Category: Intranets

Intranet Design Annual 2017

The first thing that struck me as I scrolled through the 2017 Intranet Design Annual from the Nielsen Norman Group (all 490 pages) was the diversity of the organisations included this year. The featured intranets range from a small 150 employee tourism agency to two very large financial institutions and one of leading global IT companies. Something for almost every one. The platforms are equally diverse, and include SP2010, SP2013, Liferay, Open Text Web Experience Manager (ex Vignette) and two custom builds. It will be interesting to track the Goodwill Industries intranet on SP2010 as there will need to be a migration, and Bank of America uses the Google ESA for search.

The full list is

  • Bank of America (USA)
  • Encana Corporation (Canada),
  • Goldcorp, Inc. (Canada)
  • Goodwill Industries International, Inc (USA)
  • IBM Corporation (USA)
  • JetBlue (USA)
  • Kerry Group plc (Ireland),
  • Latvian Railway: (Latvia),
  • Santander Group (Spain),
  • Tourism New Zealand (New Zealand)

One of the features that I always welcome on the Design Annual is the extended analysis by authors Kara Pernice, Amy Schade, and Patty Caya on the trends that they see among the featured intranets. Almost all of them provide access to multiple applications, though often this is a result of evolution rather than intention. This raises issues of strategy and governance, and also the decision about what platform the intranet should be built on. It also requires some careful thought and testing around the home page. Personalisation is increasingly common and mobile is now so core to an intranet it scarcely gets a mention.

In some respects the term ‘design awards’ conceals aspects of the report which I find to be of especial interest, These include time lines for both the evolution of the intranets and the milestones of the project schedule. Governance structures are considered in some detail and there are good tabular views of the development and management team roles and the technology suites in the server room. This formatting makes it much easier to get an initial sense of the intranet before moving on into the detail. That makes me wonder if more about the key features of the intranet, and in particular why it was an award winner, could be presented on the first page, as well as (or perhaps even in place of) the teams involved. The reason for suggesting this that I think it would help to have this synopsis as you start to read the profile, rather than pick it up somewhat piecemeal as the story is told.

When (not if!) you purchase the report ($248)  you also get a ZIP file of all the screen shots as high-res png files, which is a neat idea. As I keep saying each year the value of this report is not to benchmark your own intranet.  Do not look just at the achievements but how they were accomplished, from user requirements through to specification and then to delivery, all within a very supportive governance structure. As with search, it is not about the technology but about the people. This report does not set out to describe the top ten intranets in the world,  but through telling the story of ten excellent intranets it should inspire others to set a much higher barrier for their objectives. This year I have blogged separately about the search implementations on these intranets, and Susan Hanley has written a very perceptive review in Network World.

The case studies have been added to our Directory of Case Studies, which now has almost 200 entries

Martin White

 


Agnes, Brian, Ellen, Jane, James, Janus, Kurt, Kristian, Mark, Michael, Paul, Sam, Susan, Tony and Wedge

If nothing else you will have to admit it’s an unusual title for a blog post. If you are a relative newcomer to the intranet community you may be unaware of the role that these people play in supporting the exchange of knowledge and good practice. Without exception the major consulting companies pay little attention to topics such as intranets, information management and search. Some do offer advice on social networking and collaboration but at a level that is targeted at senior managers who are probably the last people to network socially and collaborate. As I was writing reviews of outstanding reports from Jane McConnell and Sam Marshall yesterday their commitment to the wider community was very obvious. This post lists some of the people who in various ways and for many years have transformed our understanding of intranets, team working and digital workplaces through publishing reports and promulgating good practice and who have to make a living whilst doing so.

  • Agnes Molnar is an enterprise search evangelist with a very good knowledge of SharePoint search
  • Ellen van Aken curates a collection of 300 intranet promotion videos alongside her consulting work
  • Jane McConnell understands digital workplaces better than anyone else and publishes and annual survey of progress
  • James Robertson writes books, runs workshops and conferences, gives out awards and challenges conventional wisdom
  • Janus Boye runs communities of practice in Europe and North America and an annual conference in Aarhus
  • Kurt Kragh Sorenson also offers communities of practice and runs the IntraTeam event in Copenhagen
  • Kristian Norling is developing an excellent range of books and is the Swedish representative of IntraTeam
  • Mark Morell focuses on intranet governance as an author and consultant
  • Michael Sampson writes books and blogs about all aspects of collaboration and digital workplaces
  • Paul Miller set up the Intranet Benchmarking Forum and transformed it into the Digital Workplace Group
  • Sam Marshall publishes reports of an exceptionally high quality
  • Susan Hanley writes blogs and books on SharePoint with a strong intranet and portal focus
  • Tony Byrne sets the standard in assessing the performance of digital applications
  • Wedge Black and Brian Lamb are the entrepreneurs behind the Intranet Now conference

The Intranetizen team also deserve recognition.

