A couple of my colleagues and I went to visit Gothenburg last week, to attend Intranätverk conference. It was a nice two day conference bringing out different aspects to intranets and showing a few cases as well. Having just organized our Finnish intranet conference #intranetwork a month earlier, it was great to just attend, get inspired and enjoy the content.
Intranet governance needs to be taken seriously
A few sessions brought up the topic of intranet governance, each from a bit different point of view. Mark Morrell talked about content publishing models (centralized, decentralized, outsourced and hybrid) as well as managing the whole intranet. These talks as well as a few cases covering the same topic proved that intranets really need to be managed, and require constant care. Especially in large organizations, being responsible for an intranet is a full-time job. The tips we got for governing an intranet were not just about keeping the content up-to-date, but also about owning the whole service, leading the people who create content and embedding the intranet to the organization’s operations and culture – principles which we also emphasize when talking about the design process of a social intranet.
Improving intranet search is not a question of technology
Another question that always arises when talking about intranets is the search function and its capabilities. We all want a great search for our intranet, preferably one that works just like Google, but we don’t usually realize that it’s not a technical issue. Kristian Norling explained in his presentation how search functions are technically speaking all pretty good but in order to make it really work in your intranet, you need to plan for it, care for it, and improve it constantly. It’s about having a clear plan (and sticking to it!) for adding metadata, communicating to everyone how the search actually works (and can be improved), and maintaining a system of information lifecycle management. When people say their search is lousy, the reason can be a poor search function, but it may just as well be that people don’t know where to look, and that tagging content is done inconsistently – which in turn are the result of the different points of view that all users have to each piece of content.
Where’s the Social?
Attending Intranätverk was also an interesting peek to what is going on with intranets in Sweden right now. The cases we saw naturally represent only a small part of Swedish intranets, but we were still able to get an idea of how the discussion about intranets differs from what we go through with our customers back in Finland. And the biggest difference we saw was about the social aspect to an intranet – and specifically, the lack of it. We have talked about social intranets for a while now, and customers are getting quite mature for both the functionalities and the ideologies that social intranets represent. That means decentralized publishing and content creation, transparency in seeing what other parts of the organization are working on, and openness of user rights so that minimum levels of restrictions to access or editing apply.
The reason for this may be the fact that the organizations presented by the cases were very large with over 20 000 employees. Most of them could also be regarded as industrial, which may mean more hierarchical and conservative organizational cultures. It’s also clear that unlike large industrial companies, smaller professional organizations are, by nature, often more dependent on networks and collaboration. Another interesting fact was that it seemed that most work regarding the design and implementation of their intranets was done in-house. I think it is exactly us consultants who often push for new ideas and help customers think outside of their boxes, which could also take the social aspects further in a new intranet. At least it feels like it in Finland, where outside help – I believe – is quite extensively used in most intranet projects. There was, for example, a lot of discussion on the openness of one Finnish case, Sitra, in whose intranet anyone has rights to create content or edit it – a policy which is very typical in Finnish intranets nowadays.
Intranet and the digital transformation of work
Oscar Berg ended the day with an overview to the future of work and the digital workplace. He pointed out the role intranets play in this digital transformation that work in general is going through. Intranet is still too often seen as just the internal news channel and the “place where you keep important information and documents”. Instead, it should be used for creating better digital communication and a new digital workplace also for those people whose daily work doesn’t revolve around process charts, news items or documents.
The fact is that work is getting less and less physical and routine-like. Instead, an increasing proportion of work is non-routine knowledge work. “Creative jobs are taking over”, as Berg put it. This kind of work is based on freeform collaboration between people, resulting in outcomes that are hard to predict. That is why we need better channels for communication, interaction and collaboration, instead of having answers to questions we already know everyone has (which is typically the role a traditional intranet plays). Therefore the most important role of a digital workplace (or a social intranet) is to create conditions for the kind of creative environment that can help engage and empower people, which in turn leads to efficiency (=happy owners) and quality (=happy customers). Could this be the basis for building a sound business case also for your new intranet?