What is the purpose of an intranet? How can it contribute to an organization’s bottom line? What does it take to "sell" the idea of an intranet?
These are questions that many intranet professionals have grappled with over the last few years.
Some answers include: to manage organizational knowledge, to publish content, to be a communication tool, to enable collaboration, to build culture, to improve knowledge sharing, to support decision making, to better manage content …
While these are all valid and useful functions that an intranet can provide, they are more "steak" than "sizzle."
Saying the purpose of an intranet is for publishing content and collaboration is like saying the purpose of a car is for steering and driving. While it’s certainly true, a car is also for exploring unknown and remote territories, for bringing families and friends together, for going on holidays, for impressing a date (a shallow one at least), for saving time and for safely transporting valuable cargo.
So what is the "sizzle" that an intranet can bring to an organization? What is the ultimate purpose of all this content development, collaboration, communication and knowledge sharing? How can these activities help an organization survive and thrive in these globally competitive times?
Analyzing the feedback from the 160 organizations that have participated in the Worldwide Intranet Challenge (WIC) online benchmark service, it seems there are essentially three critical and equally important business drivers relevant to all organizations that can be supported by an intranet. These are:
- Innovation: Improving and developing products, services and business processes
- Operations: Producing and delivering current services and products
- Engagement: Enabling team members to perform at their best
Why are these three business drivers critical to an organization’s survival and how can intranets play an integral role in supporting them?
Just 10 years ago, with 8,000 stores and $3 billion in annual revenue, Blockbuster was easily the planet's biggest video chain. After bankruptcy and massive closures, it's limping along after closing its remaining 300 US stores last November.
What happened? Netflix happened. Redbox happened. Streaming video happened. The world and the technology surrounding how people like to watch stuff changed. Blockbuster didn’t. And there are many other examples of big brands who faced the same fate.
These days, if organizations are not continually innovating and improving, they risk being quickly overtaken by their competitors.
In fact, continuous innovation and improvement may be the most important factors to a modern company’s ongoing survival. In Baruch Lev’s book about the impact and value of intangibles -- “Intangibles Management, Measurement, and Reporting” -- he says that the way companies generate value has changed dramatically changed since the early 1980s.
Because of the intensified competition brought on by globalization of trade, deregulation in key economic sectors and technological change, companies had to fundamentally change to survive. Companies now place a premium on rapid innovation, and intensive use of information technology.”
Half of the biggest American companies of 1980 have now disappeared by takeover or bankruptcy. And half of today’s biggest companies did not even exist in 1980. Innovation, or lack of innovation, are major contributors to these surprising statistics.
As Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite points out, “When some companies stop innovating, it can literally kill them.”
How can intranets support innovation?
The article, "From innovation to operation: the role of the intranet," lists a number of ways an intranet can help organizations move more quickly through the lifecycle of identifying an innovation, through to implementation. This includes the ability of intranets to facilitate collaboration and build informal networks within organizations. These networks are key to an innovative organization.
In his book, "The science of serendipity: how to unlock the promise of innovation," Matt Kingdon observes that “The best innovation environments are not created through traditional management channels but are self-organized.” An effective, up-to-date intranet can help facilitate self-organized environments through updated employee profiles, micro-blogging and community sites that connect people with common interests.
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said in an interview “it is my deep belief that collaboration is essential for innovation -- and I didn't just start believing that. I've always believed that. It’s always been a core belief at Apple. Steve very deeply believed this.”