Putting Knowledge First: Building an Intranet to Meet Sponsor Needs

June 2011
Topics: Collaborative Computing, Knowledge Management, Information Systems
MITRE's MyMII 2.0, the latest version of our corporate intranet, improves employees' knowledge sharing capabilities and adds customization options and social media tools.
intranet screen

Just over a year ago, a leading user-experience research firm, the Nielsen Norman Group, honored MITRE's corporate intranet as one of the best-designed intranets anywhere. But the developers in MITRE's information technology division viewed this milestone as only a starting point. "We took our award-winning design and bulldozed it," says Bill Donaldson, department head of the company's Application Development group.

While the MII (short for MITRE Information Infrastructure) had made great strides in recent years, by early 2010 there was a need to roll out new features and functionality more quickly and to rely less on outside software vendors. It was also clear that the previous version of the MII, while well designed, lacked the customization features that its users—MITRE's 7,500 employees—had come to expect. "There were a lot of constraints in the previous design in terms of user experience," Donaldson says.

What's more, emerging social media tools and mobile computing applications offered an unprecedented opportunity to help MITRE engineers and scientists collaborate internally and reach out to external partners to address the needs of our government sponsors. "So we decided to start fresh," he says.

This push to make a good thing even better (which began just after the Nielsen Norman Group named MITRE to its 2010 Ten Best Intranets list) resulted in the rollout of MyMII 2.0 in March 2011. The latest version of the company's intranet was developed with extensive employee feedback. It builds on the previous version's functionality, offers many new capabilities, and is more flexible, less expensive, and easier to manage than the previous version, says Joel Jacobs, MITRE vice president and chief information officer.

"Harnessing Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing"

"While reducing our investment of time and money, MyMII 2.0 advances our ability to achieve the primary purpose of our intranet—harnessing MITRE's knowledge sharing abilities so we can create the best solutions for our sponsors," Jacobs says.

In a departure from the company's earlier approach, the MyMII 2.0 team built the new version of the portal using an open source code called Apache Shindig. This reduces ongoing maintenance costs and makes it easier for employees to develop customized applications, known as "gadgets," to meet evolving business needs. By replacing 15 physical servers with six virtual servers, the company reduced its footprint and enabled a more efficient disaster-recovery capability for the intranet, Jacobs adds.

Ultimately, the goal was to link MITRE experts together both inside the company firewall and externally, reaching out to government sponsors, academic partners, and other stakeholders. "It's one of our goals to get the right information to the right people at the right time," says Donna Cuomo, chief information architect in MITRE's IT organization.

"Now it's not just about MITRE engineers working together," Cuomo explains. "Partners and sponsors are being pulled into virtual collaborative spaces. MITRE is the broker of these connections."

Creating a Social Media Platform for Employees and Partners

To advance this vision of collaboration, the MyMII 2.0 team worked to expose activities from MITRE's social media platform, Handshake, on the revamped intranet. Handshake, which debuted in August 2009, promotes networking and knowledge sharing between MITRE and our external partners and sponsors. It supports user profiles, social networks, and knowledge sharing activities (such as bookmarks and tagging). Blogs, wikis, and discussion forums within Handshake groups extend the conversation beyond MITRE to external partners. The idea, according to Cuomo, is to network employees, sponsors, and partners together based on common expertise and affiliations.

MITRE staff originally developed Handshake as an internally funded research project. Today it has some 5,200 users, more than 1,200 of whom are outside MITRE. A Handshake notification gadget on the main MyMII 2.0 page shows the user all his or her connections' activities and status updates at a glance.

According to Mike Cenkl, director of architecture and innovation in MITRE's IT organization, Handshake is the first piece of an evolving plan to extend MITRE's social networking tools to support a variety of internal and sponsor-partner functions. In January 2011, Handshake was named a Gold winner of the international Intranet Innovation Awards, presented since 2007 by the consulting firm Step Two Designs. The award recognizes new and innovative approaches to the design, enhancement, and delivery of corporate intranets.

Tools for Finding, Sharing Knowledge

In addition to the new features offered by Handshake, the latest version of the MII offers users more customization options, including the ability to add, rate, and comment on gadgets developed both internally and externally. Employees can add gadgets to their own home pages using drag and drop functions. They can also view the gadgets in full-screen mode to see more information without leaving the home page.

The MyMII team also worked with the MII Discover team to overhaul the search functions. "The new search capabilities help employees more easily locate colleagues in specific work functions or with specific expertise, work program descriptions, communities of interest, and other relevant content," says Kristina Kennedy Groenwoldt, a MITRE lead information systems engineer who continues to work on MyMII.

An integrated search suite, called MII Discover, provides a common search toolbar on the new homepage for MII Google search, the company employee directory and Community Share documents. This function also provides access to project profiles and people profiles, including employees' areas of expertise and technical activities, publications, and professional activities and partnerships.

Over the next year, integration between these tools will be expanded so that users are notified when colleagues they are connected to through Handshake or other social media tools publish relevant technical papers or other documents, Kennedy Groenwoldt says.

"Changing a service that affects over 7,500 users is daunting," says Donaldson, "but the users' feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. People tell us they liked the old MII, but with the flexibility, intuitive organization and customization, they like this even better."

—by Maria S. Lee

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