What future for the intranet manager?

…… Part of The Basics series. First published in June 2010 ……

One chapter in the Global Intranet Trends for 2010 deals with the future for intranet managers, as seen from the viewpoint of the intranet managers themselves.

Views vary:

  • The role may disappear completely.
  • It may evolve to a more global online role.
  • It may become one of facilitating knowledge management and collaboration within the organization.
  • Intranet managers may become internal lobbyists for new ways of working.
  • They may become business partners to top management.

Read what intranet managers had to say about their role in the future. Remember, this verbatim is from the end of 2009.

Content management systems change the role of the intranet manager.

I think the role must become more strategic if the intranet is to be a core business tool that becomes essential to the functions of the organization.    However, distributed authoring and fragmentation may diminish the role – or will mean it is even more valuable as one person must keep control of the overall picture to maintain a unified space that meets the same usability and usefulness goals.

There will always be a need to have some central expertise within any ‘enlightened’ organization. Even if devolved publishing and development models are in place, there is rarely the usability, best practice and management experience within business areas that is required to keep an intranet on track.

The intranet manager role is merging into a global “online” role.

It will gradually disappear as a separate role. The strategy will become a part of the overall digital or web strategy with shared core tools and platform.

What I do think likely is that we will have a broader, strategic and more senior Digital Communications role as intranets move from being information delivers to transaction and collaboration centers.

There is a lot of talk about the line between website and intranet blurring and that is reflected in our current structure here in our organization. We no longer have a separate Intranet team, but have an Interactive team which looks after intranet and website.  We’ve been asked to produce a ‘digital strategy’ so the boundary will widen further to include all aspects of digital media and services such as webcasting, social media, content syndication. I think, as the market place changes around us, customer expectations from Intranets (and corporate websites) are shifting and Intranet teams are having to change accordingly.  

The role changes as the intranet moves towards “business as usual”.

We believe that it will become more “business as usual”, but earliest in 4 to 6 years. Possibly the name intranet will disappear and it will go back to desktop or whatever. Our impression is more and more that the users don’t care about the framework of their tool, they want an easy access for all their tools they have to fulfill their daily routines and this should also integrate tasks that are not done on a daily basis. We think that the primary processes therefore have the higher importance than the secondary processes, which might make it necessary that information an collaboration in the future presumably feed into the primary processes tools. However, what is important is that the users have a single access to his toolbox, whatever the need.

The intranet manager will be called upon by many services that need to improve their online presence: Knowledge Management in the first place, but also HR and other internal functions (finance, procurement, etc.). He/she will be pulled in many different directions, having to learn about many different disciplines.

Some see it disappearing completely.

The role as intranet manager is probably going to fade away as the “online workplace” is becoming more commonplace.

In our organization I see it becoming less relevant and more business as usual. We have big budgets and a big on-line team (10). I imagine, as it becomes more business as usual we will see that reduced and budgets cut.

It will hopefully progressively disappear as intranet responsibilities become more and more integrated into “business as usual”.

Once the Intranet has reached a sufficient level of uptake in the organization the Intranet manager’s role becomes nearly redundant as the Intranet (if properly designed) will self organize. The Intranet Manager’s role then only becomes important again when paradigm shifts are required.

Others see it evolving to knowledge-sharing or collaboration roles.

I think the focus and role of the intranet manager will shift more towards internal communications/knowledge management as ECM systems `pick up’ and integrate information silos throughout large organizations and social media is added to a broader online communication environment that is essential for a sustainable business. The healthy tension and debate about whether an intranet is a business tool and/or a feel good communications vehicle will continue – as it should!  The broadening of responsibilities and scope should mean a position of some sort that is higher up the management scale and more influence, but could mean a demotion of the intranet manager in the scale.

We think the intranet manager will move closer to the enterprise 2.0 and knowledge management initiatives. In that sense he/she will become more important. To be successful in his/her role the intranet manager should understand the benefits of the old way intranet worked and still works, combined with the new intranet 2.0, mainly its underlying concepts. Less control, more user-generated. Less IT, more people/social.

With growing interest in the use of social media behind the firewall, I see that intranets will evolve to be collaborative, dynamic spaces, replacing the often flat, one-way channels that have become so ubiquitous.    As collaboration becomes more important to organizational success, I see the role of the intranet being far more important. I can’t envision intranet management moving further up the hierarchy though.

The title of the position will change because intranets shouldn’t need to be ‘managed’ in three to four years from now. Not sure what my title would be if I were still in this role in three years – perhaps have the words ‘knowledge’, ‘social’, ‘collaboration’, ‘facilitator’, ‘strategist’ in there somewhere? The role will definitely become more strategic to the organization, but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily move higher up the management ranks.

Some believe the role will reach a high strategic level.

