Simon Evans's Blog

Making Intranets and Innovation Work!

The Perils and Pleasures of Intranet Governance

By Simon Evans (@simontevans, simon@enigmaquest.co.uk)

Are you in control of your Intranet?

This seems like a daft question, of course you are… aren’t you?  Well let’s take a look at what we mean by “control”.

  • Do you know why you have an intranet?  It is surprising how many senior managers struggle with this question… what would happen if you switched it off?
  • Do you know how much it is costing you?  Is the cost widely devolved across the organisation and therefore basically invisible?
  • Do you know what benefits are accruing?  Can you measure these?
  • How well does your intranet support your business strategy?  Do you know?
  • Do you know where you are going with this incredibly valuable tool?  What does the future hold?

One of the many reasons organisations struggle with some or all of these questions is that the intranet has typically been developed bottom up and is supported (possible strongly) by management simply because “everyone has to have an intranet” and that’s where it stops, and the organisation is allowed to just get on with it.

If you don’t get the governance right, you will not be realising the true benefit of you intranet, and you could be wasting a great deal of money for no return.

In this blog I would like to explore some of the approaches that have worked with many clients.  There are four phases in the process.

  • Creating the Vision
  • Setting up true Governance
  • Improving the Content
  • Identifying future trends and developing organisational agility to adopt them

Creating the Vision

The first step in the process is to have a very clear understanding and shared vision of what your intranet is for.  This typically can be developed in a half day workshop with the *right* people in the room.   The right people?  Those developing the vision must have a proper business stake in the output.  You should therefore have a good cross business representation of people who are senior enough to apply a test of alignment to the business strategy and to take accountability for the achievement of the agreed vision.  This is NOT a job for IT or even Corporate Communications (although they are both likely to have significant input!).  The agreed vision should be:

  • Punchy and easy to remember
  • Aligned and connected to the business strategy and the bottom line
  • Agreed and committed to across all business units
  • Be built upon identified measureable benefits

Once you have clarity in what it is you want to achieve, you have a framework against which you can govern.  Don’t attempt to govern without this – it will not work!

Setting up (true) Governance

True Governance?  Too many companies, large and small will say that they have governance in place but they will often admit that it does not seem to be effective, and the group will often fail within 6 months.  What are the common failings?  Do you recognise any of these?

  • Governance Team becomes a talking shop but does not resolve any real issues
  • People on the team do not have any time allocated to this task and so come to successive meetings (or not!)  having made no progress against the actions of the last meeting
  • The group is run by IT and the Business people in the room lose interest after 3 meetings
  • The group is run by Corporate Communications and the Business people in the room lose interest after 3 meetings
  • Arguments about technology dominate discussions
  • Members of the team are there as delegates of the senior team members and have to refer decisions and commitments upwards after the meetings
  • Fragmented business environments make driving a consensus impossible, local politics abound

I argue that, the right team with the right engaged people, armed with a clear vision can avoid or fix these issues.

How can we help make this happen?

  1. Much starts with strong sponsorship.  Most often this tends to be from IT or Comms, and sometimes jointly.  This can work well as long as the business agenda is right on the top of the pile and stays there.  It certainly can cause problems if the sponsor is from just one of the business units unless they are very good at being inclusive of the others.
  2. The structure and role of the governance team is also crucial.  If we don’t carefully separate the Strategic components from the Tactical, the senior people who should be worrying about the strategy will soon lose interest as the tide of tactical decisions wash them out of the door never to return.A successful model that has been used in many large organisations is to set up local governance groups in each Business Unit to handle the tactical, with the chair of each of these then sitting on the Strategic Governance Board.  That way commitments made at the centre are more likely to be implemented locally.

The key strategic activities (managed by the central Strategic Governance team) are:

  • Sponsoring the intranet project
  • Being accountable for the realisation of benefits to the organisation from the intranet
  • Defining and maintaining the vision
  • Developing and agreeing minimum standards for quality and technology, and tracking progress metrics against these, enforcing where necessary
  • Managing exceptions
  • Managing and optimising the overall cost of ownership
  • Agreeing major changes

The Tactical activities (managed by the business unit teams) include:

  • Making day to day decisions
  • Driving the implementation of agreed corporate wide standards
  • Developing local standards as needed
  • Ensuring alignment with business strategy and representation of business needs
  • Collecting metrics and summarisation for the Strategic group
  • Managing the portfolio of content in their business to ensure people have what they need
  • Escalating issues to the strategic team

3.  The Team and its members will ultimately determine the success or failure of the initiative.  This is not something that can be done as an afterthought; it must be part of the day job.  A highly successful implementation of a governance team in a major Pharma company was in no small part down to the fact that one of its key sponsors (a SVP from IT) had some 20% of his time allocated to driving the governance group, and the CIO actively tracked his goals through the performance management system.
Choose engaged people with a passion and an interest in making your intranet a success.

