Going global – an unnatural journey for an intranet

May 22, 2007

When talking about intranets, we tend to use the word “global” to mean “international” or “multi country”. However many global intranet challenges take place in a single country.

Global challenges can occur (and often do) in very limited geographical areas.

I learned this firsthand when I met an intranet manager (from a fairly small country) many years ago in a conference in London. He told me that the points I had presented in my talk about global intranets were identical to what he had experienced when the two major newspapers in his country merged and his challenge was to merge the intranets. It was tough going for several years.

I heard the same story again at a conference in the US where I met the intranet manager of a large school district in a large state. She also related strongly to my global intranets presentation. Her case involved managing numerous intranets within a single city!

What follows is an email exchange I recently had with an intranet manager whose geographical spread is within a single state in the United States.

The difference between this intranet manager and « global intranet mangers » ?


Except maybe language. I’m assuming English is the only language used in this global intranet. Which actually is not so different from many « global global companies » where English has become (often unfortunately, frequently necessarily) the de factor corporate language!

Here’s the dialogue: (adapted by myself to avoid identifying the organization involved)

Intranet manager:

“Our company is defined by the merger of several distinct companies (which occurred in the 1990s). Each one retained its own unique branding because of name recognition in the community, but a strategy is in place now to elevate the corporate brand more (without compromising a co-branding arrangement).

“Anyway, altogether, we employ around 20,000 people (all staff and entities are in the same state in the US). But then throw in the fact that we’re a non-profit organization, so we also have an ongoing volunteer base (several thousand). Then consider that one category of our key professional profiles are not employees, but rather work as contractors, which adds several more thousand to the mix.

“I do not have reliable data concerning end users …. yet. In our area of activity, many employees are in hands-on roles in the field, very close to clients, so they may have network and e-mail accounts, but may not have their own PCs (rather, they share PCs or use their manager’s PC). The volunteers do not have accounts. The professional category referred to earlier do. So without looking at Active Directory and intranet usage data, I think we have roughly 20,000 potential users, but probably half of them would be considered active users.”


“Very interesting “configuration”. In fact you are just like a global company with different divisions in different countries with different cultures!”

Intranet manager:

“Yes, there are similar dynamics! The challenge now is to wean those distinct cultures away from their entity- and department-centric silos and to structure the intranet around role-based or service line-based communities and/or user-defined content “spaces.” Still figuring that part out. It’s going to be an interesting journey.”

End – – –

Global means greater than the sum of the individual parts.

I enjoyed this exchange immensely. It confirmed what I have experienced over the last few years.

Global means greater than the sum of the individual parts. It requires a new mindset. Several years ago I worked with the UN on the secretariat intranet and I found a photo exhibit in the hall that stopped me in my tracks.

There was a quotation from Dag Hammarskjöld (Secretary General of the UN from 1953 to 1961) who said:

“I have no doubt that 40 years from now we shall be engaged in the same pursuit. How could we expect otherwise? World organization is still a new adventure in human history.” I would say that “global intranets are still a new adventure in corporate organizations” and that we have a ways to go before they are treated as being truly business critical and getting the resources and funding they deserve. Let’s make sure it does not take 40 years!

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Kicking off global intranet projects – some tips

May 13, 2007

Global intranet project kickoffs can be tricky. You have to bring together business and intranet mangers from business divisions and countries around the world to move forward in a coherent way.

These tips might help you through the initial steps:

1. Make sure you have a high level support, mandate and/or sponsors and that this is communicated to all involved.

2. Make sure that these sponsors are aware of their role, and that they know it is more than “in name only”. They will need to communicate, be involved with some key decisions, help arbitrate when differences emerge along the way.

3. Organize a project kickoff meeting or workshop where you bring the key people (intranet managers and sponsors) together physically. The rest of the project may be run virtually but an initial face-to-face workshop is worth its weight in gold all along the following year as the project advances.

The sponsors will hear from intranet managers firsthand; the intranet managers will spend time with each other, and also get to know the sponsors.

Your agenda for this kickoff workshop (which may be one or one and a half days) should include:

A. You listen to the trenches and they listen to each other

Give the local intranet managers the following pre-workshop brief: “Prepare 3 slides and be ready to give us a 5 minute presentation on the strong points of your current intranet, on-going projects, challenges and needs for the future.”

Ask to see the slides in advance so you can incorporate any unexpected issues into the session program. Note that some intranets will most likely have tools and functions that others will be eager to use in their intranets.

This discovery aspect of global workshops is very important and deserves significant time in your program.

