The natural home of the intranet is in communications. However, intranet management requires particular skills that many traditional communications departments don't have. The intranet is about increased staff productivity, increased staff learning, and increased staff loyalty. It is content that drives the productivity, the learning, and the loyalty. Intranet software applications are built from words (content), and they require data (content) to function on a day-to-day basis.
In many organizations, the communications department is not seen as strategically important. It is not a place where "real work"
gets done. It's the place where the press releases get written, where the brochures get designed, where the monthly newsletter gets prepared, where the occasional "meet the CEO" gets arranged. It's important stuff, but rarely mission critical.
Today, many organizations are undertaking a fundamental review of their intranets. What they are seeing is a vast unmanageable and uncontrollable sea of websites, content and applications.
How many separate intranets does your organization have? How many total webpages do you have? How many applications do you have? And just how long has your search engine been broken for?
Many managers who are nominally in charge of the intranet can't answer the above questions. We're not talking about answering more fundamental questions, such as: are the applications and content of any use? We're simply talking about keeping count.
The typical intranet today has no strategy, and little management or control. Within some organizations, the intranet is like a stray dog-nobody wants to own it. So, what should happen? Well, why not shut it down? If nobody screams, bury it.
You got along quite well before the intranet, so why do you really need it?
If you did shut down some intranets, lots of people would start screaming. They need the intranet to do their jobs. The intranet may not have a strategy but it has become strategically important. In fact, it might even have become mission critical.
But who should own it? Who should establish and implement a clear intranet strategy?
This is the challenge that a communications department faces.
Such departments are often not experienced in managing mission critical strategies. Some communication managers simply don't want the headache, and wish for a simpler life, when all they had to do was release press releases. All this interactivity stuff just gets on their nerves.
To effectively manage the intranet, you need to spend 80 percent of your week out on the floor with staff so that you will develop a deep understanding of their needs. Many communications people live in an ivory tower, fed with the occasional market research report, but rarely touching the masses. That has to change.
Managing an intranet is also about knowing what applications your staff need and how to make them easier and more effective.
Unfortunately, some communications people turn green when faced with anything technical. That has to change.
If the intranet is mission critical, then content is mission critical. But we need a new type of manager; an expert in content, who is comfortable with technology, and who has a gut instinct for what staff need. Can you develop these skills? If you can, you've got a wonderful career in front of you.
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.