Thursday, September 17, 2009

Why are Intranet Teams undervalued?

It frustrates me a little that so many people still view Twitter as a useless service that has no value. "Why do I need to know what kind of sandwich an acquaintance enjoyed for their lunch?" is fairy typical of the statements you hear time and again when Twitter is discussed.

I on the other hand get very excited by the potential of the micro-blogging service to build professional networks and the ability to share views, tips, techniques and experiences with like minded professionals across the globe. Ok, I will step off the soapbox and get to the point.

My company seems to value the power of our Intranet for timely communication and delivery of online business applications. Not so much though as to be forthcoming with allocation of budget and resources. Through my association with Intranet professional forums and groups I have heard similar comments from other Intranet managers and was interested to send the question out to the Twitterverse and obtain the views of my network of Intranet & Knowledge Manager followers.

The question I posed and a glimpse of the ensuing conversation follows.

I would like to hear thoughts on why Intranet Teams seem to be always under resourced and undervalued.

@awmitchell There's the obvious one about not being good at selling the benefits in stories and data. But not whole story.
@Peter_Richards Agree that success promotion and personal flag waving are skills that don't come naturally to many. Proving ROI also difficult.
@awmitchell IMO (In My Opinion) we also need to realise the feeling is common in many (maybe all) "support" or "cost centre" areas so it's more general than something specific to intranets.
@ccrask What and who isn't under resourced and undervalued? That's what I would really like to know.
@awmitchell Also a barrier of irrelevance. Executives / owners understand how value is created but don't usually have a personal relationship with the intranet themselves.
@Peter_Richards A problem I observe is that execs have minions to collect knowledge for them. The rest of us need to retrieve ourselves.
@awmitchell How relevant are intranets to the organisations leaders? Indeed. I encourage my team not to over service our directors but it is very hard.It's probably even broader than "support" functions.
@RichardHare People expect intranets to work: improvements and the way things used to be are quickly forgotten, Also, employees see few other intranets, so main comparison is the web which they always feel is superior
@Peter_Richards Great points, comparison with quickly evolving web raises Intranet expectations to ridiculous heights.
@RichardHare Lastly, perhaps related to last point, many employees don't understand what the intranet is *really* for
@RichardHare I still speak to people who want sites so other people (never them) can "share knowledge"
@seanrnicholson Intranets are cost centers & not revenue centers & orgs have done poor job proving that intranets can improve biz process.
@Peter_Richards Most can accept that Intranets save time by streamlining biz processes. But to measure Time is Money is a difficult task.
@seanrnicholson Most biz models see Intranet as overhead. Necessary overhead, though, in todays times of doing more with less.
@Peter_Richards So we are seen as an overhead? Difficult 2 quantify what is done with the time saved when business processes are streamlined.

So here is some advise on ways to address some of the issues identified in the Twitter conversations above.
  • Intranet Managers & Teams need to sell the benefits of the Intranet to users & sponsors more frequently & more effectively.

    Promote enhancements frequently (I am producing a bi monthly update containing user tips, latest enhancements & reminders of functions that users may not be aware of)

    Talk about the Intranet and promote its benefits whenever you get the chance. Be proactive and offer advise to business partners and stakeholders about how the Intranet may be able to add value to their project, knowledge base or initiatives.

  • Try not to over service very senior managers. Of course gleaning support from executive management can be very beneficial (big stick & bag of money supporter) however they are seldom your core user group. Better to focus more effort on identifying and implementing business process improvements that can help the broader user group work more efficiently. Even better if time and/or money savings can be measured and demonstrated. Bottom line savings can gain senior management support very effectively.

  • Stay Informed and keep up to date on current Intranet trends and developments. Most people today use the Internet daily and see the how it is constantly and quickly evolving. Constant changes in user interfaces, site design, information architecture, multimedia and social networking services help to raise user expectations on what they think they should be able to be delivered on the Intranet. Keeping up to date helps give you the knowledge to be able to manage expectations and in many cases offer alternative solutions. Participating in Jane McConnell's annual Globel Intranet Trends survey is one great way to do this. Read Intranet blogs (which you are doing right now), Join Intranet professional groups and forums. All essential things for effective Intranet Managers to remain on top of things.