Highlight points in common from the different presentations, discuss how they can impact each other. Reinforce the notion that “we can learn from each other, share our ideas and tools”.

B. The trenches listen to the global work groups

Then move to presentations (5-10 minutes each) from global work groups or projects that impact everyone such as a global search tool, a new function, etc.

The members of these global work groups are most likely some of the local intranet managers.

You have now moved up a notch on the “we share the same needs” view to the “we are working together” feeling.

C. The trenches listen to you

Present your global project, remembering to address in advance issues the local intranet managers may have.

Here, you have 2 options:

1- You may structure your presentation around high level goals, actions and timeline, then ask the members of the workshop to help develop the details.

2 – Or you may have a fairly detailed presentation, and your goal is to get buy-in from the others.

The two dynamics are different, and must be managed accordingly.

Whichever you choose, place your project in the big picture by taking into account and giving credit on the slides and verbally to all previous or on-going initiatives related to your project.

Headquarters is notoriously famous for being “late” compared to the front lines of the organization, starting up projects that give the impression of “starting from scratch” when in reality a lot of similar work may have already happened in the trenches.

Modesty is a valuable trait if you are part of the HQ team!

D. Discussion – honest and open

Solicit comments. Ask for concerns. Find out if the people have suggestions.

People will probably feel a need to communicate issues from their viewpoints, and will talk about points you have already considered. Let them speak out without responding too quickly. Assuming your project has been well thought out and clearly presented, you will often find others in the group who will respond “in your place”.

If there are major concerns, you may need to re-think some parts of your project. Do not feel defensive if this happens. A good approach is to note the concerns on a paper board. List the “pros” and the “cons” or list the opportunities, the risks and ways to manage the risks.

Get the whole group to analyze the concerns, rather than simply raise them. If you need to come back later with some answers, commit to doing so.

E. Action mode

Present, or work out and Action Plan together (depending on the approach you took at point C).

An Action Plan means defining “what”, “who”‘ and “when”. Nice and simple!

F. Finish with a splash.

Whether you have a dinner, glass of champagne, or give everyone a specially prepared gift when they leave (something that evokes the project like a branded cup, mouse pad or whatever), take the opportunity to make people feel good about coming together.

If people are together over 2 days, create plenty of networking moments. The overall “feeling” of your workshop is actually more important than the details of your project.

If the atmosphere and working relations are strong, global projects are much more likely to succeed.

Good luck!

Talking or listening ?

March 22, 2007

What does your intranet reveal about your organization’s management style?

Guy Kawasaki wrote a post in his blog referring to an interview of  Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google by iinovate (in March 2007).  Guy’s favorite quote was “You don’t learn very much when you yourself are talking“.

I was struck by how this comment applies to intranets that are too top-down (which is the case of most).

Intranets are the ideal tool for management to listen to employees, which of course means bringing a strong bottom-up dimension to the intranet.

Unfortunately, most intranets do not know how to listen.

A few suggestions…

  • Have feedback buttons on all pages, where employees can respond to the authors of the pages
  • Run frequent short polls on the home page, and share the results with employees
  • Don’t be afraid to ask real questions, such as: “does the intranet help you save time?”
  • Then publish the results, with no editing!
  • Initiate a blog from someone in management and  leave comments open
  • Let people rate content pages, noting them “very useful”, “helpful”, “nice to know”
  • Start an enterprise-wide encyclopedia like the Wikipedia, and let people define the organization’s vocabulary and acronyms

More ideas…?

Notable quotes on the impact of the intranet on the organization

March 22, 2007

Free text comments from participants in the 2006 Global Intranet Strategies Survey offer a fresh view from the front-lines. What do intranets really do, and what are the challenges for intranet teams?

Straight from the mouths of intranet managers …

“We are in a mode of commoditization and standardization, so the Intranet is playing a huge role in that effort. It truly is a culture-changing tool to force people to self-serve more than they ever have before.”

“What is interesting is that top-down leadership may not work with our culture considering how long we have operated as silos. The intranet may create a community we are not used to having, but then again, it may continue to be siloed. We will see. It depends a lot on how important an intranet is to our new executive director.”

“Adoption of the intranet has been quite smooth once workers find out what it can do, except for the older generation of workers, who have resisted change.”

“It can be difficult for a new employee to understand who does what in the organization because it’s not always obvious where a department sits in the organization. Having lots of organizational charts on the intranet doesn’t really help because the user still needs a certain amount of knowledge about the company to use the charts correctly.”

“Today, most employees in the operations rely almost completely on their local/unit’s intranet; with certain exceptions (e.g., global company events), outside of corporate HQs, the global intranet is mainly used regularly only by management and members of cross-discipline communities.

