Social Business, Book Review: Essential Intranets by James Robertson

I built my first small “departmental intranet” back in 2000. Like many others I suppose, when searching for resources, I soon became used to hitting the website of James Robertson and Step Two Designs to read their articles and blogposts, so it seemed appropriate that I should review his new book, Essential Intranets.

Writing for the web soon morphed into writing books  for James and so he released “What Every Intranet Team Should Know,” and then “Designing Intranets: Creating Sites That Work.” The new book builds on previous themes and helps teams in moving their intranet from undervalued publishing platform, to essential digital workplace business tool.

Although James and his Step Two colleagues have a wealth of real world intranet experience, James took the interesting route of reaching out to practitioners and experts from around the world to join his “advisory panel” for writing the book, so you're not just getting one persons opinions, but content that was potentially discussed at length before reaching its final published form.

280 Pages of Intranet Goodness

Essential Intranets is not a huge tome, but in my opinion James has not missed anything either. In his “Purpose of this book” forward, James notes that Essential Intranets should function as a map and a guidebook, with a focus on exploring the breadths of the Intranet world, from common functionality and use cases, through to the cutting edge.

James has included an interesting page were he suggests five ways in which the book may be used. Those suggested reading scenarios are:

  • Skim the book for a sense of the landscape
  • Drill into areas of interest
  • Respond to leadership requests
  • Plan next steps for your intranet
  • Demonstrate what can be done

Even better, James has included an “out of scope” page -- a nice list of what the book does not cover, just so you're absolutely clear on what you're going to be reading!

Essential Intranets is well structured helping to make it an easy read. As well as splitting the book into three high level sections, each chapter has a very nice summary page at the beginning, with an “at a glance” panel, an “Intranets must” list and a list of the screen shots used. You can see an example on the Step Two site. You will also find a screen shot of the table of contents, so you can take a good look at the areas covered within the book.

I'm sure James won’t mind me replicating the high level table of contents here, to give you an understanding of the benefits of reading the book in question, without copying large tracts of text as examples!

Section 1: Establish the fundamentals

  • Provide an enterprise front door
  • Provide trusted information
  • Deliver internal communication
  • Foster staff engagement
  • Foster collaboration
  • Promote the organizations culture

Section 2: Deliver business value

  • Enhance Knowledge Management
  • Streamline business processes
  • Improve customer service
  • Mitigate business risks
  • Provide "anywhere" productivity

Section 3: Making it happen

  • Understand the landscape
  • Choose your project approach
  • Target your intranet improvements
  • Build on your successes

The Recommendation

First -- the full disclosure -- I was a member of the advisory panel, but unfortunately due to various factors, I was not a highly effective nor productive member of the panel, so my wholehearted recommendation of this book is in no way self serving, honest!

I do thoroughly recommend Essential Intranets for various target audiences. If you’re an old hand at intranets, then it’s a handy reference guide to skim as required. If you're new to the great and interesting world of intranets, perhaps as a business leader who is now managing the intranet team; or as a deeply geeky technical person who needs to understand the business requirements and bigger picture, then this is a great resource for you.

If you’re a business group person, coming at intranets from a Corporate Communications or HR specific perspective, this book can help you understand the holistic view -- how the intranet can become an essential business tool to enhance your organization's ability to meet its business objectives. If I had the budget, I would buy a copy for each of our senior business leaders.

At less than US$ 50 for the paperback or less than US$ 23 for the eBook, I would recommend Essential Intranets as a highly cost effective and easy to use resource to add to your tool kit.

Don’t just take my word for it though, go take a peek at the other reviews on the Step Two site.