as quickly as possible lead to the expected result.
Agency - only hands
Tasks can be formulated both by the client and the contractor. The thesis process of implementing a separate block of tasks (set of functions) looks traditionally:
- business requirements are collected from business customers;
- priorities are described and placed;
- interfaces are designed, TK is compiled;
- drawing design;
- runs into implementation (programming);
- commissioning, trial operation and feedback gathering;
- aggregation of the following tasks.
In this approach, the implementer is not a participant in the process of formulating business problems, optimizing offline business processes and the project manager as a whole.
The agency is also a project manager.
The agency takes responsibility for organizing and interacting with client departments, all business customers and project users (including the customer’s customers), answers questions, solves implementation difficulties. Together with the client, he strategically plans and develops the project primarily in the context of implementation in the company's processes, and not just in terms of developing specific functions.
So much communication and everything for free?
From the point of view of the project launch strategy, the briefing process is necessary for the formation of a primary, conceptual implementation solution. This solution will allow:
- To determine whether there are points of contact and understanding between the world of the contractor and the world of the customer. Are you ready to work in one team?
- Evaluate the project as important for the transaction and further implementation of the parameters in general: technology stack, cost, terms, risks, terms of cooperation.
- Determine, specify and conclude a deal for a specific first stage in the implementation path for the first block of functions.
How deep to dig and when to stop, each developer decides for himself. Depending on their capabilities, competencies and interest in the client, the project as a whole. Someone is ready to invest their resources in the project on an irrevocable basis, someone immediately asks for payment for presale, someone transfers the cost of the preparation work to the first stage of the project (open or closed).
The deeper, thoughtful and attractive offer we want to make to the client - the more we communicate, the more we cooperate with the teams, the more we get at the output of the results, which not only show the competence of the performer, but also represent a specific value for the client. As a rule, two or four meetings for the primary collection of information on a large, multi-functional system is sufficient.
Maxim Schennikov, Commercial Director
Finally, a few more obvious, but important principles, both for the client and for the contractor:
- Briefing only verbally, communicate more often.
- At meetings from the client, one specialist is not enough, even if it is an IT director. There must be heads of all departments whose work is influenced by the portal.
- To discuss strategic and business issues at a briefing, on specific issues about technology, integration, etc. - reply in correspondence.
- Do not chase the detailed design. When we form a solution, we are well aware that the stage of preparing project documentation will clarify all the specific details of the client’s business.
- To treat the formation of decisions on presale and briefing in particular, as a separate project. Manage timing, risk, communication. In a word - account.
The client is sent to wait for the presentation of the preliminary decision from the agency. The contractor proceeds to the stage of supplementing information and actually developing a solution:
- Accumulation and processing of collected data, clarification of technical issues. It is not always rational to take a technical specialist for each meeting. Accurate questions should receive the same exact answers in a formalized form.
- Meetings of the working group for the formation and approval of decisions, the development of a scheme of movement for the project (implementation methodology, in what form to implement, cost, timing)
- Formalization of a solution suitable for presentation to a client - structure, business logic of the portal, roles, main functions, technology stack, interface sketches, estimates, releases, roadmap, etc. The list depends on the project.
The briefing process, which we have described in general terms, removes the risks of misunderstanding during the stages of the direct implementation of the project. When a client already pays money the odds are more dangerous and more painful for both parties. And a briefing is an ideal opportunity to work with each other.
The agency assesses the client's approach, interest, competence, reality of requests.
The customer is testing the contractor, is he ready to plunge into his business processes, is he digging deeper than the list of features of the corporate portal in a regular configuration.