Any list like this runs the risk of missing someone obvious. If you feel you are that person please let me know.

Martin White


SharePoint Intranets In-A-Box – The definitive guide to turnkey solutions from ClearBox Consulting

Intranet products have been around for over 20 years. Arguably the first was OrchidSoft, founded in Newcastle (UK) in 1994 and still in business today. One of the most challenging experiences of my career was installing an intranet product in Kuwait with the assistance of David Gilroy (Conscious Solutions). This was some years ago but is a project that neither of us can forget for all the wrong reasons. Quite when the first SharePoint-based intranet products came along I’m not sure, but over the last few years the rate of new entrants has accelerated in spite of (and indeed because of!) Microsoft’s notional commitment to the intranet cause.

After what has turned out to be a proof-of-concept report assessing six of these products Sam Marshall and the ClearBox Consulting team have now released SharePoint Intranets In-A-Box Version 2 with 26 vendor and product profiles within its 250 pages. However Version 2 is far more than just an expansion of the initial report in terms of the number of vendors included. Each vendor is profiled in a well structured format together with an assessment of its product that could only have been carried out by a team that had substantial experience in SharePoint technology and implementation together with a deep understanding of what users expect an intranet to be able to deliver. This is immediately evident from the way in which eight use-case scenarios are used as the basis for the assessment. These are news publishing, branding, two-way communication, mobile access, community spaces, analytics, transactions and a wildcard scenario in which the vendor could demonstrate something that they felt gave them a competitive advantage.  The oputcomes are presented in a tabular format together with a a star rating, indicating the extent to which the product delivers on these cases. There are also screen shots, background information on the company, and an indication in $, $$, $$$ format as to the pricing. Of particular note is an indication of which SharePoint version (SP2013/O365 etc) is supported, which is something that vendors seem reluctant to own up to on their websites. Each profile runs to around 10 pages. I would like to have seen search as a use case as using SharePoint search introduces significant challenges. As a side note it is interesting to see BAInsight targeting the search aspect of SharePoint intranets. The price is just $495 plus VAT for EU purchasers.

The primary objective of this report is to help customers develop a short list of potential vendors through comparing like-for-like across the 26 products, and this is accomplished with care and flair. The assessments were carried out by Wedge Black, James Dellow, Andrew Gilleran, Katie McIntosh and Sharon O’Dea and you will not find a more qualified team to do this work. The dedication they, and Sam Marshall, must have given to this project is beyond calculation. In addition Steve Bynghall took on the role of Editor and Paul Florescu has provided a design that is both readable and elegant. This is a report that just shouts “Read Me!”  Beyond this objective this report sets out a framework that can be extended in various ways and for other products if Clearbox has the energy to do so.

What impresses me most about this report is its balance. Many years ago now I used to be judge for the Directory Publishers Association awards, and the issue of balance was always to the fore. It is about providing just the right amount of information for the purpose to which the directory will be put. Rather like an intranet!. I can but imagine the team discussions about what to include and what to exclude, what to write and what not to write. There are no sponsors of this report. The team gave up their time against future sales income so don’t disappoint them. Even though the report focuses on SharePoint intranets there are issues in common with any intranet product. You might think that SharePoint gives you all you need for an intranet. Read this report and you may well come to a different conclusion. In addition you may well come to the conclusion that separately or together these are consultants that have all the knowledge you need to create a successful intranet on a SharePoint platform without being MVPs.

