Category: Reviews

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


Ten intranet search case studies

It is very difficult to track down good case studies of intranet search implementations that when eight come along together it was well worth spending a couple of hours to read through them, They are published in the Nielsen Norman Group 2017 Intranet Design Annual. I will review this report from an intranet perspective in due course, but for now I just want to look at some of the highlights, and low lights, from the way ten very different organisations have provided intranet search. In the introduction to the report the authors note that search is starting to be taken seriously (my words, not theirs) and that is very good news.

The stand-out case study is that from IBM. The IBM intranet is on a vast scale in size, reach and user numbers, and search has always played an important role. The description of the way in which the Blue Pages people directory has evolved is worth buying the report for on its own account, and then hand delivering copies of the pages to your HR Director and your CEO. Of course a huge amount of research and development went into the development of the directory but the result is probably the definitive people/expertise directory for you to benchmark your own vision and achievement. If you want to learn more about the technical background to the Blue Pages track down the papers authored by Ido Guy when he was at IBM Research Haifa. However in the case of IBM it’s not just about the technology but also about vision, governance and user research. The technology is in fact bespoke and built on the Amazon Web Services platform (interesting!) but IBM Watson is about to be implemented. One of my current clients is about to use IBM Watson and I will be very interested to see how well it works as a people and expertise finder.

Other companies which have an interesting story to tell include Bank of America, Encana, Goodwill Industries, Jet Blue and the Kerry Group. The range of search software is wide, including Google Search Appliance (Bank of America), SharePoint 2010 (Goodwill Industries), PostgreSQL (Jet Blue), SharePoint 2013 (Kerry Group) Solr (Latvian Railways) IDOL 7.5 (Santander) and Office 365 (Tourism New Zealand). Which means that Bank of America and Goodwill Industries are in for an interesting 2017 and maybe Santander needs a Plan B.

The not-so good news is that when you look down the teams running the intranet there is never a mention of who is taking responsibility for search, and in particular search analytics, even though every other aspect of intranet management is listed out. This probably means that IT are taking the search lead but IT need to be able to call on user feedback and business requirements to put the search log analytics in context – which of course assumes that IT are actually running any search analytics.

Martin White

Eight good books on search management

Over the vacation I reorganised my office, including adding a bookcase specifically for the 60 or so books I have on various aspects of information retrieval and search. In the process I updated the list of books on the Enterprise Search book website, highlighting eight which I regard as a core collection for search managers. These are listed here for convenience. All the books have been reviewed on the Intranet Focus blog and some have a dedicated website. They cover the spectrum from a deep dive into the technology, the optimisation the user experience, search evaluation and text analytics and mining. With a couple of exceptions they have all ben published in the last two years, which indicates the level of interest in the subject. Publishers publish to make a profit!

Deep Text 
Tom Reamy, 2016, Information Today (Review)

Designing the Search Experience.
Tony Russell-Rose and Tyler Tate, 2012 . (book website) (Review)

Enterprise Search
Martin White, 2nd Edition 2015. O’Reilly Media (book website)

Interactions with Search Systems
Ryen White 2016. Cambridge University Press (Review)

Relevant Search
Doug Turnbull and John Berryman. 2015. Manning Publications. (book website) (Review)

Search Analytics For Your Site.
Louis Rosenfeld. 2011. Rosenfeld Media (Review)

Text Data Management and Analysis
Chengxiang Zhai and Sean Massung. 2016. ACM Books (Review)

The Inquiring Organisation
Chun Wei Choo.  2015. Oxford University Press.  (Review)

I am also looking forward to a new book on the underlying technology of enterprise search from Charlie Hull (Flax) and Professor Udo Kruschwitz (University of Essex), to be published by Now Publishers

