Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Intranet – where are we Now?

Intranet Now! The UK's first un/conference for comms and intranet people was an inspiring exploration of today’s working practices.

"By intranet practitioners, for intranet managers, contributors, and internal comms people of all kinds" - Wedge Black and Brian Lamb, Intranet Now

Back in April, Wedge Black surprised the industry by deciding to launch a UK intranet conference from scratch.

"I’m just zis guy, y’know? I’m an independent freelancer, and I don’t have corporate resources at my disposal. I am an associate of a few agencies though, and I think I have a few connections, so maybe, just maybe, together we can pull something off. You and me. Us. Maybe something small and intimate this summer, maybe something bigger in 2015."

This week, together with Brian Lamb, Wedge demonstrated that magic happens when a community of passionate and dedicated professionals get together. As Intranet Focus's Martin White, summed up: "Great expectations exceeded!"

Within a packed agenda twenty speakers delivered 20-minute and 5-minute talks and case studies. Plus, there were four discussions groups, where participants could choose from nearly twenty topics.

Now, the choice of which presentations to review is not the easiest to make so here are a few personal take-aways.

The intranet is not seen as a value-created place 

Intranet veteran - and the man behind Customer Carewords - Gerry McGovern, kicked off the day with an illuminating speech on content glut. "The focus must be on quality, not quantity."

Drawn from a piece of research conducted across 50,000 employees, he pointed out that intranet content is not focused where it should be: the core value of the business and what a company does and offers, such as its products and services. According to the study, only 16% of staff see this happening in their workplaces.

Ultimately, intranets shine a light on more fundamental cultural issues within businesses that go way beyond platforms: ''intranet content doesn't want to get found", which means, "when content is findable, it generates more work for the owners."

McGovern's view? Publish less content, but in a more collaborative way; build bridges in the digital age. It includes having the intranet sitting at the centre of the organisation, understanding the user mentality, and having policies and guidelines available at the task.

"Our job is not to write news or to code, but to evangelise a culture change."


Learning from mistakes...

Through a lively presentation, Sam Marshall from ClearBox Consulting reminded us that we are on a journey. By making the most of his past mistakes, he suggested a number of tips, including:

Cultivate champions from the start, maintain a business case even when not required, and measure the before so you can demonstrate the benefits afterward;

Stop relying too much on data. "Intranets need leaders not managers. Identify who will actually take a strategy forward."

Create an intranet that reflects how the business works; at least with some parts of it looking like the organisational chart.

Keep in mind the late-adopters. Don't take for granted that pilots scale linearly - instead of expecting high level of adoption everywhere, "focus on specific communities and grow from there."

Governance should not be a set of rules but basic guiding principles to help people change behaviour. It implies encouragement, support and dialogue.

A solution is always there 

Managing a global intranet for 10,000 employees across over 90 countries can be a real challenge. It is particularly true for a charity organisation with a few resources. However, Gabriele Sani, Internal Collaboration Tools Manager at Oxfam International, showed that obstacles can be faced. For example, when looking for new solutions to help him classifying hundreds of projects on the intranet, he came across automatic testing. The software, which is low cost and low maintenance, allows him to cut down time on controlling and executing documents and tests, to focus more on understanding users.

Listen and put the user at the centre

From Michelle Baillie of The Children’s Trust, we heard the story of how she helped to develop the charity’s first intranet, the LOOP. Key was to put the users at the centre, understand their needs, and make their experience friendly: "We looked at what we already had, we surveyed, we ran focus groups, we did demos and involved our staff when launching the LOOP in April.

We made navigation easy, and kept listening because at the end of the day, your work is never done."

Mobile first

There was a general agreement for mobile to be a priority now. However, Edmund Ovington from enterprise app Beem highlighted that, "there is a gulf between rhetoric about the importance in mobile, and how quickly companies are taking advantage of it."

New applications are opening up opportunities for enterprises able to embrace them. "Mobile experience can help organizations support their social journey and boost the engagement curve." Ovington brought three key areas to attention:
  • Unified solutions - all updates in one place, with all the social business content feeding in one integrated mobile location;
  • Social workflow - getting work done while on the move;
  • Swarming collaboration - finding the right person fast and start working with them right away 

On open source

"Don't be afraid of non-proprietary platforms," said Reg Lewin, of Which? The Consumers’ Association. "To go open source means flexibility, speed and consistency."
From Lewin we learned that Which? is currently using Wordpress, Drupal and Mediawiki together, perhaps showing that a digital workplace doesn’t have to be all on one platform. "Don’t try to shoehorn your culture into that of an intranet system."

A human-centred strategy

In their talk about the role of the Intranet Manager, Elizabeth Marsh from DWG and Kate Simmons from Allen & Overy stressed the importance of having a human centred strategy for developing the digital workplace:

"...It can be difficult to change the culture of the organisation. Be prepared to challenge the status quo and to be disruptive...Be business focused rather than technology focused, talk to users, watch how they work, understand their frustrations."

Similarly, Sharon O’Dea, Deputy Head of Digital Communications at Standard Chartered, pointed out that IT  automated the big systems. Yet, are the small inefficiencies that often irritate people on their daily job.

"Deliver business value by meeting your organisational needs. Design for your own users not general users. Spend time in your community to understands them."

Jessie Punia of IBM talked about realness, "employees want to see the real side of their leaders." Plus, reminded as of the importance of trust among peers. As we learned from Edelman Trust Barometer, employees and want to hear from each other. "They want a voice, to be listened to and to have access to the people who can deliver their ideas."

Mature social businesses keep moving forward

The conference was also an opportunity to catch up with Kim England, Head of Internal Community and Collaboration at Pearson. She was on stage at our SMiLE London in March talking about their Jive-based employee social network, Neo.

Since then, the team at Pearson have been incredibly busy. "We've upgraded Neo from Jive 5 to Jive 7. The upgrade went very smoothly. We're really enjoying the additional functionality and tools."

An upgrade is always a lot of work: "it is a big change for the community in terms of user experience. But, it provides you with an opportunity to re-engage users with how your community can be used, drawing attention to best practice and stepping up your training efforts."

It was a significant upgrade also because they have reduced their customisation in preparation for their move to the Cloud next year.

"We have been working hard on integrating gamification into our core collaboration strategy. We have been dealing directly with our Corporate Affairs team and looking at how we can tie in missions with our core business strategy. Our first big global missions go live later this week."

Conclusions

During the day there were other relevant presentations and group discussions, which highlighted both challenges and possibilities for the intranet of today. Now it is up to us to make the most of the ideas and insights gained during the day and turn them into real actions.

Whatever is the state of intranets in a year's time I am certain that there will an Intranet Now in 2015 to debate and discuss the health of these channels. 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
This article originally appeared on simply-communicate