“Lots of employees have great hopes for the new intranet, and we plan to deliver on that desire. Creating an intranet strategy that senior managers buy into is also key. But we have to start small and replacing the current intranet with an easy to use content management system is our first step.”

One of the biggest challenges may be to make the organization and especially management aware of what is involved in keeping the intranet alive and well! I offer you one final quote:

“People view it as a utility now, like the lights, telephone and e-mail. No awareness of the teams behind, or the work involved.”

Sounds like this organization has “made it” in terms of the intranet being business critical – but I wonder if the intranet team is getting the recognition they deserve…??

Humanising the enterprise – blogging and intranet 2.0

March 9, 2007

Today I gave a one-day seminar on blogs and enterprises. I dealt with internal blogs, how to integrate them into the intranet, what purposes they serve, etc. I presented the IBM blogging guidelines, as I have done in other presentations and seminars.

Once again, there was a significant pause in the room when I finished going through the 11 points, translating them into French. Then someone said, “This really humanizes the enterprise.” She was right. The guidelines are simple, strong, obvious once you’ve read them, and obviously written by bloggers.

IBM has done a lot of good in helping enterprises realize how they can facilitate blogging in a professional context while totally avoiding the “traps” that many managers fear: people will say anything, we can’t control them, and so on.

I presented the IBM guidelines over a year ago in an Intranet workshop in London – in English this time – with several very large international companies present. None of them had blogs at that time. When I finished, there was that significant silence again. Then one of the participants said “Now I understand how I can do it.”

I recommend that you read the guidelines if you are not familiar with them, and see what you think.

The guidelines can be read on James Snell’s blog (Blogging @ IBM). (Note 28/12/ 2011: this post from Snell is dated May 2005.) I’ve copied the Executive summary below, but please take the time to read the detailed explanations.

The 11 points are: (I quote)

1. Know and follow IBM’s Business Conduct Guidelines.

2. Blogs, wikis and other forms of online discourse are individual interactions, not corporate communications. IBMers are personally responsible for their posts. Be mindful that what you write will be public for a long time — protect your privacy.

3. Identify yourself — name and, when relevant, role at IBM — when you blog about IBM or IBM-related matters. And write in the first person. You must make it clear that you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of IBM.

4. If you publish a blog or post to a blog and it has something to do with work you do or subjects associated with IBM, use a disclaimer such as this: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

5. Respect copyright, fair use and financial disclosure laws.

6. Don’t provide IBM’s or another’s confidential or other proprietary information.

7. Don’t cite or reference clients, partners or suppliers without their approval.

8. Respect your audience. Don’t use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, etc., and show proper consideration for others’ privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory — such as politics and religion.

9. Find out who else is blogging on the topic, and cite them.

10. Don’t pick fights, be the first to correct your own mistakes, and don’t alter previous posts without indicating that you have done so.

11. Try to add value. Provide worthwhile information and perspective.

Note point 9, which I have not seen in other guidelines. It’s a clear indication that bloggers themselves wrote these guidelines.

Do any of you have guidelines you’d be able to share with us?

No career path for an intranet manager?

November 10, 2006

Not surprising given senior management attitudes…

One evening during KMWorld & Intranets 2006, I stood in the dark streets of San Jose, light rain falling, talking with a colleague discussing  career paths for intranet managers  and we ran into a conference attendee, an intranet manager in a very large organisation  I will leave un-named.

He feels strongly that an intranet manager cannot move up, nor sideways, only down.

It”s disturbing to realize how many intranet managers feel frustration and discouragement. I noticed this overall tone in many of the responses in my Global Intranet Strategy Survey.

I quote from a free text field in  the answers to the question “what obstacles do you perceive that prevent the intranet from achieving its full potential?”

“It has taken awhile for top management to see its worth.”

  • The intranet is not seen as a priority by senior management.
  •  Not enough senior buy-in.  Not enough knowledge at senior levels of its potential.
  • Needs better awareness of how to optimize its use.
  • Not enough support from top management and budget from IT for development of the next steps.

Lack of relevance and integration into people’s work

  • Level of integration into employees’ processes and into other systems is not high enough. Too little impact on personal productivity for many employees.

Technical reasons

  • Out-of-date infrastructure technology.
  • Network issues make it difficult to deliver on some of the functionality that we would like to implement.