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


The Organisation in the Digital Age – 2016 Survey and Report

Each year the Organisation in the Digital Age report takes me longer to read than the version for the preceding year. This is not because it is significantly larger but because each year the insights that Jane McConnell offers are even more worthy of due diligence. On opening up this 110 page report and looking at the Contents Page you are immediately struck by the scope of the report. This is not just because the contents page highlights the breadth of the issues surrounding the digital workplace but because Jane has pared the headings down to those that are of critical importance in making sense of, and in making progress in, working in the digital age. Over the last few months I have become increasingly frustrated at the number of surveys that seem to indicate an important trend but which, on closer examination, tell at best 50% of the real story. In the 2016 edition the 13 case studies and interviews with digital innovators are more prominent and more thorough than in previous years. This is an invaluable direction to go in as on their own the numbers tell less than half the story. Only through these case studies can you begin to gain the context behind the trends, and perhaps more importantly understand why progress has not been as rapid as was anticipated even a couple of years ago

As Jane notes in her introduction, a starting point for digital transformation is defining a compelling vision and strategy. The strategies that have been developed do not yet have sufficient traction in business units and with frontline people. The research shows that there is insufficient focus on people and change, and even less focus on creating new business models. In most cases technology was at the top of the investment list , with education and training at the bottom. However there is progress. In the initial research report in 2007 only 25% of respondents stated that people could share information using social tools, whereas today it is 86%. Only 25% of the organisations in 2011 offered internal crowdsourcing and ideation capabilities but that has now almost doubled. These are all steps in the right direction but there is so much else to do as a glance at the framework for the report indicates.

The report is based on around 300 responding organisations, of which almost 70% are common to the 2015 survey, which provides a reliable and invaluable baseline for trend analysis. There is no other report that has this heritage of continuous annual surveys coupled with the insights that Jane brings from projects and communities that she has taken part in over many years. It is worth remembering that Charles Grantham was writing about digital working in the 1990s and Jeffery Bier launched the eRoom collaboration suite in 2000. It has been a long journey with only isolated examples of corporate-wide progress.We need a benchmark against which to measure and focus our efforts. Jane’s commitment to the quality of research and insight provides us with just such a benchmark. Always there are more questions to ask and more answers to digest but for now this is the best there is. We should focus our efforts on making good use of the outcomes in the report and back off from conducting surveys and creating schematics that make the headlines but add little if anything to our knowledge base.

Martin White

Findwise Findability Survey 2016 – strategy wins out!

The outcomes of the Findwise Findability Survey 2016 were presented by its author, Mattias Ellison, at the Findwise Findability Day in Stockholm last month. In the interests of transparency I have been involved to some extent with the design of the survey and the presentation of the results. The 2016 report can be downloaded from the Findwise site. With all annual surveys the challenge is to keep a balance between questions that relate to the trends in search implementation dating back to 2012 and yet pay attention to topics that deserve special attention at the present time. I think Findwise has just the right balance in the 2016 report.

I’m not going to work through every chart and table in detail as I want to encourage you to download the report and read it for yourself. For me the main interest this year has been the set of questions on how a search strategy has an impact on search performance. There is certainly a welcome trend towards organisations having a search strategy, up from only 20% in 2012 to over 50% this year. The report presents a series of charts which show that having a search strategy has a significant benefit on search performance, mainly because the strategy provides a business case for investment in team resources, metadata and analytics. The chart on the roles participating on a search governance programme shows a higher level of business involvement when there is a strategy in place. Indeed there is no aspect of search management that does not appear to benefit from having a search strategy. Which then makes me ask why still half the organisations in the survey do not have a strategy.

Based on my consulting work I think that the answer to a lack of a strategy is that although at an operational level search managers understand the value of a strategy they cannot find a sponsor or owner for the strategy. This is especially the case where an organisation has multiple search applications acquired and supported from different budgets, and there is no overall ownership of search. Findwise does provide some guidance on strategy development and you can find a list of headings for a search strategy on the website of my Enterprise Search book, the entire focus of which is the need to take a strategic perspective on enterprise search.

This survey is a lonely beam of light on the fairly mysterious world of search management. AIIM did publish a survey on enterprise search in 2014 but now search is not listed as a technology that the organisation sees as important. No comment! Undertaking research on the scale of the Findability Survey is a significant commitment by Findwise, especially in achieving a high level of participation, and the search community should not only be grateful for this commitment but reward it through participating in the 2017 survey. If you want to make a business case for more investment by your organisation in search then the 2016 Survey makes a definitive case for doing so through the development of a search strategy.