Martin White

 


Language, emotions and disrupted collaboration

It has been my immense good fortune to have had business experience in around 40 countries. Comparing notes with Paul Corney (Knowledgeetal) early this year I think we ended up with close to 60 between us. When we meet it will not take long for the conversation to move into projects we have been working on with multiple cultures, especially in terms of language. Work experience in 40 countries and with teams speaking 17 different languages as well as English certainly does not mean I am an expert. But I have become reasonably expert at listening and watching and learning from those on the project team who are almost certainly not speaking to me in their mother language and then trying very hard not to be an embarrassing Brit. Even working with Paul in Barbados (nominally English speaking) a few years ago we had to be especially alert not to make any assumptions about organisational and national cultures. You only have to read a book such as Understanding Global Cultures, by Gannon and Pillai, even to  begin to get a sense of national cultural complexities. Although When Cultures Collide, by Richard Lewis, was written in 1996, it remains an excellent starting point on business teams across multiple countries working together. Finally read Walking Through Jelly: Language Proficiency, Emotions, and Disrupted Collaboration in Global Work, a HBS Working Paper and I guarantee you will radically change the way you work with German colleagues.

Let me rearrange the words in the title of the paper and state that  “Collaboration in Global Work is disrupted by Language Proficiency and Emotions”. I have seen endless surveys about the propensity for collaboration with awesome exponential growth curves which take absolutely zero notice of this statement. Recent PR by Microsoft on the subject of chat is a case in point. When people wish to share opinions and ideas they will tend to use their mother tongue as it gives them the broadest possible range of nuances. You can sit on a train or bus in London and hear people float between English and their national language quite seamlessly. Working on a project in Germany recently one breakout group in the workshop wanted to use German as their working language, and why not? But then I had to depend on the summary given by the leader without being party to the nuances I could gain from the groups working (for my benefit) in English. As it happened the German language group came up with some of the best comments as  they were not constrained even by what was in general a high level of command of English.

Taking these issues forward from ‘collaboration’ to the digital workplace, the language challenges will remain. To be sure younger people will improve still further their command of English, and we are told confidently by Google and Microsoft and others than machine translation will soon be as good as a human interpreter. That word ‘interpreter’ is important. Working in European Commission meetings with simultaneous interpretation I am often aware that the interpreter is trying to convey subtle meaning and contexts. If you want to see some examples just take a look at @VeryBritishProblems to get a sense of the problems. Your colleague says “Interesting” in response to a statement from a colleague. What exactly do they mean? It may depend on the tone of voice or even the body language or your prior knowledge of their negotiating stance. Welcome to the real world of team work. But even fluent speakers of English may find it hard to write the language in a document or in social media without wondering if they have made a fool of themselves, and worse still their organisation. In English we just have the verb ‘to know’ but the French have both savoir and connaitre. Are you certain which to use, and why?

So as you continue to invest in applications to support collaborative working perhaps it might be worth understanding (not just documenting)  the linguistic and business cultural issues across the organisation and working through what the implications are for a wider use of these applications and the challenges that will lie ahead in what will certainly not a mono-lingual mono-cultural digital workplace.

Martin White

 

 


Web Content Management – Deane Barker

I remember with great affection the Content Management Bible that Bob Boiko wrote in 2002. At over 1100 pages it covered everything you wanted to know about any aspect of specifying and implementing content management applications. It was published at a time when supporting the selection of these applications was a significant element of my business, and led to me writing the Content Management Handbook in 2005, now out of print. The book was no where near as comprehensive as the CM Bible, but instead was written for non-technical intranet and web managers to help them fend off vendors promising the ultimate CMS experience. This baton was then taken up by the Real Story Group with its subscription services so the arrival of Web Content Management, authored by Deane Barker (Blend Interactive) and published by O’Reilly, is very timely as the range of CMS applications shows no sign of decreasing.

The strap line of the book is Systems, Features and Best Practices, and it runs to just under 350 pages.  Part 1 deals with Basics, including advice on a CMS team. Part II is a pretty deep dive into the technology. covering topics which include content modelling, content aggregation, editorial tools, output and publication management, and APIs and extensibility. Deane is adept at explaining quite complex technology in a way that intranet and web managers without a technical background will appreciate. Part III deals with implementation issues, including a very good chapter on migration (“content migrations…are always underestimated”) and on working with external agencies. The layout is excellent, as with all O’Reilly books, and I noted that Deane has been guided by Ally MacDonald as Editor, who also provided me with a great deal of support for Enterprise Search. There are useful footnotes and many call-outs written by other CMS gurus. For a technical book the writing style is excellent, and Deane’s expertise and experience shines through each paragraph. As always with an O’Reilly book the index is faultless and that makes it so easy to find guidance on a specific topic.

