Business & Value, Global & Local, Strategy & Decision-making

Going global – an unnatural journey for an intranet

…… Part of The Basics series. First published in May 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 » ?

None.

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.”

JMC:

“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!