I think the role of the Intranet manager will evolve in the coming year and will become more strategic.  As Intranets are now federating more and more sources and accesses to the information, from formal to informal information, the Intranet Manager need to have a good knowledge of organizations, main business processes and main internal communication flows. To my mind, this “cross-view” should be owned to a department “internal Organization & Communication” reporting directly to a CEO.

The intranet manager is located at the core of the organization, and he/she needs to understand HR, Communication, IT and business issues altogether. He/she holds the key to many strategic answers that could be found through the intranet, if he/she is able to measure and to face the huge cultural impact it implies. He/she should be the one who drives these shared intranet responsibilities within the organization…. Intranet managers and communication people will become more and more community and knowledge managers.

The challenge is to have both the proper intranet skills AND business skills, being a trustworthy business partner that can support all parts of the organization. The role is becoming much more of a business support role, which requires both a higher strategic approach and the right people in place, all over in the organization.

The intranet manager role will increase in value as business methodology evolves to integrate technology into the daily workflow and as decision optimization becomes a requirement for companies to remain competitive.  The role will change though from user experience focused (i.e. aggregation of sites, look and feel, search, navigation…) to business productivity focused.  The primary responsibilities of the new Intranet “Strategist” will include developing and implementing a web strategy that defines and becomes “the business operations center” as the web/mobile web becomes the commodity used to process all things business.  The role could evolve in similar fashion to the CIO or CTO.

With progressive companies I can see Intranet Manager position moving up the management scale as its responsibility melds intranet, business process management, enterprise content management and integrated processes.    With slow adoption companies I would imagine the Intranet Manager will continue to solidify the existing position until it becomes obsolete and then is replaced with the above hybrid.

We are very far behind the curve right now.  I see our intranet manager gaining in strategic importance for the next 3 to 5 years.  At that point, we should be nearly caught up and enough users and actions should be happening on the intranet, thereby making the transition to Business as usual…  We’ll get there, but it will take us 7 to 10 years… Not 3 to 4…

The learning from applying 2.0 toolset to a traditional Intranet management model may result in a more formal bridging of the traditional gap between IT and the Business, such that the new Intranet Manager role will sit in a more formal part of the organization that deals with workplace experience and collaboration.  However, I believe that IT organizations are evolving to become better enablers of business through online technology  – so I see the role of the Intranet Manager moving to an IT-based organization (although not in a traditional IT form).     I do see this role becoming increasingly important and strategic to the organization, although I also see that progress gated somewhat by the ongoing challenges with proving business value.

Once we upgrade our intranet to MOSS from SP2003 we are planning to make it the central company information management tool and removing local network drives.  We are also planning to develop the personal sites of the intranet into self-service portals for our users and also to develop interfaces for each of our key applications so that information in silos can be referenced from one place. As well as that we intend to take all of our business forms and processes online as well as our KPI reporting tool.    With these sorts of developments the intranet will become THE business critical application of the company.

The role of the “big picture painter” will grow in importance, especially as more work becomes “daily business” the framework still needs to be held together in a strategic manner.

Restrictions push the intranet to evolve in a positive direction.

Over the past couple of years, the intranet management team has shrunk from 12 to 2.  This process has forced us to move towards more strategic and hands-off roles.  Although difficult and personally challenging at times, our team has had the opportunity to learn more, grow more and get more accomplished than we ever have before.  Interestingly, while we’ve seen some intranet content move to a document repository or wiki, all in all, the information needed to make the business run has remained up-to-date and well managed.  We’ve turned our former “clients” into our business partners – in the long run, I suspect this will lead to a healthier intranet because the business is more engaged in the operation and aware of the problem areas.

A broader scope and title are needed.

As I see it, intranet managers are not likely to move up the management scale as intranet is ‘just a tool’. If intranet managers want to become more strategic, they should consider a broader title, not related so closely to the tool.     There is a risk that intranet managers end up as facilitators or project managers while business takes over the decision part as the major part of the development budget often lies with them. This may mean that intranet managers actually go down in the management hierarchy.

As online media become easier and more daily business, more and more non-professionals start internal media initiatives. That’s ok from a technical, trial-and-error point of view, but it’s bad from a communications perspective.   We have to focus on user experience  – the user does not care about who owns this media or why it has been started – he’s interested in content, features and value.  This will require an ongoing amount of evangelizing from intranet managers, and they will probably loose some reputation or positioning since the job – at first glance – can be done by anybody. The new role will be networking, lobbying, preaching, building showcases and being ahead in as many concerns as possible (technology, media trends, editorial trends) and just knowing what’s going on in the company.

Final thoughts

I see it as a permanent evolution job. I do not see my job stalling or becoming boring.

Sometimes I feel like being VIP with great future in the organization, and few days later like being Number 1 on the list of cost savings… 🙂