Governance and management issues

  • Not a high priority for contributors.
  • No central department managing Intranet, not enough resources, budget. Intranet has a complex structure, no clear order and it’s not easy to find information.
  • New roll-out has required employees to learn the new system and where to find things. Not everything has been migrated to the new portal yet. Disparate systems used for international offices in some cases. No strong mandate to use the portal versus other tools.
  • Most difficult task we face is getting people in the business to take responsibility for the content and to keep it up to date.
  • Lack of ownership, poor alignment between individual goals and objectives and intranet capabilities.

No clear purpose

  • Intranet is still largely at self-promotional stage, rather than productivity/collaboration/admin reduction. But getting better.
  • Too many corporate (global) sites that don’t matter. Is very confusing.
  • Fragmented content and poor findability. Duplicate and contradicting contents.

Yes, I DID focus here on the negative comments, but…

I invented nothing and left out a lot! All this from 101 intranet managers from around the world.

We have a lot of progress to make…

Global Intranet Trends 2007

October 2, 2006

I have finished the analysis of the data coming from the Global Intranet Strategies Study I conducted over June and July of this year.

101 organizations from around the world participated by answering a very detailed, 20-page questionnaire, and by generously providing many comments in the free text areas. Many thanks to you all.

My overall conclusions – in three short points:

1. The intranet is still in its infancy.

It has achieved a first milestone of being a primary information tool. Its benefits as a collaboration platform and productivity tool have not yet been fully achieved. More importantly, it is rarely perceived to be a tool to bring business value to the organisation.

2. The intranet is moving towards the individual.

This is clear seeing trends in personalisable portals, feeds to hand-held devices, implementation of web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, and initiatives in the area of PKM (personal knowledge management).

3. Senior management has a stronger role to play in the intranet.

Numbers and comments throughout this report repeatedly show that senior management in most organisations is not yet fully aware of  the role and potential of the intranet nor of their own responsibilities regarding the intranet.

Findings developed and illustrated with facts and figures in this report include:

  • The intranet has entered maturity as a primary information tool. However its value as a productivity and collaboration tool is not yet fully established, and its potential for creating business value is far from being understood. Whereas 52% responded “absolutely” on the first point, a mere 2% said the same for the last point.
  • Senior management perception of the intranet is out of sync with reality on the ground. They are largely unaware of the usefulness of the intranet for employees for their work. 55% of the respondents say that if the intranet were unavailable for 1 to 2 hours, employees would be disturbed in their work, yet only 13% of the respondents say that senior management perceives the intranet to be “business critical”. Ironically this is the same percentage who consider it “nice to have”.
  • In general, intranets lack sufficient funding and resources, although almost half of the respondents say they expect their 2007 and 2008 budgets to increase. There is a trend towards centralization and more HQ control of budgets (cited 24 times) compared to only 7 who cited “become more de-centralized and unit-controlled”.
  • Decision-making is an issue for most organizations. It is slow and suffers from political issues. “Lack of awareness of the potential role of the intranet” is cited as the top obstacle for decision-making.
  • Customer-facing functions are largely missing from the intranet, both in content (information and applications) and in decision-making roles.
  • The primary strategy drivers for the intranet are “building a common culture”, and facilitating knowledge sharing, collaboration and teamwork. “Business needs related to products, services & customers” and “creator of value for business such as innovation and time-to-market” are the lowest on the list.
  • A primary obstacle for the intranet achieving its full potential is that is it too communication-oriented and lacks integrated applications.
  • Intranet evaluation is irregular and inconsistent, and many respondents are currently working on ways to improve this. The top indicator used is “user satisfaction” and “contribution of the intranet to corporate and/ or business strategies” is ranked at the bottom.
  • Only 1 out of 4 organisations is obliged to demonstrate ROI to justify new or current intranet investments although regions vary slightly with approximately 1 out of 4 in North America, 1 out of 5 in Asia Pacific and 1 out of 6 in Europe.
  • Organizations (roughly 1 out of 3) are beginning to integrate specialized profiles such as information architect, taxonomist, usability expert, etc.  into job descriptions.
  • Information flows are strongest in the top-down direction, with both horizontal and bottom-up still limited.
  • Although 3 out of 4 organisations have a single (or consolidated) directory containing all employees, these directories contain information about peoples’ expertise and skills in 1 out of 5 cases.
  • Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs and wikis are making their way into the intranet: Almost 40% of the respondents have or plan to have internal blogs, significantly higher than the current or planned external blogs (around 15%). They are primarily used for “experience and knowledge sharing” and providing “expert views on a subject”.
  • Organizations who consider the intranet to be “business critical” or “very useful” vary in their profile compared to the full survey population. They are also those who have adopted web 2.0 technologies (blogs and wikis) the most extensively and have stronger communication flows (top-down, bottom-up and horizontal) than average.

