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Building a Social Intranet

No, you don’t start with technology. In fact, an intranet has more to do with people and process than technology.

There are some fantastic, award-winning intranets, such as AEP’s social intranet, that are custom built in HTML, and use no off-the-shelf or brand name platform. AEP’s winning team, figured it out years ago: the technology is an afterthought; what really matters are people.

 

AEPIntranet.jpg
AEP’s intranet home page (Source: Wm. Amurgis, AEP)

The Secret Ingredient

The secret to social intranet success is the same as the traditional intranet: executive support, supported by solid governance and motivated, educated users. Part of the governance is the process of which I spoke (ownership, roles & responsibilities engendered in explicit policies and guidelines).

Is it any wonder then that the very best intranets are built from a variety of technologies including custom HTML, open source and other products? In fact, I’ve not seen too many killer intranets built on SharePoint. And yet you’d think that our universe revolves around SharePoint (yes, I realize the hypocrisy since I’m partially to blame, but with so many organizations using it, I can hardly ignore it).

I am still frequently asked, even by clients who know better, “What does a successful intranet look like?! Our executives want to know.”

Success, however, looks different at different organizations. I still contend that IBM’s intranet is likely the best on the planet, yet I frequently test it in employee focus groups with other companies, and it frequently tests very poorly. And yet, it delivers spectacular results for IBM.

To better answer the question, and since success looks differently from organization to organization, I developed a model some years ago: the Nexus of Intranet Success.

Nexus_of_Intranet_Sucess.jpg
Nexus of Intranet Success (source: Prescient Digital Media)

A Model for Success

The most important ingredient to a successful intranet, at the heart of the Nexus model, is executive support. It is statistically possible to have a satisfactory intranet without executive support, but you won’t have a very good one in the absence of an executive champion. The best intranets, such as IBM, Cisco and many others, all have active executive sponsors. Let’s face it: the buck stops and starts upstairs. The c-suite provides funding, moral support and critical political support which is the key fuel to success.

The other key people ingredient, represented by the largest ring of the Nexus model, is your users. Note how the label “motivated” is in front of users. In other words, if you build it, they will not come. Employees in particular have to see value in the intranet, and be convinced of this value (i.e. requisite change management and communications are also essential).

Of course, people aren’t the only ingredients to a successful intranet, hence the middle ring, the ‘meat in the sandwich’: a successful intranet, social or not, also requires careful planning and governance, valuable content and tools, funding and management and of course, the requisite technology.

Yes, securing executive sponsorship requires more than a flash of the above Nexus graphic. In fact, nothing whets the appetite of an executive more than a compelling PowerPoint of other leading intranets (particularly if you can get your hands on screenshots of your competition). Show your c-suite what a great intranet ‘might’ look like, address the problems with your intranet (or lack of an intranet) and outline your plan of action (including, wherever possible, a cost benefit analysis). Note that a plan is often required to ‘sell’ an executive, if not a skeletal plan. Often clients come to us for that plan, but executive sponsorship and funding is often required to hire an outside consultant. Where possible, begin with the plan, and then secure your executive sponsor.

The Tenfold Path

So where do you start? Well it starts with a plan and/or the confirmation of an executive champion (note how this is situated as an explicit step or phase), and moves through planning and execution. In linear order, here are the 10 steps to successful social intranet:

  1. Overarching Plan
  2. Executive Sponsorship
  3. Active conversations (assessment)
  4. Tools & Functionality
  5. Technology Selection
  6. Intranet Governance
  7. Social Media Policy
  8. Training
  9. Communications
  10. Ownership

Note that some steps may precede others, particularly Governance and Ownership, which typically are part of, or follow closely behind, the planning process. Additionally, many organizations have HR and Communications professionals that run the intranet, but have little or no say as to the technology platform. In fact, usually IT runs out and buys SharePoint, WebSphere or a CMS solution with minimal stakeholder consultation (which is their right if they're paying for it).

While this is not an ideal scenario it is common. When faced with such a challenge, ensure that you the owner — regardless of whether you are in IT or HR or Communications — are involved in the plan and the implementation roadmap (most particularly, the information architecture and design). IT should own the technology, but they should almost never own the ‘user experience’.

If you are struggling with your intranet, or failing to make any progress with social media, then start at the beginning and turn your focus to people. Put your technology concerns on the backburner, secure an executive sponsor, define your management model (governance model) and talk to your users about their needs, desires and expectations. The path to success begins with people; technology is only an enabler.

About the Author

Toby Ward, a former journalist and a regular e-business columnist and speaker, is the CEO and Founder of Prescient Digital Media. His white paper The Social Intranet is a free download.

 
 
 
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