The quality of the content throughout the book is excellent and I could find nothing that caused me to raise even a slight eyebrow. But then I would be surprised if I could as Deane has been in this business for around 20 years, co-founding Blend Interactive in 2005. My only reservations on this 1st Edition is that there is no advice on how to manage a CMS selection process and the word ‘intranet’ does not appear in the index. Since receiving the book for review Deane and I have had a very good exchange of views on the extent to which intranets might be a ‘special case’ and worthy of a chapter on their own. I’ll be doing my best to persuade him to consider adding a chapter in the 2nd Edition. However I would not want to convey the impression that this book would not be of value to the intranet community – a solid understanding of the technology and how this translates to high quality applications is essential for any intranet manager.

Overall this is a book I can recommend with enthusiasm even if you think you know all there is to know about CMS technology. I know from my own experience just how much time a book like this takes to write, and the impact that writing has on earning a living as a consultant. The CMS community should be very grateful to Deane for finding the time and energy to write this book.  The quality and scope of this book are such that if you were planning to write a book on CMS technology press the delete button now. There is a significant gap in the market for this book, which in many respects is the essential technical annex to the Morville/Rosenfeld/Arango book on Information Architecture. . All you then need is a book on enterprise search (!) and perhaps Theresa Regli’s recent book on Digital Asset Management applications.

Martin White


Information Plus – my consulting toolkit is now open access

I have two heros that I turn to time and time again for inspiration. For music it is J.S.Bach and for science it is Richard Feynman. The scale of the entry in Wikipedia gives a good sense of the scale of Feynman’s interests and achievements. Both were very dependent on what he often referred to as his toolbox. This was a vast set of mathematical processes that he used to solve the apparently unsolvable. Feynman was always approaching problems from a different direction to everyone else, using in effect a set of different mental models.

My own toolbox consists of the outcomes of academic and applied research carried out over the last 50 years into areas that might be broadly termed information management. As a chemistry major you quickly become adroit at understanding how research is published, and in the case of chemistry indexed in Chemical Abstracts. That interest has stayed with me for the last 35 years, and is responsible for my collection of around 100  books and some 2000 research papers. In the course of my consulting work I often find that the route to finding a solution for a client lies in the research literature. There is rarely a complete answer waiting to be implemented, but something more akin to the way in which the Rosetta Stone enabled the language encased in Egyptian hieroglyphics to be read for the first time.

I have now added a new section to the Resources category of the Intranet Focus website. It is called Information Plus because it consists of a series of pages each summarising key research in areas which begin with ‘information’. Among the sections that are now available are information behaviour, information charter, information life cycle, information quality, information relevance and information seeking. I plan to complete work on the remaining 16 by the end of 2016, though some sections may disappear and some may be added. Each will be updated if a significant new research resource becomes available. In effect Information Plus is my toolkit, and I am just following the trend in scientific research of making it open access.

Although much of the research is published in journals specifically about information topics (such as the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, International Journal of Information Management and the Journal of Information Science) the nature of information is that it lies very close to the surface of almost every area of human endeavour. For the last few years I have been writing a quarterly Perspectives column in Business Information Review (BIR). The aim of this column is to bring to the attention of readers of BIR important papers published in Sage journals that they may not be aware of. Some of the journals cited in recent columns have come from Human Factors, Ergonomics in Design, Health Informatics Journal and the  Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation. Many of the papers in this column deal with collaboration and other aspects of team working.

It is easy to disparage academic research as not being grounded in the real world. However a significant number of research papers are based on real world case studies and apply a rigour to the information collection and analysis which intranet managers and other information professionals would not have the time and skills to replicate. The problem that many face is that they do not have access to this research because it is behind a subscription firewall. That is why I have tried only to include books and open access publications. Moreover the use of either Google Scholar or Microsoft Academic Research will often provide a link to an alternate source of the paper from a university server. I should add that Information Research is open access and is a very good source of papers on information management.

I would welcome comments on the scope of the Information Plus section, and on the style and value of the entries and especially about high-quality research that I have overlooked. If you are interested in how I approach client engagements then read my recent book ‘Managing Expectations – Building Client/Consultant Partnerships‘ published by Intranatverk.

