Peering behind the firewall

Ok, so I’ve been a bit rubbish at keeping up with the blog lately. I’ve been kinda busy, you know, with that whole election thing. And launching a new intranet. So nothing important or anything…

Now things have calmed down a little I’m looking at where we go next. Now we have a proper platform in place the options are – while not exactly unlimited – certainly wider than before. But where to start?

One of the (many) difficult things about intranets is that they’re behind closed doors. With websites you can just take a look at what other organisations are doing and nick all their best ideas build on best practice. With intranets, it’s not that simple – but it’s certainly possible.

I’ve been making a real effort to do this lately. First up was IBF24, a 24-hour live webcast from the Intranet Benchmarking Forum. This blended interviews with industry leaders with live intranet tours from some of the world most prestigious companies, including British Airways, Ernst & Young, Thompson Reuters and the BBC.

This was an ambitious but hugely successful event, with over 700 practitioners joining in from 16 countries. According to IBF, around 100 questions were asked (though imho this number would have been a lot bigger if they’d engaged the Twitter stream more actively from the start).

Then last week I attended the Mastering Intranet Management course run by industry experts Melcrum. This was an excellent two-day event covering some of the key issues for intranet managers today, from building a business case to creating a governance model, and from communications planning to evaluation. It was delievered by Sam Marshall from Clearbox Consulting and John Baptista, a professor  of Information Systems at the University of Warwick. My only criticism was that it tried to fit too much into two days, but that’s perhaps inevitable given the wide scope of intranet management work.

Fellow delegates came from a broad range of public and private sector firms in the UK and abroad – and once again a highlight was the chance to take a look at other intranets and ask questions of those managing them.

At both IBF24 and the Melcrum course, a key theme was the need to tailor your intranet offering to your organisational culture. The intranets I took a peek at offered widely varying functionality and style – but each were successful as they met the needs of the company. So Clifford Chance‘s expertise finder and Ernst & Young‘s dynamic org chart people were both impressive pieces of kit, but not at all suitable for my own organisation (or, most likely, in each other’s).

Another frequent discussion was the evolution of the intranet. There was a strong feeling amongst many taking part that the term ‘intranet’ may not be sufficient anymore, with the scope of our work now encompassing collaborative workspaces, transactional services and much else besides.

IBF’s Paul Miller suggested that the intranet is on the way out, to be replaced by a broader ‘digital workplace’.

Whilst it’s true that intranets continue to evolve beyond their original one-way communication function, it’s probably too early to say the intranet is dead. Again, culture is king; in some organisations the digital workplace brings significant competitive advantage, but in others it’ll be a long time before online collaboration replaces old methods and face-to-face meetings.

The role of the intranet manager is to look at business objectives and organisational culture, and work to implement technologies that suit both.

It’s this marrying of technology and culture that makes looking at other intranets so interesting

I’ll be walking the talk tomorrow, presenting my own workplace intranet at IBF’s Intranets Live along with people from UNHCR and Oracle. Join us live online, and follow the Twitter stream – I’m guessing the hashtag is #IBFLive. (EDIT: wrong! It’s #intranetslive)

I’m following that up next week by taking my turn to present at Intranetters, a small regular gathering of London-based intranet types, and have arranged a few reciprocal show-and-tells with intranet teams in other companies.

Intranet management can be a solitary occupation; most organisations have one (or fewer) people with responsibility for the intranet, and even the biggest firms have only a small team. But by networking with other intranet managers and sharing ideas, problems and strategies we can all learn a little to take back to our own organisations.

2 thoughts on “Peering behind the firewall

  1. Pingback: IntranetLounge

  2. Hi Sharon. Love your statement, “The role of the intranet manager is to look at business objectives and organisational culture, and work to implement technologies that suit both.” This is so true and the reason why law firms have different intranets than software companies, etc. – and that’s ok! In fact, it’s optimal. Intranet management is both art and science. It’s an application of sociology as well as technology. Long live the renaissance intranet managers.

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