Improving the Content

With governance in place, you can now turn your attention to the content and how it performs.  There are three aspects to managing and improving your content.  Each of these may be a source for standards that you might wish to develop.

Availability:  The content that people need to help them do their jobs better has to be, in the first instance, there and available.  It is amazing how when someone complains they cannot find something they are looking for, that it turns out not to have been written!  Some simple gap analysis against business process should identify the missing content.

Quality:  Quality is critical for long term success.  Is the content up to date and correctly attributed to an owner?  Are there processes in place to ensure this is maintained?  Do you have metadata standards in place and is this reflected in the content?  Have you tested the searchability of content? Do you delete or archive old content?  How is this done?  Do you encourage and manage user feedback?  Do you have a lot of “vanity content”?  (This covers those many pages dominated by a photo of the head of department together with an org chart and their mission statement that is basically no interest to any of their potential information customers).  Can you measure these things?  Indeed you can – consider putting together a simple checklist of questions relating to the above, and encourage self audit of the business unit content awarding Bronze, Silver and Gold medals for sites.  This subtle competition can drive astonishing progress.

Information Architecture and Design: The way you design and lay out your content is vital to your success at delivering the content to the people who need it, when they need it.  Steve Krug’s excellent book “Don’t make me think” is spot on.  The more your users must think about how they are navigating your content, the less they will find and the less likely they are to return.  Steer clear of jargon and acronyms – why label something as “Joborama” when you could call it “Jobs”!   Adopt the principles of Human Cantered Design (HCD) to maximise the impact of your site.  The design of your content taxonomy should take into account the very different user types.  Each user coming to your intranet will have a specific question in mind that they want answering, be it “What is happening in the company today” or “What is the redundancy package?”.  The starting point for this analysis must always be to segment you userbase and consider carefully their specific needs.  One size does not fit all.  Measure your audience penetration to see how successful you are!

Identifying future trends

We all know that the internet is changing fast and with the widespread adoption of Web 2.0 capabilities, and talk of Web 3.0 we all need to be on our toes, as today’s successful implementation of an intranet will fail tomorrow if it does not adapt.  The new workforce that we are starting to employ are all members of the Net Generation (read Don Tapscott’s book “Growing up Digital”), and they all have Facebook accounts and blogs and use Twitter extensively to network and find ways of getting things done.  They are not going to want to work in a company where the policy is to restrict access to the internet except for an hour over lunchtime.  If you do not give them the capabilities they are used to in their lives they will not be able to do what they do best – networking – and we must all learn from them,  they have seen the future!

So, Intranet governance is a major challenge, full of pitfalls and difficulties.  With the right approach and support, you can make a huge difference to the successful delivery of major business benefits, and that is what your boss wants to hear!

Simon Evans (@simontevans, simon@enigmaquest.co.uk)

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October 5, 2009 - Posted by | Enigmaquest, Governance | , , ,

4 Comments »

  1. Hi Simon. Thank you for that thoughtful and comprehensive piece on intranet governance.

    We’re just starting offering an intranet product. We are Drupal developers and are excited about Drupal Atrium,(http://drupal.org/open-atrium)(http://developmentseed.org/blog/2009/jun/17/announcing-open-atrium-open-source-intranet-package-powered-drupal) an open source intranet platform.

    Its tools are entirely Web 2.0 tools, including blogs, wikis, a Twitter-like “shout box,” member profiles, groups, tagging and a simple project manager interface.

    You are right: these are the tools that people are using to communicate and to network.

    Like I said, I am just a beginner, but I see governance as editorial oversight mainly for the purpose of keeping collaborative material quickly findable so that the hive mind never forgets.

    Comment by Harry Chittenden | October 6, 2009 | Reply

    • Harry – thanks for your comment. Based on experience in a number of large organisations, I have seen first hand what can happen if you get the governance wrong or underestimate its importance, and also how you can really drive the benefits if you get it right!

      Comment by Simon Evans | October 6, 2009 | Reply

  2. Awesome blog!

    I thought about starting my own blog too but I’m just too lazy so, I guess Ill just have to keep checking yours out.
    LOL,

    Comment by Savannah | October 17, 2009 | Reply

  3. Hi,

    thanks for the great quality of your blog, each time i come here, i’m amazed.

    black hattitude.

    Comment by black hattitude | November 1, 2009 | Reply


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