Thursday, January 22, 2009

Turning around undersupported intranets

Intranets have been around in various forms for around twenty years now. Many are firmly rooted as an essential tool in the operations of organisations.

However there are many organisations where intranets are still treated as costs or are not sponsored and supported at senior management levels.

In fact in last year's Global Intranet Trends report, 40% of respondents said that the lack of senior management ownership (stewardship or championing) of the intranet was a serious obstacle to intranet success. Only 33% of intranet steering committees had c-level executives on the steering committee (rising to 50% in the 2009 survey.

So how do intranet managers build acceptance and use of their intranets?

Prescient Digital Media
believes that one of the most important task for intranet managers is to be a salesperson for the intranet to senior management.

In their article, Selling an Intranet Redesign, they discuss different approaches to selling intranets to senior executives in order to gain appropriate sponsorship and resourcing.

However sometimes senior executive support isn’t available.

Where an organisation does not recognise the value of its intranet it’s likely that the intranet itself has suffered. There is limited investment, promotion or encouragement of intranet use. The intranet becomes a wasteland of outdated and useless content.

Many executives will have bought into the current situation and focus on adding value to the organisation via other avenues, essentially giving up on the intranet. Others will simply be unwilling to tarnish their reputations by taking on a losing intranet proposition.

So if you cannot find an executive sponsor willing to take a risk on an intranet 'nobody uses anyway', what are the alternatives?

Go elsewhere
Changing jobs is almost always an option. Find a different role in the organisation, or a different one (where the intranet is valued). This isn't a failure on your part, it's simply an acknowledgement that at the level you're at and for the money you're paid it's simply not worth mortgaging your own career, health, family and future to turn the situation around.

Make the intranet indispensable
This approach involves identifying information, tools or functions that are critical for the organisation and could be more easily managed or distributed via the intranet. You only need a few of these to start with - get them into the intranet and begin encouraging use, preferably with the support of the areas that need these tools used.

Over time, as intranet usage and value grows this can be sold to other areas to place their tools online. Eventually you’ll begin attracting high level attention as executives realise that they now have a stake in the success of the intranet as it is tied to the success of the organisation.

Build usage from the bottom up
Another approach is to add features useful to large numbers of staff, such as a tipping competition, classified and tools to support social clubs. While these are not work related the goal is to build usage and familiarity - creating a habit of using the intranet.

As more people use the intranet more frequently the growing usage can be promoted to management and the intranet sold as an effective mechanism to reach staff.

Note that this is a risky strategy - if the intranet becomes too socially orientated it can be devalued even further, seen simply as a staff timewaster than a productivity tool.

Show them the money
If you're numbers-orientated, calculate the relative cost of providing services via the intranet versus printing and distributing paper=based tools (such as staff directories, manuals, staff newsletters, presentations and forms).

Also look at the cost to the organisation of staff accidentally using old versions of material - because it was either emailed to them and they saved a copy locally, or they didn't get the latest printed version.

The overwhelming likelihood is that the cost of online distribution via your intranet is significantly less than that of other methods in common use.

This approach is particularly useful when organisations are cost-cutting. Demonstrating that the intranet can save your organisation money, rather than being a cost, shifts perceptions of your intranet. From being a weight around the organisation's budgetary neck it becomes a cost-saving tool, potentially even saving executive reputations.

Keeping up with the Joneses
Another tactic is to demonstrate how far behind your organisation is in terms of its intranet compared to similar organisations. Find examples where other intranets generated wins for organisations - such as cost savings, productivity improvements, staff retention, executive reputations. Even cases where intranets look better or do funky things can help.

Humans are trained to respond to the need to 'keep up with the Joneses', so showing these examples to the right groups can build the realisation that your organisation isn’t realising the value it could be and looks old-fashioned to outsiders.

This can help create some urgency to change and update your intranet to make it more useful and modern - though the process for achieving this has to be carefully managed to ensure that the outcome produces real organisational benefit and isn't simply lipstick on a pig.

Just start
Finally, sometimes you just have to just start improving the intranet.

If you don't start making improvements, achieving a few quick wins, you could be tarred with the do-nothing brush - making it less likely that you will get support (or promotions) in the future.

When you begin with an old, outdated intranet system there are more opportunities for improvement – including many that can be made quickly and cheaply. Use these to build momentum.

Even changes as simple as tweaking search, placing links to the most used tools on the homepage or changing the visual design can give you the wins needed to begin lobbying for resources and support for bigger changes that add even more value.

What strategies have you used?
There’s many other ways to turn around an intranet situation. What strategies have you used, or heard about?

1 comment:

  1. As a Reporting Developer (Cognos) I put reports for consumption of executives on their Intranet.

    While some have an aide run the reports, others like to run the reports themselves and have to go through the Intranet to do so.

    So I guess my point is that putting something that an executive requires on the Intranet will force them onto it to see their reports. This will get upper management 'through the door', the rest is for Intranet developers.