Truly love your intranet: set it free.
If the pace of change in social media and collaborative working continues, intranets as we know them will rapidly become a thing of the past. At the same time, those responsible for corporate intranets need to ensure that past and present investment in the platform pays off.
Most organisations have invested heavily in a range of online approaches to sharing information, webcasting, completing tasks and collaborative working. And it’s pretty clear that we are near a tipping point in the development of more collaborative, real-time working methods. Looking at experience across more than 60 public and private sector intranets, the reality is that a small minority of them deliver performance results anywhere near their potential — even award-winning “high performance” intranets developed by leading companies and under the guidance of effective intranet managers and their teams.
There is hope, however. Intranet managers can learn some lessons and insights from three rapidly converging areas of thinking and activity:
- The Open Source movement
- “Globally Adaptive Organisations” and “The Wisdom of Crowds” and
- The emergence of consumer-generated media.
The Open Source Movement and Wikipedia
Wikipedia shouldn’t exist. It simply doesn’t sit comfortably with how most of us assume the world works. If you were told five years ago that it’s possible to make a world class knowledge resource as good as the encyclopedia Britannica using amateur volunteers, any one of whom is free to edit at will, chances are you would have said “That’s impossible”. The entity itself is so counter-intuitive, that organisations need to take notice of this entirely new way of constructing and sharing knowledge. Mitch Kapor’s podcast about this is a brilliant and inspiring description of the dynamics at play. In essence, Wikipedia explodes several myths about authority and control somehow ensuring quality, or small numbers of experts being required to accurately create the tight content on a topic.
Globally Adaptive Organisations and The Wisdom of Crowds
Navi Radjou‘s inspired article for Forrester Research presents compelling evidence that more collaborative, networked and (scary!) altruistic organisations can deliver stunning results by turning traditional hierarchies and decision-making frameworks on their heads. James Surowiecki‘s The Wisdom of Crowds presents a similar idea — given the right circumstances, a diverse and independent group will arrive at better, more accurate solutions than a small number of experts.
The emergence of consumer-generated media
The third related strand is how technology has allowed individuals to become influential and assertive creators of media, in a social upheaval that is radically challenging and transforming the entire media and communication industry. We needn’t go into the rise of blogging and the marvels of YouTube.
What can intranet managers learn from all this?
The most important learning to take away from these converging phenomena is that a document management system or CMS isn’t going to do anything to address this. And that’s a very painful thing for most intranet managers we know to have to think about — because most of them have just been through the throes of massive CMS implementations.
It’s a truism that you should never build an intranet that’s bigger than your ability to manage it. The irony of this is that the rise of CMS and DMS has come about due to the assumption in virtually all organisations that content and documents needs to be managed. In fact, only some content needs management — for example, HR policies, regulatory, health and safety, legal stuff.
And this isn’t radical, lunatic web fringe thinking. IBM is taking steps to be a globally integrated enterprise where expertise can be flexed dynamically to meet customer needs. Proctor and Gamble have made resources available to thousands of entrepreneurs worldwide — so its product success rate has risen above 90%. Its R&D proftiability has improved. The British Council, ARM Holdings, the BBC, and investment bank
Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein (among many others) are all actively using social software such as wikis successfully.
The most critical challenge for intranet managers and their users won’t have anything to do with the technologies themselves. Instead, the greatest conflict happening is balancing this with a much bigger challenge — the fact that command and control management structures are going to be with us for some time to come. Convincing senior managers and executives that it’s OK to let everyone edit and contribute to things they know about is the hardest part.
Some tips to succeed:
- Spend time building the case. Take some of the above examples, and more coming out every day, to show this is “mainstream” good practice — not pie-in-the-sky theory
- Make it personal. Find out some personal interests of your decision-makers and influencers and get them onto Wikipedia. Tell them no one had to pay a thing for any of this, and anyone can edit it. When problems arise, they get fixed fast anyway.
- Start small. Pick a small community of expertise and set them loose. Do enough of these and you’ll swiftly build momentum and the right culture.
Mike Williams (Senior Consultant – Digital) and Kevin Keohane (Head of Engagement Consulting) work with leading organisations as part of their role at global brand agency Enterprise IG. They wrote this article online using Google docs and spreadsheets without a face to face meeting (apart from some pints round the pub where wikis were the furthest things from their minds).