As intranets grow in complexity, the importance and challenges of setting up an intranet governance structure grows in line -- but the benefits will be seen in the long run.

When we build any information system, be it a highly specific line of business system, a high throughput transactional system, a document management system or the Intranet we should always consider all of the major elements -- People, Process and Technology. Although there may well be Intranets out there that have failed the organization due to really bad technology, they are probably few and far between compared to those that fail due to people or process issues.

An element of managing your intranet that overlaps the people and process sides of the triangle, is governance. Governance means many things to many people, but let's agree that we are basically talking about who is in charge, who can make decisions on what needs to be done, and on who can set policy and operational procedure.

Dealing with Complexity

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As organization's intranets mature and become increasingly complex, moving from simple web publishing to social collaboration, decision support dashboards and major applications mashing up data from many systems and presenting them to users with an eye to the employee user experience, we can only agree that governance is only becoming more complicated and difficult!

However this is no reason to ignore the concept of intranet governance, or to simply pay it lip service because this seems like an easy avenue. I would argue that it is in fact the opposite.

As the Intranet ecosystem becomes more diverse, and we ask more from our intranets, a solid governance structure can actually help us to be nimble, agile and and ensure we have good day to day operational management. So hard work undertaken in getting executive support, setting up the governance structure and paying attention to the roles and responsibilities can actually pay back in spades when you need a quick decision on an important question.

I would contend that there is no single ideal governance structure, because all organizations are different and the one size fits all approach is not appropriate. However we can say that a simple framework with a couple of levels of management is potentially appropriate:

  • Senior Management / Executive Sponsors Steering Committee -- "the strategic level"
  • Intranet Management Group / Committee -- the "operational level"
  • Intranet Working Group(s) -- the "tactical level"

The Strategic Level

The top level Steering Committee should include the executive sponsor(s) and be fully multi-disciplinary in nature, with stakeholders from the business unit where the intranet teams sits, from IT, and from other business units with a major role.

For example the Intranet team often resides in Corporate Communications, and HR is normally a major stakeholder. The level of IT involvement, i.e. whether the CIO or below, depends on the size of the organization. This should be the level where the business units and IT come together to decide on strategic technology direction, having ultimate responsibility for running procurement projects, etc.

The Operational Level

This level manages the day to day operations of the intranet and might be combined with the tactical level depending on the size of your organization. The size and complexity of an organization and the maturity level / complexity of its intranet will also impact the size and shape of the Group or Committee, and its roles and responsibilities. This might mean linkages with similar groups that are part of related governance structures, for example enterprise social media, collaboration or Electronic Document and Records Management (EDRM) groups. However, for efficient day to day operational management, the individuals at this level must be empowered within a clear set of responsibilities and accountability.

The Tactical Level

As noted above, this level might be collapsed into the one above depending upon the size of the organization. This level is about the low level inter-operation and liaison between the different groups of stakeholders e.g. distributed content authors in business units, intranet managers, and IT managers responsible for keeping the servers running. 

The different levels of the governance structure will have their committee / group chair-people and secretaries, their meeting schedules and a clear set of policy and procedures for escalating questions, issues or problems to the next level, in order to receive timely responses.

It's Only Going to Get More Complicated!

Unfortunately, as our broad intranet ecosystems become part of an even broader "digital workplace" and as we start to think about the Employee Digital Experience (EXM?) our lives are going to get more complex -- things will get more difficult, not easier. This is an even more powerful mandate (should we need one) for a suitable governance structure that facilitates and enables a highly efficient and highly performing set of teams.

If you don't think this is going to get more complex, consider just how much the term "governance" came up in relation to MS SharePoint between it's 2007 and 2010 versions? This was to be fair in a slightly wider context, incorporating the intranet, collaboration and EDRM functionality of a specific product / platform; however, the mantra from consultants on this issue was usually that there is nothing wrong the technology, it's about the way that you use it -- and that is a function of governance.

If you think you have the ideal governance structure, or if you think your organization has a highly dysfunctional one, or indeed none at all, please contribute to the conversation and include a comment below.

Image courtesy of koya979 (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more of Jed's thoughts on the state of the Intranets, check out Rethinking the Intranet - Where Does Search Fit In?