Putting Someone in Charge of Your Intranet

    December 15, 2003

Finally, organizations are getting serious about how they manage their intranets. The intranet is now moving out of an evolutionary, experimental phase into a more systematic, managed phase. It is being seen as an asset, a driver of productivity. However, return on investment measurement for the intranet still requires a lot of work.

The intranet can be a strange place. I remember digging into the intranet of one of the world’s largest organizations around 1998. It was quite a trip. Mazes within mazes. Even in 1998, there was a distinct smell of damp and cobwebbed places, where out-of-date content proliferated.

They say that there’s a book inside everyone. Well, the Web let the book out. Some say there’s a graphic designer inside everyone too. Well, the intranet let the graphic designer out. There should be a Hollywood horror flick entitled: ‘Keeping the graphic designer down.’ I’ve seen things on intranets: winking eyes, grabbing hands, swirling backgrounds, and very creepy sounds.

I sat with clients who told me that the intranet was about self-sustaining communities and self-expression. ‘The most important thing we can put on the intranet is the canteen menu,’ I heard. There were knowing smiles all around. Oh, the simplicity of it. ‘And it’s important that people can sell their cars and stuff,’ someone else would interject. Fantastic idea. And nobody should be in charge. Just let it grow. Organically.

What were these people on? How had normally straight, upright businesspeople lost their marbles so quickly? It was the Web. It was the Nineties.

That was then. This is now. The best intranets have matured:

  • Senior management now genuinely believe
  • Somebody with real authority has been put in charge
  • Productive collaboration is being encouraged
  • Quality content is getting rewarded
  • Appropriate training is being put in place
  • Information architecture is being centralized
  • Application development is taking a publishing focus
  • Return on investment is getting attention
  • The surest sign that an intranet will fail happens when senior management is disengaged. It’s easy to get senior managers to make broad, meaningless statements about the importance of the intranet. But do they use it? Do they read it every morning? There is no better way to get staff to engage with the intranet than for them to know that their managers are engaged.

    Good intranets should have an editorial board consisting of representatives of senior management. This board should meet on a quarterly basis. Its function is to strategically review the Intranet. Without such a board, it is very difficult to achieve substantive progress.

    A good intranet will not run itself. For various reasons, many organizations have not had the will to establish a clear organizational structure for the intranet. That’s changing. I worked with a major government department recently that had allowed its intranet to go somewhat out of control. To regain control they realized that they needed to put someone in charge.

    Key questions arose: What sort of skills does this person require? Where should this person sit? Ideally, this person should be an editor-someone who understands content. They should sit within communications. Unfortunately, the communications section often doesn’t have the required skill and experience to manage an intranet. An intranet is not just content, but must also deliver applications.

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