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  • Out-of-date infrastructure technology.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”, defined by Webster as “a principle in social organization: functions which subordinate or local organizations perform effectively belong more properly to them than to a dominant central organization.”

This is an interesting concept for intranet governance. Basically it says, give responsibility for content at 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.

Comments anyone?

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.

Intranets in “no-where land”

February 28, 2006

A story straight from Intranets in “no-where land”. A situation I witnessed recently:

An international company decides to delegate responsibility for deciding how much bandwidth should be bought by a country and of course, asks the countries to pay for it from their local budgets. At the same time, the company has imposed significant cost reduction goals for everyone.

The  company sets three levels of priority for bandwidth: (1 = highest priority)

1. email

2. applications

3. intranet

Senior management in the  company state that the intranet is a must, that it is the primary driving force for enabling the company to achieve it’s goals, building a shared culture, and working efficiently together.

The communications department – in charge of the intranet – did not even know that the IT department had established the priorities.

Users in outlying countries – far from headquarters – say the intranet is too slow.When asked if they would have problems if the intranet went down for one day, most say no, which of course is fortunate for them, because if the intranet had business critical information for their work, and was last priority for bandwidth — good luck doing their jobs!

This is a real story.

One slide worth a thousand words…?

February 22, 2006

I used the slide below in a workshop I ran in London in December 2005 on globalization and large, complex intranets.

Intranet is a process

A participant in the workshop told me I could run an entire workshop around this single slide.

Sounds like a good idea.

The three arrows refer to something I believe strongly, having seen hundreds of intranets in as many different organizations:

1. You need 3 flows of information – top down, bottom up and horizontal.

2. If one of the three is missing or weak, your intranet (and your organization) is missing something.

And losing business value.

Vocabulary hurts or helps

August 12, 2005

I have trouble deciding what word to use to talk about intranets serving an organisation with people located in different countries around the world.

Global” is often used, especially by Americans. Consultants talk about Global IA (global information architecture), companies talk about globalization of their web sites.

One problem with this word is that it has very negative connotations for many people: globalization is perceived to be part of the offshore manufacturing strategy, the Wal-Mart effect, what people riot against during World Trade Organization meetings.

International” is a word often used, but it triggers mixed perceptions also. A company I know has renamed its division outside the US as  “(Company name) International”.  The people making this change perceive 2 parts of the company: here at home, and everything else. Other people will perceive the “(Company name) International” as the headquarters, with the US-based as a country division!

So, we may be left with the word “worldwide“. So far, I have not found any downsides to using it. I plan to do a quick audience opinion survey in San Jose and London this fall (intranet conferences) and see how / if perception differs from continent to continent.

Hole in the Wall or “the leader takes the mouse”

May 11, 2005

An article appeared on the BBC web site May 2 about the Hole in the Wall programme in India where computers are made available to dispossessed children in a shanty town. Sugata Mitra broke a hole in his office wall and made a computer available to children who had never before seen one. Within a few days, they had taught themselves to use it, working together with no help from any adults.

This extraordinary story tells us a lot about collaboration and the power of collective experimentation. Among his comments “”Groups of children given adequate digital resources can meet the objectives of primary education on their own – most of the objectives.”

Sugata observed their behavior: “You find that the noise level begins to come down, and from somewhere a leader appears. Often his face is not visible in the crowd, but he is controlling the mouse because suddenly you see the mouse begin to move in an orderly fashion.”

“And then suddenly a lot of children’s voices will say ‘Oh, that pointer can be moved!’ And then you see the first click, which – believe it or not – happens within the first three minutes.”

Take the time to read this amazing story, and think about what it suggests for our own work on intranets and collaborative projects. For me it illustrates how leaders emerge naturally and groups are capable of self-regulation and self-teaching  given the opportunity, time and motivation.

Teach-yourself computing for kids, BBC

The Hole in the Wall web site

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