Copenhagen

When it comes to intranet conferences, Scandinavia punches above its weight. 

The region hosts roughly half a dozen events a year, all drawing crowds of 150 or more. IntraTeam Event, held annually in Copenhagen, Denmark, is one of the longest-running. A community of experienced practitioners opens up its doors to great speakers from around the world, making for a savvy audience and a high standard of intranets and discussion. 

Some of the themes that struck me at this year's event were:

  • Companies finally tackling fragmentation and wanting to take an enterprise-wide approach
  • Sophisticated thinking around how to deliver a personalized intranet experience
  • Search at last appears to be getting more resources and attention
  • A clear desire to get the user experience right
  • Very little discussion about technology, even though SharePoint ran in the background for nearly all implementations 

Brad Whitworth from Cisco

Brad Whitworth from Cisco: Your intranet will be part of an Internet of everything

Fixing Fragmented Intranets

Several companies described how they had begun with a legacy of multiple intranets and fragmented design. 

Dennis Agusi, global senior digital communications manager at Philips, said the company had over 900 stand-alone intranets, which meant not only duplication of content but sometimes even duplicated development across countries. 

Alarmingly, they found 63 percent of managers were making decisions without the right information because it was too hard to find. Fragmentation was also driving help-desk costs, because employees could not find the information to solve their problems. 

The company envisions their new intranet as “the cornerstone of the Digital Workplace.” They made the smart decision to take an iterative approach, deploying, testing and refining as they go. Though still a work in progress, so far they have succeeded in shutting down 400 of those 900 sites. 

Similarly, Richard Gera, digital communications director at GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceuticals shared an impressive story about how they convinced over 900 sites to adopt a re-brand, largely by making it incredibly easy to do the right thing. For example, they created a ‘blueprint planning tool’ in PowerPoint, containing the new framework templates and ready-made components as moveable blocks. They then showed site owners how to drag and rearrange the components sticker-book style to create a quick mock-up of their new site. 

Making it Personal

A benefit of local intranet sites is that employees feel they relate more to their work. It’s easy to get simplification wrong by ripping them out and replacing them with bland, corporate-wide messaging. Intranet personalization comes into its own here.

Richemont, a company best known by its luxury brands such as Cartier, Mont Blanc and Ralph Lauren found an elegant solution to this issue. Richemont employees feel a stronger affiliation to the brand rather than the parent, and their intranet reflects that. Everything about the menu bar says personalized too:

MyOffice | About Me | Tools | My Spaces |News and Events | About Us

Employees don't need to navigate through multiple layers to get to pages that reflect where they work — they are brought to the top based on their profile. 

News is targeted too. Sometimes this can be an issue with personalized intranets. If you reserve equal space for corporate and local news, but they are updated with different frequencies, one part can look stale. To avoid this, Richemont’s news is card-based, presenting stories as a collage of tiles, like Flipboard.

Richemont’s personalized homepage

Richemont’s personalized homepage

Search Shows Results

Cards also featured in the search story of another large pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca. 

AstraZeneca’s starting point was a neglected intranet called Your.AZ. It had search bolted in, but nobody was responsible to maintain it. Fast forward to today, and the company has replaced Your.AZ with a new social intranet for sharing, complete with a powerful, federated search at its core (disclosure: I helped develop the digital workplace strategy to replace Your.AZ, but not the search specifics described here).  

Inspired by the way Google allows calculations as a search query, AZ have started exploring the idea of Search Cards. For example, the result from a search for vacation days displays a calendar showing the next days you have off. They are planning to apply it to the IT helpdesk too, so a search will show all open tickets that you have.

The great thing about cards is that they aren’t restricted to the search results page, they can be embedded in any area. For example, line-manager approvals also work on the mobile app, and because all systems are indexed into one place, many kinds of approval can be done from a single app rather than the three to four stand-alone apps that come from the vendors. 

A Work in Progress

Although I saw many encouraging things at IntraTeam, the shift to digital workplace thinking is still a work in progress. In a fascinating experiment, the Mads Møller curated a wall of homepages and used a four-color pie chart to represent the ratio of News : Tools : Collaboration : Library. It was striking how dominant News still is in how we apportion space.

A gallery of homepages analyzed by how the space is used.

In the same way, collaboration is still dominated by ESN stories. While these are interesting, they don't really feel like they're at the heart of people’s work. More that they're decorating the periphery and finding their feet. 

The only hard story of collaboration I saw was by Filip Callewaert, head of information and knowledge management at Port of Antwerp, who introduced me to the concept of Adaptive Case Management (ACM)

Callewaert argued that the only material knowledge workers have is information. Such work is complex, collaborative and requires feedback loops in order to improve. Many production processes have been optimized, but we haven't optimized knowledge work processes because they are much harder to observe. He used this as an argument for people to work out loud.

The tools for this are not databases or ERP or even documents but Web 2.0 tools — wikis, feedback and hyperlinks. Port of Antwerp uses Atlasssian Confluence plus Jira. As a consequence, Callewaert said he typically gets only five emails a day, rarely has meetings and his team are motivated by a shared responsibility and clear communication. 

Callewaert's approach struck me as very different from many of the typical collaboration discussions, but one of his quotes summed up the most important takeaway from the conference:

Information is for action, not for storage.

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Title image by Iván S. Pasarín