Martin White


Skills acquisition for intranet and digital workplace management

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Gartner Digital Workplace Summit, which focused on highlighting the opportunities for IT departments to lead the digital workplace revolution. There have also been recent reports on the development of digital workplaces by McKinsey and Forbes.  The title of the McKinsey report is “The New Tech Talent You Will Need To Succeed In Digital” and to me creates the impression that IT alone can manage the transformation of organisations into the next generation of digital workplaces. There is no reference at all to the role of business departments or to the need to find and train employees across the organisation to provide the business input into IT development and then to support implementation. The only reference in the Forbes/IBM report on training is “Training for both users and the system is time intensive and requires a level of expertise in natural language processing and machine learning.”  It makes no suggestions as to where people with these skills are going to be found.

There is already a serious problem with finding people with the skills for intranet management, especially at a more senior level. There are no structured training courses which could lead to some form of professional certification and no opportunities that I am aware of for continuing professional development.  In the UK the Institute of Internal Communication makes no reference to intranets in its material on professional development despite the crucial role that intranets play in internal communications. I have spent the last decade trying (without visible success) to persuade CILIP to recognise intranet managers as information managers. As for AIIM, its Certificate for Information Professionals makes no reference at all to intranets in the scope of the Certificate, which is quite incomprehensible.

In 1996 David Strom, writing in Forbes, noted that “If you are about to begin your first Intranet project, you need to gather together people of diverse skills: computer geeks, artists, diplomats, and negotiators. It seems like a motley crew, but you’ll need these diverse talents, along with some careful choices in hardware and software, if you will be successful”  That is as true today as it was perceptive in 1996. If these skills are needed for intranet management then that is even more the case for digital workplaces, and yet no one seems to be addressing the challenges. I’m tired of seeing an endless succession of schematics about the development of digital workplaces and of collaborative working with no attention being paid at all to the skills and related resources needed to achieve the promised nirvana of fully digital working. There is a very good analysis by Willis Towers Watson on the issues that insurance companies face in staffing for a digital revolution which has many lessons for all other industry sectors. I would also note in passing that the issues of multiple languages are also not being taken into consideration nor (prompted by an excellent presentation by Paul Zimmerman, COO of Invotra, at Intranet Now 2016) the complex issues of accessibility in a digital workplace.

At Intranet Now 2016 it was interesting to learn that Hanna Karppi, formerly Group Internal Communications Manager at Skanska, is now Head of Digital Workplace. This is the direction that all intranet managers should be seeking to develop their careers, but many will need to enhance their skills to gain a broader understanding of the issues, challenges and opportunities. I have a concern that the availability of training courses and opportunities for professional development are not going to be equal to the demand. We could end up with a substantial amount of technological sophistication but with no impact on organisation performance because of a lack of support for definition, implementation and adoption.

Martin White

 


Intranet Now 2016 – 30 September, London

Based on the buzz generated by 200 intranet managers there can be no doubt Intranet Now has established itself as ‘the’ UK intranet conference, though perhaps ‘event’ is a better description. The core is a fast moving set of 7 minute presentations, interspersed with a few slightly longer presentations from sponsors. The result is at the end of the morning you may not be sure who said what but the totality of the notes jotted on paper or keyboard provide a wealth of ideas for consideration and inspiration. User research, working relationships between intranet managers and their IT counterparts, case studies, accessibility issues, performance metrics, intranet design, project management, models for collaboration and much more. The best metaphor I can think of is that it is like being in the design and development area of an intranet factory where as you walk down the corridor you pause outside doors to hear a little of the discussions taking place in each workspace.

To make this work requires the speakers to keep strictly to time. Almost everyone did so (I know – I overran by one minute!) and the lunch break was almost spot on schedule. This is a result of the respect that everyone has for Wedge, Brian and their team of volunteers. In the afternoon the pattern changed after the cake break with simultaneous workshops (run by sponsors) and a series of five round-table discussion slots at which delegates could move from table to table. This approach was new for 2016. I’m not sure it quite worked out in terms of learning or logistics but it was certainly worth trying out. Intranet Now ended with the presentation of the Diamond Awards for significant contribution to the intranet community being given to the Intranetizen team and (earlier in the month) to James Robertson for his work with Step Two Designs.