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

Text Data Management and Analysis – Zhai and Massung

Search is not applied magic, though it is certainly applied mathematics. The standard textbooks on the science and application of information retrieval date back to the period from 2008 to 2012. Over the last decade the extent of the research into information retrieval optimisation has been very significant, even if this is not obvious to users of search applications. In addition the boundary between ‘enterprise search’ and ‘text analytics’ has become increasingly blurred, to the benefit of all concerned. The problem with the standard textbooks is that the extent to which they bridge the chasm between information retrieval and search is limited, with very few examples of how the underlying mathematics translates to real life.

The chasm has now been bridged very successfully by Professor ChengXiang Zhai and his student Sean Massung at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Text Data Management and Analysis, which is published by Morgan & Claypool for the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). In effect this 500 page book is the printed version of MOOC courses in text retrieval and text mining that were first offered in 2015. The benefit of these antecedents is in the clarity of the text in both the writing and the layout. The tagline text is ‘A practical introduction to information retrieval and text mining’ and  the content certainly matches the marketing. The book is divided into four parts.

  • Overview, with some of the core principles needed to understand subsequent chapters
  • Seven chapters on text data access
  • Eight chapters on text mining
  • A short section on unified text data management and analysis

It is not possible to get away without some applied mathematics but where this is required the presentation is clear enough for readers without a grounding in the mathematics of probability and computational linguistics to follow the issues being presented. As the authors note this book is much wider in scope than earlier books, covering topics such as probabilistic topic modelling and also showing clearly the intersection between not only search and text mining but also the integrated analysis of textual and non-textual data. In addition there is a companion toolkit, MeTA, which implements many of the techniques presented in the book and is also integrated into the exercises at the end of each chapter. The toolkit has been widely used by students on the MOOC course so clearly is a robust application. The book is available in both print and e-book formats. The benefit of the e-book version is the internal linking to references and to diagrams but you will probably find the printed version easier to browse through. The book has an excellent index.

This book has been published at a time when the speed of convergence between search and text analytics is increasing very rapidly. Don’t be put off by the exercises – the book will be certainly be of value to students on computer science courses and on more advanced degrees in information retrieval. My experience suggests that many IT managers with responsibility for enterprise search certainly have a background in computer science but never had the opportunity to get into the level of detail needed to fully understand how search and text mining applications achieve apparent magic. This book will be of considerable benefit to them. It will also provide support to open source search developers who have the coding skills to work with Lucene, Solr and Elastic but may not have a full grasp of the underlying science of text analysis. It is certainly not the case that all search and text mining applications work the same way! Readers of this book will begin to understand that ‘search’ is actually a set of components, that each of the approaches selected by vendors (and open source developers) has benefits and challenges and that getting the best out of any search application takes more than just playing design games with the user interface.

Martin White



Digital and Marketing Asset Management – Theresa Regli

For many years Lou Rosenfeld (Rosenfeld Media) and Tony Byrne (Real Story Group) have not only delivered high quality books and reports but have re-invented their business strategy to reflect changes in reader and subscriber requirements. These two entrepreneurs have now joined forces and the outcome is a classic example of synergy. The reports that the Real Story Group publishes are noteworthy not only for the quality of the vendor/product profiles but also for the extended introductions that provide very valuable context to the profiles. Digital and Marketing Asset Management is the first title in a new series of books from Rosenfeld Media in which the introductions have been transformed into a stand-alone book format. The Real Story Group profiles 34 DAM vendors in its profiles report so this is quite a significant and very competitive market.

Theresa Regli has established herself as an authority on the digital asset management (DAM) market and is a frequent speaker at the Henry Stewart DAM conferences. This 230 page book is an exceptional piece of writing, as I would have expected from someone who started their career as a journalist. The result is a seamless blend of how to manage DAM projects and how to select and implement DAM services. The initial three chapters set the scene, leading into a DAM maturity model based around a consideration of people, information, systems and processes. Then follow five chapters on the underlying technology of DAM applications, including a good discussion of on-prem, cloud and hybrid delivery options. In Chapter 9 the heading says it all – ‘You are not just buying a tool: strategic considerations’. The book concludes with a set of scenarios to use in comparing the technology solutions available and some reflections on DAM in the digital marketing mix.

