Intranet Management: New challenges for communicators

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The role of intranet management is changing, as is the role of the intranet itself. In many cases, the intranet is becoming the door to the organization’s "digital workplace"—the entry point into the overall landscape of the content, services, tools and applications people need to do their jobs.

The end of a monopoly
My company, NetJMC, conducted its fifth annual Global Intranet Strategies Survey between June and September 2010. Survey participants include some of the largest companies in the world with more than 100,000 employees along with smaller organizations with fewer than 1,000 employees. They come from private, government and humanitarian sectors. The resulting report, Global Intranet Trends for 2011, shows that of the 440 enterprises worldwide that participated in the survey, 95 percent consider “communication” a primary strategy driver for intranets, meaning that these organizations consider communication as the primary underlying reason for their intranets.

However, the survey also reveals that productivity, efficiency, collaboration and teamwork, and business needs were also primary functions of intranets for approximately half the enterprises. The proportion of organizations that consider these drivers as primary functions of the intranet have been inching up over the past five years, and are now making their mark on intranets. For instance, an organization that considers collaboration and teamwork a primary driver may invest more in developing collaboration spaces on its intranet.

Traditionally, the communication department has owned the intranet home page, which was mainly used as a news-publishing tool. As intranets become more oriented toward streamlining business processes, the communication role of the home page has been brought into question. If the intranet is the entry point into the digital workplace, then the home page should represent all facets of the workplace. This means reducing space for news and increasing space for quick access to work tools, workflow notifications, project updates, feeds from internal social networking and so on.

The communicator, as owner of the home page, no longer primarily plays the role of publisher, but rather the role of coordinator and facilitator.

A more strategic role
This evolution from a hands-on role to a more strategic role of coordination and facilitation symbolizes what is happening to intranet management in general.

One reason for this evolution is that the intranet is growing. It is no longer limited to information and applications. For many organizations, collaboration is moving to the intranet, and social media features are being added. Internal social networking platforms are providing feeds that can publish updates directly to the intranet.

As a consequence, the scope of intranet management has expanded. Of the 440 organizations in the survey, approximately half said that the intranet management role includes responsibility for facilitating collaboration. Half said it includes responsibility for social media. One-third said it includes responsibility for both collaboration and social media.

This convergence requires new "rules of the game." Content is no longer controlled by communicators and authorized publishers. It no longer goes through corporate content management tools with its corresponding approvals and metadata. The new user-generated content actually goes straight onto the intranet at the click of a mouse. In addition to creating content, employees have new opportunities to interact with content.

The survey respondents indicated to what extent the following features are available on their organization’s intranet. The figures show the percentage of respondents who have the feature either enterprisewide, in limited deployment or in pilots programs.

  • Commenting—adding comments to “official” content: 44 percent
  • Rating—scoring or indicating usefulness of content: 27 percent
  • Tagging—people tag content with their own key words (versus corporate key words): 19 percent
  • Social bookmarking—sharing bookmarks with others: 15 percent

The immediacy and spontaneity that comes from interacting with content in this way raises new issues: Who is now responsible for the quality of the content? What should be done if comments are inappropriate? Most organizations have business conduct policies that employees sign when they join the organization. Some policies have specific guidelines for online behavior. Thirty percent of the organizations in the survey indicated that their organization has defined guidelines for comments and other user-generated content.

However, managing the emergence of internal social media and providing guidance for user-generated content is not the most difficult challenge that arises with this new intranet. A deeper, more fundamental question is how the intranet management role should evolve.

A catalyst for change
The Global Intranet Trends for 2011 report also revealed how participants see the intranet management role evolving in their organizations (multiple answers were possible):

  • 56 percent believed the role would become more strategic.
  • 38 percent said it would evolve to a knowledge-sharing role.
  • 31 percent indicated it would expand to cover all online activities, internal and external.
  • 16 percent said the role would remain as-is.
  • 11 percent believed it would become integrated into “business as usual” and disappear as a specific role.
  • 9 percent said the role would become more operational and less strategic.

From these responses, it is clear that the intranet management role is becoming more strategic. This could be a result of the following:

1. It promotes knowledge-sharing, which is a big step beyond information publishing.

2. Online activities are converging, bringing internal and external messaging under the same management. This is an improvement from the old days when internal and external were perceived to be two different, distinct worlds.

3. The advent of social media is having a strong impact on the intranet management role because it has helped the intranet evolve from a controlled publishing environment to include a collaborative, participatory dimension.

The changes described above are just beginning in many enterprises. But responses from two survey participants highlight the shifts in thinking about intranets that are currently underway:

"I believe social media provide even more emphasis on communication transparency and offering up the intranet as a catalyst for change, not just an information hub."

"Social media raises the bar for intranets. We need to think harder about how to serve an audience used to integrated, interactive information."

These testimonials show that both communication and intranet management roles are beginning a journey toward a new way of working.

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