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.

5 comments:

Andrew Mitchell said...

Peter,

Thanks for getting this discussion going. Two additional thoughts:

1. I actively choose intranet initatives which will be seen by decision makers as an INTRANET success. This is part of our idea assessment process. StepTwo Designs also support this approach in their 6x2 intranet delivery methodology.

2. I don't seem to have problem with getting budget for initatives that are solidly and directly aligned with specific corporate strategies. It't the more general improvements (eg a new CMS) that I have trouble justifying. But I think I have trouble justifying these sort of things to myself, not just to the executives. Maybe it's enough to keep delivering on specific business needs and my own expectations are too high?

Your thoughts?

Andrew.

Peter Richards said...

Thanks for the additional thoughts Andrew.

Completely agree with point one and I am a huge fan of Step Two 6x2 methodology. I follow their advise on ensuring planned initiatives are both Tangible & Visible to keep generating momentum.

On your second point, my organisation is currently very frugal with non revenue generating spend and this is planned to continue probably till 2011. I did have a slight eureka moment when you mention that perhaps your own expectations are too high as on reflection this might be the case for me also as I think I do continue to deliver on specific business needs. There is value to setting the bar high though.

Andrew Mitchell said...

Your comments reminded me that we've got different contexts. I've got IT, dev, data and intranet responsibilities and so my successful projects are often a combination of these (eg. reporting system with intranet front end). We haven't done anything that's "pure" intranet in quite a while. I can understand that a more limited scope would certainly reduce the opportunities I have to contribute strategically.

Nigel at Claromentis said...

Some great points made here.

Paradoxically I have seen a huge amount of perceived value in enabling extranet functionality in those projects where it is appropriate.

Delivering customer metrics directly back to them on the system, and therefore potentially impacting customer perceptions and future revenues, grabs a lot of attention for the platform and so raises the profile of the project and team.

I am not saying that is how it should be, but it certainly seems that not being totally internally focused can change the perceived value in certain organisations.

Nigel

Andrew Mitchell said...

Good point Nigel.

We're about to embark on our first extranet project. Client's being able to do their own reporting on demand. It's good to know that you've found value in that strategy.

Andrew.