I don’t have a copy of the RSG DAM report so I cannot tell how much change there has been in the journey from report to book but certainly the book shows no evidence of the text being cut and based from the report. I was delighted to see that there is a very good index which is essential in a book of this type that readers will want to dip into from time to time. The book is available in both print and ebook format at $39. There is also a companion website. I loved the tag line of The Real Story About DAM Technology and Practice.

The most important attribute of this book is that it is written by an author who started in DAM consulting in 2008, and the experience and insights just shine through. In addition Theresa treads the difficult line of being intelligible to marketing managers and yet solid in the technology with great skill. I know from my own experience with Enterprise Search just how challenging that can be. I started to read this book knowing little about DAM but ended up with a very good understanding of the attributes, benefits and challenges of DAM systems. Definitely a book for the top shelf of the bookcase along side my desk, and I am looking forward to future titles on Web Content and Experience Management and on Enterprise Social-Collaboration Technology.

Martin White


The Inquiring Organisation – Chun Wei Choo

Although I claim to be an information scientist in reality I am an information practitioner. Like so many intranet, search and knowledge managers I have to observe closely and then scale up in an effort to find some generic approaches to solving the very complex challenges that organisations face in managing information and knowledge. May be because of my original training as a chemist I am constantly looking for answers to ‘why’ certain approaches to information management seem to work within some form of information culture. Then in 2013 I came across a paper on information culture and organisational effectiveness by Professor Chun Wei Choo of the University of Toronto. In this paper he described result, rule, relationship and risk taking cultures and their impact on organisational effectiveness, and I have used this model many times in the period since its publication. In 2015 a paper was published by Thasi Elaine Vick et al on Information culture and its influences in knowledge creation that built on Professor Choo’s model, which brought together knowledge management and information culture.

Now Professor Choo has published The Inquiring Organisation – How Organisations Acquire Knowledge and Seek Information which sets out the underlying principles of information and knowledge management from the perspective of the epistemology of organisational learning and information seeking. The book commences with a very well structured introduction which it is essential not to skip over – in effect it is a handbook to the book. In Part One the fundamental principles of organizational epistemology are presented, which provide an inclusive approach to the inter-relationship of knowledge and information that is not built on that invidious triangle of data, information and knowledge, topped out with wisdom. As is the case with the entire book there are relatively few case studies but those that are presented are analysed in considerable depth.

Part Two addresses organisational information behaviour. (I reviewed a book on this subject recently). There have been many models of information behaviour, of which Professor Choo selects those by Carol Kuhlthau, Brenda Dervin and Tom Wilson to examine in considerable detail. I cannot emphasis how important I regard an understanding of information behaviours to the delivery of satisfactory information and knowledge management services. There is also a consideration of Robert Taylor’s work on a taxonomy of information use, an approach which I have found very useful in building use cases for intranets. In this section of the book Professor Choo builds on his 2013 paper referred to above and the later paper by Thasi Elaine Vick. He presents an integrated model of organisational information behaviour based on information needs, information seeking and information use. There is also a chapter in internet epistemology that at first did not seem to fit with the rest of the book but several readings later I now understand why it was included.

This book is very well structured, both in the overall journey towards the final chapter on The Inquiring Organisation but also the introduction that sets the scene and thoughtful codas at the end of each chapter than pull together lessons learned ready for the continuance of the journey in the next chapter. There is a very well selected bibliography and a good index.

Professor Choo’s book rewards careful reading, because the evidence he presents and the insights he gives will provide you with an invaluable set of lenses with which to view aspects of information and knowledge management. In much of his writing his initial training in engineering comes through, with a very grounded approach to the analysis ofthe case studies and a sure understanding of how organisations work. In many respects he presents a unifying theory of information and knowledge management, and I would suggest that the KM community would do well to consider what Professor Choo has to say. After all the root of the word ‘epistemology’ is the Greek word epistēmē, meaning “knowledge”. It may take you nine weeks to read and consider the nine chapters but at the end I am certain you will say to yourself “Now I understand”. The benefits to both you personally and to your organisation will be significant and long lasting.

Martin White