Intranet Now is as much about making connections as learning from presentations. Good breaks and the round table format facilitate this and I became aware of attendees from Denmark, Malta, the Netherlands and of course James Dellow from Australia. The Park Plaza Hotel coped well with such a large conference though the projectors need to be pensioned off and the long queue for dessert should have been sorted by the hotel events team.

It is just not possible to summarise Intranet Now, and perhaps that’s why it has maintained the momentum from 2014 and 2015. Even if one presentation does not connect with you there is only a 7 minute wait until the next one. My own presentation looked at the development of intranets from their origin in work at the University of Illinois in the early 1970s. I remarked in that presentation that virtually all the accepted principles of intranet governance had been established by 1999, and yet on a number of occasions presenters made comments along the lines of “What we found was….” . As a community we often seem to be reinventing the wheel and not building on the experience of others, for example in the almost 200 case studies that have been published over the last five years. As a contra to that I came away from Intranet Now with at least two ‘lightbulb’ discoveries which will be added to my toolkit for client engagements and an idea for a new section to the Intranet Focus website. Watch this space.

I have to end with highlighting the enormous amount of work that Wedge and Brian Lamb put in to this event, which brings with it considerable financial risk for two entrepreneurs. I’ve been in the conference arranging business for over 30 years and I know just how much the pressure builds up towards the conference date. They both deserve a Diamond Award themselves, but for now will have to bask in smiling faces of delegates leaving the underground bunker of the Park Plaza Hotel on their way to building even better intranets in the year ahead. Hopefully many will return next year to report on their achievements to delegates at Intranet Now 2017.

Martin White


1996 – the Year of the Intranet?

On 30 September I will be giving a presentation at the Intranet Now conference about the history of intranet development. The presentation will be based on the text of a chapter for the intranet handbook being published by Kristian Norling, Intranatverk, later this year. 2016 is an appropriate time to be looking at the history of intranets because for me 1996 marks the year when intranet technology  really made the headlines and a significant number of books, reports and technical articles were published.

Among the many books on intranet management published in 1996 were

  • Intranet Working, George Eckel and William Steen, New Riders Publishing,
  • The Corporate Intranet. Ryan Bernard, John Wiley & Sons,
  • Running the Perfect Intranet. David Baker et al Que Publishing
  • Internet et l’entreprise Olivier Andrieu, Eyrolles, Paris
  • L’avantage Internet pour l’entreprise Jane McConnell and David Ward-Perkins Dunod, Paris
  • Building an Intranet. Tom Evans net Publishing
  • How Intranets Work. Paul Gralla, Ziff-Davis Press
  • Intranets as Groupware, Mellanie Hills, John Wiley & Sons.

It is interesting to note that John Wiley & Sons, one of the leading global publishers, had two intranet books on its list, both of which were probably commissioned in 1995.

However was Business Week that set everyone talking about intranets in early 1996. In a feature article by Amy Cortese in February 1996 the benefits of intranets were clearly set out with a number of case studies.

“For now, most intranet Web sites are used for basic information sharing: publishing job listings, benefits information, and phone directories, for example. Some of these simple information-sharing setups already provide strategic advantage, though. Cap Gemini’s Knowledge Galaxy is a giant repository of technical information that helps the consulting firm respond more quickly to customers, for example. More sophisticated intranets are coming. They will let employees fill out electronic forms, query corporate databases, or hold virtual conferences over private Webs. Corporate information systems managers are “just now seeing [the Web] as the next step in application development and distribution,” says Greg Sherwood, National Semiconductor’s Web coordinator and chairman of the chipmaker’s World Wide Web council. For a taste of the future, check out Silicon Graphics. Using its intranet, dubbed Silicon Junction, the company today accomplishes such feats as making accessible more than two dozen corporate databases that employees can traverse by clicking on bright-blue hyperlinks. Previously, to get the same information, an employee had to submit a request to a staff of specially trained experts who then would extract the requested data from the company’s databases–a process that could take several days.”

The impact of this article was quite significant given the readership of Business Week at the time was around 6 million. The reputation of Business Week was probably at its peak and undoubtedly many managers read the article and started to plan for an intranet future. The most notable development in 1996 was the visible commitment of NetScape, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and Amdahl to intranet technology. NetScape, Microsoft and IBM all made public announcements of their intranet technology strategies in June 1996, with Amdahl and Oracle following on in August 1996. The Gartner Group were certainly taking the intranet seriously. In September 1996 the company published a 50pp report entitled Creating an Enterprise Internet and Intranet Policy. Although there is a heavy emphasis on security management it is clear from the text of the report that the Gartner Group not only recognized the potential of intranets but was also pushing hard for companies to take an overall perspective on web and intranet policies. Twenty years later that remains very uncommon.