Intranet addiction – a vicious circle

August 21, 2006

During a couple of intranet audits this year, I came across situations where some users said they could not work properly if the intranet went down for even one hour, and in the same company others said they would not be bothered until the downtime reached at least several days or a week.

Below the poverty line

The difference? The first ones were based in countries where intranet conditions were “below the poverty line” that is to say places where intranet access conditions and intranet resources were very bad.  The other users were based either at head-quarters or in the HQ or other country where intranet access was fast and reliable.

People in the second case had become used to using the intranet as their reference point – first place to check in the morning, first place to look for documents, etc. People in the first case actually expressed relief to me that they did not depend on the intranet.

“It’s a good thing I don’t really need it because it’s very slow and when I am on it, it takes a long time to find what I want.” We all know that the more we use a web site or intranet site, the faster it is to find information. We get used to and work around any navigation or ergonomic issues, and, soon don’t even notice them.

Lesson to be learned? The “poverty line” is a combination of unfavorable technical environments (low bandwidth, slow machines), difficulties with content (language, questionable relevance, etc.) and low level of local human support (training, user help, etc.). People in business units working under these conditions will obviously not consider the intranet a business critical tool – they’re usually very good at finding ways to “work around the intranet”.

The parallel intranet

One person I interviewed describe their parallel intranet – the place on the local network where they stored the important documents they found on the intranet. Why? To save time the next time they needed to use that document!

Intranet structures: it’s not easy to be in the middle

August 2, 2006

I recently had a fascinating conversation (in the context of an intranet audit) with a business manager who was one of a very small number of expatriates in a country far from headquarters. He works at the divisional level of an organization that has had many acquisitions over the last 3 years.

One of the goals of the divisional intranet (for whom I am conducting the audit) was to facilitate the merger process.

We were talking about the role and home page of the divisional intranet, and several of his comments really struck me:

  • ” I need my local intranet of course, for my work and a lot of practical things. The group intranet is important for staying up to day on corporate news. It has strong group branding and helps me see what’s happening globally.”
  • “I just realized, in talking to you, that the divisional home page is useless for me. All I use is the navigation.”
  • “I don’t know if the divisional intranet is supposed to be a communication tool or a work tool. When I look at it, I don’t feel like working – I feel like exploring around the company.”

Good or bad? Depends on the timing. Obviously that was once the goal of the intranet, but now…?

More input from other companies:

  • I’m currently about to start work with another client who has 4 or possibly 5 levels of intranets, each one corresponding to a level in the organization, and a team of people who have “things to say and to share.”.

However, when I draw a diagram from the user viewpoint, it’s clear that there is no unambiguous way for the user to know where to go for specific types of information.

Another of my clients talks about “core business”: They say that each site should provide content around its core business, and not produce content that is not related to its core business. Rather, it should publish syndicated content coming from entities also dealing with their core business.

Another client talks about “subsidiarity” –the principle that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level.

Subsidiarity is relevant for intranet governance: Give responsibility for content to the lowest level possible.

The challenge in these projects will be to define solutions that are user-oriented, yet let the different stakeholders provide services and content.

Letting go

June 30, 2006

There comes a moment in global intranet initiatives when the intranet team has to let go of the “baby” and learn to be a facilitator.

After months sometimes years of pushing, evangelizing, persuading people and departments one by one to join the global intranet, there is what some might call the tipping point.

It can be triggered by Senior Management suddenly realizing they need the intranet. Or by a large country or business division previously with their own intranet agreeing to migrate to the global system.

At this time, when the critical mass is reached, or the critical degree of coordinated energy is achieved, it is emotionally hard for intranet teams to let go. After so much often unappreciated work, they suddenly are no longer the center of the action.

Everyone is suddenly jumping on the bandwagon and – of course – have lots of ideas about how to improve the intranet. In their enthusiasm – as newly converted “intraneters” – they forget to acknowledge the hard work of the past.

This is the acid test for intranet teams. It should be a moment of celebration because it means you have won. It can be experienced as a moment of disappointment, a let down, because there are suddenly many people who want to take ownership of different pieces of the cake.

You just need to realize that you’ve finally reached the point when the intranet is about to become a utility in the organization.

Now your next job is to work on governance. This is a tricky one. It requires much facilitation and negotiation to lead a participatory process through to a concrete, realistic governance system.

And, the intranet team should take leadership in this, but you need to be able to step back from your past nearly total “ownership” of everything, and begin to integrate the intranet into the way of working of the enterprise.

Good luck. This phase can be painful, but it is essential.