  • Plan well ahead for platform upgrades, site redesigns, update the CMS etc. All the big ticket items. Get use to producing business cases for the things on your big picture wish list and submit them for consideration (not all at once obviously). Even if you do not get your plans approved, don't give up. Keep trying. Being able to write a compelling and effective business case is a skill that will be valuable throughout your career so don't think of a knock back as a failure, just think of it as practice. There is a truth in life that I personally have to consciously remind myself of and that is, if you don't ask you don't get.

So there is my 2 cents worth. I do try and practice all the points I have made above personally. But I am still a team of one with a limited budget, so although the advise I have provided seems to work for me in many ways, there does not appear to be a magic bullet solution. Any advances we make in gaining recognition and support are incremental and require constant vigilance of effort.

I would greatly appreciate the hear any advise, ideas and comments anyone has on how Intranet Teams might be recognised and supported for making the valuable contribution to our organisations that we all know we do.

Big thanks to @seanrnicholson, @RichardHare, @awmitchell, @ccrask, @carolyndouglas for contributing to the conversation and for ReTweeting my original query.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Intranet Site Visits - August 31 & September 1, 2009

This week I attended an Intranet Site Visits event in Perth, Western Australia. These events are invaluable for Intranet Managers as it gives the opportunity to see inside other organisations and see their Intranets first hand. Because of the fact that Intranets are internal facing and seldom seen by outsiders I value events like this. It also reinforces the fact Intranet Managers and Teams everywhere share the same kind of problems and issues regardless of the size and success of their organisations.

We got to visit 3 very different sites:

Some of the points I found very interesting from the presentations and the live demonstrations.
  • Both Sharepoint sites had used pretty much out of the box implementations. They have learned that heavy customistion of the Sharepoint product can produce great results initially however can cause significant problems when future product upgrades are considered or needed.

  • An open source solution as used by Lotterywest provides a very flexible platform on which innovative and unique Intranet applications can be developed and delivered. Providing you have a couple of talented and enthusiastic web developers handy to help.

  • Every organisation and every user is different. I am never surprised by this as it is something I have discovered time and time again. Those who end up with successful Intranets are those who put the preliminary work in on determining User Requirements via Workplace Observation, Contextual Enquiry, User and Stakeholder interviews etc.

  • Get as many end users involved in the planning, development, implementation and testing stages as possible. Users that have played a role in the development and decision making stages maintain a loyalty and pride in the end result that is invaluable.

  • Expectations of Intranet Managers and Intranet Teams are high however ongoing support and provision of adequate resources both monitory & physical are rare. The value of an executive sponsor that recognises the value of the Intranet and is prepared to champion the cause is immeasurable.
On day one of the event I held a workshop entitled "What Will Make You An Intranet Superstar?". Apart from having a blatantly over the top title, I aimed to provide participants with a few tips and techniques to help them better organise their time and focus their efforts on activities that would help gather support and gain momentum and hopefully get noticed.

I am a big fan of the Step Two 6x2 Methodology and try to regularly deliver Intranet features and enhancements that are both Visible and Tangible. I showed the group how to judge a proposed enhancement to ensure they were able to deliver on a tight timeframe, an available budget and receive the maximum possible exposure from the result. Hopefully those present were able to get some value from this thinking.

Another exercise I introduced was to define attributes of the Ideal Intranet. Using the Microsoft Product Reaction cards, groups were asked to pick 6 terms from a total of 118 possibilities that they felt described their vision of a perfect Intranet. The task is fun, it generates lots of discussion and after the exercise is completed you have 6 terms that can be used as an inspiration.

When you complete some new work you can measure it against your 6 ideal terms and see how many of them fit. If you can ever match the 6 Vision words with something you have delivered to your users you should be able to retire contented.

Unfortunately I was unable to take comprehensive notes while facilitating the workshop but I did manage to jot down the results from one table and the 6 terms they chose from the 118 possibilities were.

Work Cloud from

Two of the three groups participating in the Intranet Vision exercise had one term in common and all picked very similar terms which demonstrates that as Intranet Managers from different backgrounds and organisation we all seem to share a similar vision for the Intranet we manage and the users we serve.

I must say I enjoyed the event immensely. I loved visiting Perth, it is a really lovely looking city and I also loved Fremantle and the colonial look and feel of the place. The fellow Intranet professionals I met were wonderful as were the sites we visited and Intranets that were demonstrated for us. Thanks to the site hosts ( Tracey-Anne, Glenn & Donna) for letting us see under their hoods so to speak and thanks to the event organisers (Aimee & Erin) for giving me the opportunity to attend and speak at the event. Will do it again anywhere and anytime without hesitation if asked.