Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Intranet management evolution - independence for intranet teams

In most organisations where intranets and portals have been following an ongoing iterative evolution model (not out of any good modelling practice but more on budget imperatives) they have generally started off in IT or IS departments.

As intranet strategy and maturity has grown many have had the day to day management and strategy moved out of the technology arena moving into a less techy focused areas (communications, knowledge management, marketing, HR etc) while IT keep looking after the infrastructure.

I have (until recently) always thought this was a good thing.


Everybody is the problem

I have found numerous issues with the above approach across some of the intranets I myself have managed or been involved in.

(Quotes displayed are paraphrasing of actual statements heard over the last few years. Some creative licence used in places for greater effect).

Communications and marketing are poor usability people (don't get me started with IT)
Having seen a search box moved from a logical top right location because the communications/marketing managers wanted "more images in that location instead to make the site look better " (despite the fact that 50% of site traffic went to the two searches located there...), I simply do not think most communications and marketing managers do not yet have the capability to truly understand the online user paradigm. They see it as a campaign or 'communications tool' which it is but it is so much more.

Or in an intranet where the news had had 20,000 views in one year ( less 5 news views over one year per user - with a user base of 4,000 and probably about 150 stories, Biggest story got about a 500 views) "What? open up the 2nd level navigation on the homepage so users can access work related information better... no I want more news and images to build the news area instead."

IT sometimes ├žonfuse online terminology (still)
Information architecture? ''Yes we have a Microsoft IIS server box cabled to a Oracle backend db linked through to Peoplesoft 9 all behind a supa douper triple authenticated Firewall etc etc.

Usability testing - "Yeah that manager said it seemed to work fine during our UAT. He signed the release."

Silo-ed business groups do not care about other units
The training people want all courses linked on the homepage, procurement want little visited links on the homepage, as does every other team.

"Share a content area with another business unit. No we want our own with all our pictures".

"Put those pages under Finance and purchasing? But we are called the 'Corporate business asset accounting procurement systems and management sub-division'...."

IT think everyone else are Luddites
IT think communications and marketing people focus mostly on words, pictures and perceptions (and yes they do:) ). But this view can neglect the value of utilising the user and business engagement skills that many communications and marketing people may have. A lot of the web 2.0 for business features that I am seeing put to good use are being pushed by the non-IT areas (eventhough it tends to be IT staff being early adopters of these areas).

Communications and other units think IT are business unfriendly
IT push technology directions - "Sharepoint will solve all our problems" or "Open-source! open-source! open-source!" without considering business or more often USER needs.

Without true governance pet schemes can go ridiculous
"Second life is the new thing. Lets invest half our budget to work out how we can leverage Second life as our new intranet."

Essentially these types of internal politics have meant that many intranets are static and caught in between responsibilities and expertise and without the proper resolution of these issues they are basically just sitting there rotting with a few dedicated professionals looking around for ways to extract themselves from the mire.


Standalone operational teams with consultative governance structures are optimal

The optimal solution is an intranet team that is independent of the direct line management of either of the two. I see no issues with it being part of a wider online team (I think the whole web/ intranet models are starting to converge more and more and the sharing of resources can only mean a good thing for the normally 'ugly sister' of the intranet).

If a standalone team is not organisationally possible than a strong governance and operational structure (with input from all key stakeholder groups) should be in place (should be in place regardless) to ensure:
  • True organisational ownership of the intranet
  • Shared insight to business issues and objectives
  • Brand/technology/pet project and ideology influence is kept to a minimum and diluted when progressed
  • A true reporting and accountability direction for the intranet manager and team
  • Allow for cross organisational budget financing and direction

Evolution of management models


As intranets evolve, so do governance models, and I think its time to start considering the independence of online and intranet teams from all the traditional areas to ensure true business accountability, transparency and business and user responsibility is taken. The other groups have provided their expertise at the right time to help the development of the intranet and obviously ongoing expertise and involvement is still required in respective areas of expertise.

Even if it is just a single person (putting aside line management) the intranet should still be managed'' outside these areas and reporting to a governance, and if need be, an operational group as well.

In organisations that have already done this I have seen a much more robust , professional and user focused approach to the intranet which for end users means a true organisational intranet not an organisational one with a specific business unit bias.

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4 Comments:

At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What you describe mirrors the situation my organisation. What you prescribe as the solution sounds great in theory. How would you sell it a highly hierarchical organisation?

 
At 2:24 PM, Blogger Nick Besseling said...

Yes theory is always far easier that practice. To be honest soem organisations will keep status quo positions becuase the internal political situation cannot be changed.

What can be doen however is the focus on value to the organisation and sometimes those internal political differences can be exploited to get more independece from the line reporting group.

What should always happen though is that as an intranet manager one takes a independent line regardless of where they sit. It is not the marketing/Comms/IT/HR etc intranet but the organisation's intranet.

This is the only real way to get full organisational buy-in.

It is done through contacts the setting up of formal and informal forums and steering groups and ensuring plans and strategies/plans get a broad organisational hearing.

The key here is not necessarily that you'll get heaps of great input (you will likely get some though) but the perceived notion of working across groups will make life far easier and provide far more opportunities to develop the intranet into the future.

 
At 10:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post Nick - we can only hope that by repeating these messages, they will eventually filter into management psyche...

 
At 9:28 PM, Blogger Melinda.U.K said...

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