Most intranets are not seen as essential to the functioning of an organization. This is because management is not convinced of their strategic value.
For a long time I have waited for the intranet to get due recognition within the organization. But if most organizations I've come across are any indication then intranets are still languishing.
Think of how important the Web has become to how we live and work. Does your intranet have the same prominence? Is it central to the functioning of your organization? If not, why not?
Over the years, James Robertson has been one of the true pioneers in the intranet space. I asked him if he thought intranets are generally neglected:
"Definitely agree! The big challenge for intranet teams the world over is that intranets are typically taken for granted by senior management, and staff in general. No-one would ever consider turning off the intranet, but they are often unloved nonetheless."
Unfortunately, I have come across many senior managers who could care less if the intranet was switched off or not. And I have come across so many staff over the years who only use the intranet as a last resort because they think it's a big waste of time.
The only time the vast majority of intranets ever get a budget of any size is for a new technology. "The technology landscape has changed hugely for intranets over the last year or two," James states. "I am of course talking about the rise of SharePoint as an intranet platform, but it's more than just that. Social and collaborative tools of all sorts have made their way into organisations, alongside a range of new business tools."
"So far intranets have responded reactively to all this, taking on new features but not supporting it with a cohesive overall vision," James continues. "Needless to say, just changing the technology platform doesn't mean the intranet suddenly delivers greater business value."
Indeed. Most intranets need a new technology platform like a drowning man needs a drink of water. But the obsessive belief still persists that if we can only select the right technology, everything will be fine.
So, what is at the heart of the problem? "Intranets must deliver business value," James explains. Quite clearly, to many organizations they don't. Why is that? Partly, it's the way intranets are perceived. They are often seen as a giant library, a document store. How many CEOs do you know who started off as librarians? And then there is the intranet as a giant newsletter; a place where you publish all the news that isn't really news.
In the mind of management the intranet is a cost to be minimized. To have management see the intranet as an asset to be maximized we need to convince management that the intranet is crucial to the work of the organization.
Here are a few areas to focus on:
- Products and services: What does your organization actually do to create value? How can the intranet help sales people sell, designers design, support staff support?
- Finding people: It is slowly dawning on management that a modern, distributed organization depends on people finding the right people quickly and easily.
- Processes and procedures: An organization that truly cares about quality will want standard work practices based on best practice models.