Keith Errington

marketing strategy
07860 267155

corporate culture

The 4 phases of intranet development - Dragging the intranet into the modern world Part I

I’ve just been judging the CiB Awards, which is always an honour and an informative experience. This year I’ve looked at Best use of Social Media, Best Microsite and Best Intranet, as well as joining other judges to help ratify, (or occasionally override), judges decisions in other categories at the judging day.

Whilst I can’t go into detail for obvious reasons (the Award winners are not announced till June), there are trends that have developed over the past few years – particularly in regard to intranets – that I thought I would share.

Intranets lagging behind the Internet
In some ways, intranets are six months to a year behind the Internet in the features and software they utilise. Perhaps this is not so surprising, as it takes time to build into open web applications the enterprise security and platform capabilities that intranets demand.

In other ways they can be more advanced – it is certainly easier to predict what software, hardware and connection speeds users will have for instance, allowing for the development of dedicated solutions. It is perhaps easier to understand what users want and what they will be able to do with new features.

There has been a definite progression to intranets – here is a typical development lifecycle:

Phase one
Is the initial document repository site – policies, reference material, training manuals are all dumped on a central server – either in their original formats or as PDFs. General feeling of ‘that’s done then’, followed by ‘Why aren’t people using it?’

Phase two
Is the employee directory and news web site. A simple searchable phone directory is added to a site that functions like a web site and features company news on the front page. Documents are created in html and sorted into useful categories. General feeling of ‘Now we are getting somewhere’

Phase three
Adds a HR hub, possibly an IT service Desk feature and some improvements are made to usability. A few champions are identified and you start to see employee contributors. Lots of directions from above to use the intranet. General feeling of ‘we’ve cracked it now’

Phase four
Empowers all employees to contribute, we have news stories with the ability to ‘like’ and to comment, a range of blogs, community areas, a range of business focussed applications and groupware. The number of downloadable documents is greatly reduced, being replaced by online information and interactive forms. Board members finally start using the intranet as high level reporting and KPI dashboards are added. Tightly controlled external access to partners, suppliers, consultants and home workers is incorporated. There is massive culture change within the organisation, a genuine sense of unity and purpose and a feeling of loss when away from the office.
A general feeling of ‘We’ve just started on a journey and we need to continually develop and improve’

Now I am not suggesting that this is the way every intranet implementation runs, but in my mind it is fairly typical. I would be really interested in receiving comments or feedback on this post to check my thinking. (After all, you don’t usually get invited in to an organisation to see their intranet).

In Part II I will be discussing the use of Social Media within intranets.

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Why Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn make good company

We are moving towards an era where organisations will simply have to behave themselves.

A lot has been written about the increasing influence of social networking on marketing and the way an organisation interacts with its customers and staff.

It is clear that a major change is taking place, with marketing in particular no longer being driven by pushing messages onto all and sundry. Now we have a customer driven paradigm where users dictate what information they would like to see.

Social networking has enabled organisations to listen to customers and respond in a way that has not been really possible before. But what if we take all these developments to their logical conclusion?

I believe that we are about to see an age where organisations will have to become moral, ethical and well, basically well-behaved. Corporate cultures will have to change and corporate governance, fair trading, best practice and ethical operations will gain a new importance.

As organisations are discussed, recommended and criticised online, in an infrastructure which anyone can access and search – any potential customer, investor or job candidate will be able to see an organisation’s track record, get an idea of their culture and judge them good or bad.

This will force organisations in two directions – some – financial institutions perhaps – will become more and more secretive – hoping that a complete lack of communication will stem the tide of opinion and comment. 

This approach is clearly unsustainable in the long term, leading to a whole range of problems – distance from the market – a sense of distrust from customers in the absence of any information – and even groupthink on the part of the organisation’s leaders as they lack the feedback they would otherwise be getting from their customers.

The more enlightened organisations will move in the opposite direction – encouraging openness – developing watchdogs and engaging with the online population to help improve their practices, products and ultimately, their standing in the world.

So maybe social networking and web 2.0 will actually achieve what no amount of legislation, protest and preaching have yet managed – a world in which organisations act for the best interests of the planet and its people.

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Web 2.0 – Collaboration vs. Control

THERE seems to be a battle being fought out in corporate cyberspace – between those who see Web 2.0 technologies as positively empowering, powerfully collaborative and potentially game changing, and those who see them as massively time wasting, security broaching, anti-corporate agents of chaos.

Now whilst these two poles may be overstated, there is definitely some debate in corporate circles as to whether Web 2.0 is truly good for business and if it is, how much should be implemented and with what controls?

So which is it? Unfettered collaboration or tight control? Well, like many previous technological revolutions, adoption really isn’t as clear cut as either view seems to suggest.

Adoption of Web 2.0 technologies, such as wikis, forums, groupware, and social networking tools really depends on what business you are in, your customer base, your culture and a whole host of other considerations.

Understanding of implications

And this leads us to the more fundamental problem behind Web 2.0 adoption. The people making the decisions at a strategic level, need to understand these technologies, what they mean and what they can and cannot do. Then they have to see how they can be used to meet their organizational objectives. And then they need to implement them to the depth appropriate to the proposed strategy and with the right level of control. They need to understand the implications of the success of such projects to both the budget and the corporate culture.

But one of the strengths of these technologies is that often their effect adds up to much more than the sum of the parts – that they generate new paradigms and evolve into systems that defy strategy and planning. They cross departmental boundaries and break down barriers between the organization, its customers, and its suppliers. And once users get the taste of openness and collaboration, they generally want more – it’s difficult to get that genie back in the bottle.

Even experts find it difficult to predict how these technologies might react with the corporate body, nervous system and mindset.

So how can directors and managers make strategic decisions about these technologies?

Three steps to a strategic decision

Firstly, look at the nature of the business – some businesses will never gain a significant benefit from these technologies – their implementation will be costly and unlikely to contribute to bottom line profit. It’s difficult to see, for instance, how a wiki might radically improve a small package delivery service. (Not saying it wouldn’t – just suggesting that a decent return on investment might be difficult).

Whilst businesses that would gain no benefit whatsoever from Web 2.0 technologies may be few and far between, there are still a significant number out there – and many more for whom the investment would not be worthwhile.

And then there are those companies for whom aspects of social networking would be a clear headache rather than a gain. A financial company may need to keep a very tight lid on communication to meet its legal obligations for example.

Secondly, look at the culture – if there is no culture of openness and collaboration – or a fundamental willingness to embrace those concepts, then Web 2.0 technologies will inevitably fail – probably in a spectacularly costly manner.

Just as a new corporate identity will not miraculously change an organization, so Web 2.0 will not change the culture – unless the commitment is already there from the top down.

Thirdly, look at the organization’s agility – Web 2.0 often results in a changed landscape – can your organization react to that quickly and take advantage of it? If Web 2.0 means new ways of working, can you handle it? If an organization is not able to change and adapt to the radical remodelling that Web 2.0 often produces or demands, then there is little point in implementing the technologies as the benefits will remain beyond it’s reach.

So the question of implementing Web 2.0 technologies follows directly from the bigger questions of organizational strategy, business goals and culture.

Only if board members and senior managers are familiar with the ‘new’ technologies will they be able to make rational and profitable decisions regarding their use at their organization.

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