Clearly, for many of them mobile is no longer just a nice-to-have add-on. It is now part of the core business, and has become an essential delivery channel with its own characteristics and opportunities.
The level of digital activity was up across social networks and blogs at the J. Boye Aarhus 11 conference for web & intranet professionals. Here a few pointers to some of the early postings followed by top 10 conference tweets. The conference conversation continues and feel free to add your learnings below.
Last week I presented at the annual Online Information conference in London in a session titled "Death of the Intranet". Speaking after me in the same session was senior Forrester analyst Tim Walters and we both agreed that intranets are not dead. However it may be practical in some organisations to avoid the term intranet as it carries too much negative baggage.
I covered 5 main challenges that intranet professionals face and shared some experiences on how to solve them gathered by members of our community of practice. The challenges were:
lack of management support
I promised to share my slides and have done so at the bottom of this posting.
Organisations can only learn from another organisation's intranet if they first learn how that intranet relates to the 'personality' of the organisation. This is why cut and paste functionality from one intranet manager to another most ends in #FAIL.
I tend to agree with this, in particular with specific functionality, although obviously intranet managers can learn a great deal from meeting face to face.
The challenge that received the most questions in London was concerning vendors, where I took a few questions specifically about SharePoint. One asked if the introduction of SharePoint meant that IT departments were taking back ownership of the intranet. I don't think that is the case, but as Walters said, many organisations now have a somewhat illogical division between SharePoint as one internal application and then intranet as another. Our session moderator Martin White from Intranet Focus commented that SharePoint might in fact be good intranet news for many organisations, as it has forced many to think more about governance and the untapped potential of intranets.
Thank you to the many members and other peers who contributed with helpful feedback.
In preparation for my intranet presentation at the Online Information conference in London, I've been talking to several intranet professionals about their current significant challenges. Despite various advances over the last years, it seems everybody agrees that there is still a long way to go for intranets if they are to fulfill their real potential.
When I first started working on the presentation a few months ago, I realized (with some guidance from intranet guru Martin White) that often little can be learned from “leading” intranets, even assuming that the characteristics of a "leading intranet" can be defined. Without the necessary prerequisites, e.g. management support, it is impossible to progress towards innovation.
BT in the UK, whose intranet is managed by Mark Morrell, is in my view an example of a very advanced intranet, perhaps even among the "leading" intranets in the world. Follow his public diary, you'll find that the BT intranet also has a long way to go, e.g. in the area of intranet application usability, where their systems were still very difficult to use.
lack of support (in all ways) from senior managers - making it difficult to realize the intranet potential
usability - which makes adoption very difficult
collaboration - many are still struggling to find the right ways to use the intranet to work together
governance - an area where many intranets either have no real owner or are owned by a single unit, typically communication, HR or IT
vendors, including software companies, agencies and analysts - confusing intranet professionals with all their different offerings and recommendations
I've heard about different approaches to tackling the above, in particular from conversations with several members in our community of practice and will share my thoughts on the topic at the presentation. I'll include how UNHCR were successful in getting executive management support by using a sponsor that opened doors. I'll also talk about how WWF have found a good approach to collaboration by using Google Docs. I'll post the final slides here shortly after the conference.
I would be very interested in hearing how you solved the 5 challenges
If you’d like to learn from other organisations where the intranet is truly business critical, I’d encourage you to join our international intranet conference in Copenhagen on March 22 2011.
Neil's presentation discussed how the WWF are using Google Apps for collaboration. Collaborating using Google Apps has pretty much become fundamental in the organisation. Everyone just “get it”.
The success the intranet team has had of supporting online collaboration at the WWF is a direct result of the approach taken before launching any new tool, as Neil explains:
The best advice I can give about online collaboration, is that you cannot start to collaborate online if you do not know the people you are collaborating with. Therefore what must precede the launch of any tool is to actually bring the group together for a conference call, video conference or face-to-face meeting to figure out the best way of working together. This is important in establishing the trust need to collaborate effectively, regardless the solution.
This is a universal point we tend to forget when we get excited about new so called “social” technologies. Sometimes in fact, collaboration can be bad for an organisation. As always with technology it pays to focus on business needs first.
How do you involve your users before launching a new internal tool?
At our recent Aarhus 2009 conference, we had some great discussions on the web strategy track. Some of the expert recommendations were: Expand your mandate. Don’t just manage web content, manage information. Get it right, and you could have a seat at the table. But is all this really achievable in real life?
The advice from the gurus was followed by some great case studies, including a refreshing presentation on “web strategy in real life” from Caroline Coetzee from Cambridge University Hospitals. Caroline reflected on how she has left numerous conferences feeling inspired, only to be hit hard by reality when returning home. Often, the great results that the gurus promise just can’t be achieved.
The fact is, the inspiration already fades in the break after a great keynote or successful case study. We are all impressed, but at the same time thinking things like: “My manager would never go for that”, “These people just don’t live in the real world”, “Everybody here is able to achieve things impossible in my organisation”.
However, instead of letting this happen, after our Aarhus 2007 conference, Caroline decided to act. And act quickly. The day after the conference she created a presentation for her manager. There were no new or revoluntionary ideas in the presentation, but they were things she had been nervous about putting on the table. Although far from the success story sometimes outlined by the experts, Caroline has been able to affect real change in her organisation:
Eighteen months of being noisy has raised awareness
The intranet has become indispensable
The public website and the extranet are on their way too
None of that would have happened, had Caroline not taken action. What made the difference, Caroline told us, was that she was feeling inspired and decided to act on that. That inspiration was what passed through to her manager.