In many ways 1996 was a false dawn. The technology companies soon realised that there was little revenue for them in intranets. The technology was really not that complicated, especially when Microsoft bundled Front Page into Office 97 followed by arrival of  HTML 4.0 at the end of 1997, starting an era of ‘build-your-own-intranet’. For another perspective on intranet history see this blog post from ChiefTech

Martin White

 


Intranet products – are they right for you?

Last week intranet consultant Sam Driessen blogged about a number of intranet technology trends.  I was very interested in his comments on the rate at which intranet platforms were emerging, many on SharePoint. Sam Marshall has published a research report on some SharePoint products (in the process of being updated) and the Intranetizen team provide profiles on some intranet products. Over the years a number of my clients have adopted intranet products with success. In one case we got a proof-of-concept intranet up and running in Kuwait in three days.  In each case the process of writing the statement of requirements and then selecting the vendor was carried out with considerable care. Last week I had a discussion with one of the many SharePoint product vendors which was, shall we say, interesting. Over lunch in London this week with James Robertson we spent some time discussing the development of the vendor market and the license basis (often per user per month) that they adopt. When Sam Driessen published his blog I added some comments to his excellent post. Following my discussion with James I thought it might be a good time to put some comments on my own blog

For many organisations these intranet products make good sense, but I wonder how many implementations are a reaction to small intranet budgets (because the organisation has no commitment to information as an asset), wanting to pull back control of the intranet from IT, frightened by the stories about SP development costs or wanting to have a product for which they feel they have a chance of influencing the development roadmap. In themselves good tactical reasons but not strategic.

Here are 12 of the issues that you ought to work through and be very certain you have good answers. To many of these questions the vendor may respond that this is information they do not disclose. Ask them why? You are betting your reputation and career on this decision, especially if you are trying to get around the IT strategy and procurement rules.

  1. Does the license model make sense? Read the small print and cancellation clauses, and make absolutely sure you know what is not included in the base price.
  2. What is the product development road map for the duration of the initial contract and will you be able to suggest new functionality? How much notice will you get of changes?
  3. How much professional service support will these vendors be able to offer within in the price point? If the vendor gets very busy (and the best of them will) where else will you get support from? Scaling professional services support is a cash-flow nightmare as you need to have the people in place before there is the revenue stream to support them.
  4. Will you have a named person as your link with the client post the implementation? If so, can you meet them before the contract is signed? If not, why not? It might mean they are not yet on the payroll.
  5. What is the procedure for escalating problems that the vendor needs to fix?
  6. If you need some customised code (you will!) who will develop and test it, and who will actually own it? It may not be you. The vendor may want to offer it to other customers.
  7. If you operate in more than one country who is going to provide country-level support, such as contributor training?
  8. If not now then at some time in the future you will want to link to other enterprise applications, for example for employee self-service. Exactly how will that be managed and has the vendor experience with the specific version of the software your organisation uses?
  9. A core element of an intranet is search, and all of the products I have seen (especially those based on SP2013) have poor (I’m being kind!) search implementations. Remember you cannot check search is fit for purpose until all your content is loaded. So have a get-out clause if it is not fit for purpose. Don’t assume that the search application you have bought can be extended to other (even SharePoint) repositories.
  10. Is there an active user group which is not under the direct control of the vendor? If there is, can you go along to a meeting? If you can’t, then why not? And if there is no user group then ask why.
  11. What happens to your content when you either cancel the contract or the vendor closes down or is acquired?
  12. What User Acceptance Testing will be carried out, who decides what the pass/fail criteria are, and what happens if there are too many fails? Will UAT include verification of the security model?

This is not a new approach to intranets.  OrchidNet has been around for 21 years and I installed my first intranet product in 2003. So I know there are in fact more than 12 issues but there is a limit to my generosity 🙂 Some of the products I have seen are very good, and I’m sure that they will evolve into widely adopted products. However the market is going to be very competitive on price as the OOTB functionality is pretty much the same. Probably the most important, and difficult, question you need to have an answer for is what happens if your vendor runs out of cash.

Martin White