As Caroline puts it, “the daily grind means we need inspiration. This is just as important as great knowledge, wisdom and authority. And it may be what makes conferences worthwhile.”
So when it comes to translating expert advice into a real strategy project, remember to:
Pick the bits that you can use. Not everything will apply, but there may be tactical tips here and there.
Don’t buy into the myths around strategy successes. In order to communicate clearly, conference presenters are often simplifying their advice. Strategy is not something you easily implement. It is a long process.
Act on the inspiration. Just this week, I heard from another 2009 conference delegate who told me that he was writing a “mission report” to senior management to summarize the findings from the conference as well as give recommendations for how to proceed in the coming year.
If you want to know more about what Caroline has to say about the Aarhus 2009 conference, check this video out:
How are you acting on what you learned at the conference?
While technology problems often steal the attention, fact is that many Web and intranet professionals struggle just as much with the content side of things. We have too much content, outdated content, content that is not user-friendly. The list goes on.
Process: In web projects, we spend a lot of time and energy on determining business objectives and user goals, creating strategy and designing the functional requirements. But somehow we always scramble to prepare the actual content just before launch. We don’t plan for content.
Perception: We think that creating good content is basically copy writing, that it is about sitting down and writing text. But in fact, content is complicated. Often you are dealing with several parties that have to review the content in the first place. Then there is the issue of metadata, formatting, and technical restrictions.
What is missing in most organisations, Kristina says, is editorial oversight. Think of the publishing industry, where content is considered a product. They employ executive editors to coordinate all the input from the different writers. Compare that then to your typical setup with a decentralized network of web editors in most organisations. There will of course be a person coordinating efforts, but that person also has to do daily maintenance, drive the new design, implement the new CMS, manage vendors and many other tasks. In the end, no one has the overall responsibility for the content itself.
In her book, Kristina argues the need for content strategy if we are to deliver better websites. She defines content strategy as planning for the creation, the delivery and the governance of useful, usable content.
You can meet Kristina at our conference for online professionals in November where she will share her method for creating a content strategy as well as steps you can take right away to deliver a better website or intranet.
Do you have anyone looking after your content? Really?
Recently, I had the chance to talk to Jane McConnell, intranet and portal strategy specialist, about how intranets can help organisations work smarter. It came as no surprise, that these days the biggest challenge is to know how to prioritise activities so that the intranet makes a positive difference to how business is done.
I asked Jane a series of questions about the state of the intranet today:
What is true intranet success and how do you achieve it?
"When it serves the purpose it is intended to serve for an organization, the people and the business. You can't achieve it until you've defined it, which most organizations have not yet done. The purpose changes as the organization evolves."
At the J. Boye conference in Philadelphia, you'll talk about how intranets can help organisations work smarter. What are the biggest hurdles today for achieving that?
"The major obstacles are internal politics, lack of resources - primarily human! - and lack of overall strategy and intranet positioning, which means different parts of the organization go in different directions. Another hurdle is lack of trust. If organizations do not trust the users, it is unlikely the intranet will be helping people work smarter. User-generated content has a lot to do with working smarter."
Is "intranet" an outdated term?
"The word "intranet" is often an obstacle itself because it has so much baggage associated with it. Lots of senior managers still think intranets are for internal communication. It does not cross their minds that intranets facilitate business - "real business", I mean, with real external customers.
I recently triggered a fascinating debate on the internet about trying to find a new word. Out of the extensive collective brainstorming, I chose and suggested "web workplace". That in itself set off another round of debates and in some cases very strong reactions."
What surprised you most in the results from your 2009 Global Intranet Strategies & Trends Survey?
"Two findings really surprised me: First, that very large organizations (over 50,000 employees) are much further down the path of using social media internally than other organizations. Second,that companies with a high proportion of manufacturing-based employees are more likely to have a Stage 3 intranet than companies with lots of knowledge-workers."
As you look forward, what are some major trends to look out for when it comes to intranets?
"Intranets will offer workplaces for teams and communities that are often made up of internal and external people. Today, this type of "mixed" team is often forced to create parallel workplaces in the cloud, out of sight and out of mind for the intranet managers. This is not a sustainable solution.
Intranets will offer services over smart phones, for example news and contacts. Those are the two main needs people have, especially people far from head-quarters. I've done a lot of work with very decentralized organizations with lots of staff "on the ground" carrying out critical and sometimes difficult or dangerous work. What those people often need is access to essential information - nothing more, nothing less."
Have you defined your intranet success and moved towards helping your organisation work smarter in the future?
It has been a very exciting and also busy week hosting more than 260 delegates in Aarhus for jboye08, our annual online conference for practitioners.
Among many duties, I was particularly honoured that Steve Arnold offered to found a new award to the best conference speaker.
The Overflight Excellence award and a €500 cash prize went to Caroline Coetzee from Cambridge University Hospitals in the UK. Caroline did a very interesting and relevant talk on The business case game (or is a website really more important than a maternity unit?) which explained how to get senior management support in the first place.
An honourable mention went to Niklas Sinander from EUMETSAT in Germany, who did a popular talk on Wiki from theory to practice.
The new award was given to the best presentation at the conference based on a few simple criteria:
Value to attendees
Quality of presentation and graphics
Importance of the topic at the time of the conference
To find the winner, a small committee reviewed the talks from our 89 speakers, talked to other delegates and met over lunch to identify the winner. This years committee consisted of:
Andrew Fix, Shell
Magnus Børnes Hellevik, The Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration