Frameworks for implementing and assessing collaboration

Ever since the advent of computer-supported cooperative working (CSCW) in 1984 there has been an immense amount of research into the development of a framework for collaboration processes that will assist in both the planning and implementation of collaborative solutions. Wikipedia has a very good survey of the background to CSCW I have been tracking this research for a number of years, and in this post I have referenced just a new of the many frameworks that have been developed, with an emphasis on work over the last few years.

  • Unpacking Team Diversity: An Integrative Multi-Level Model of Cross-Boundary Teaming (2016) Harvard Business School Working Paper download
  • Team Communication Platforms and Emergent Social Collaboration Practices (2016) published in International Journal of Business Communications April 2016
  • From The Matrix to a Model of Coordinated Action (MoCA): A Conceptual Framework of and for CSCW (2015) Preprint can be downloaded
  • Why Supply Chain Collaboration Fails: The Socio-Structural View Of Resistance To Collaboration Strategies (2015) published in Supply Chain Management
  • Metrics for Cooperative Systems (2014) from the Fraunhofer Institute
  • Enterprise Social Collaboration Model (2013) sponsored by Microsoft as a download
  • Factors of Collaborative Working: A Framework for a Collaboration Model (2012) published in Applied Ergonomics, January 2012
  • Collaboration at Work: An Integrative Multilevel Conceptualization (2012) published in Human Resource Management Review, June 2012
  • Enterprise Collaboration Maturity Model (ECMM): Preliminary Definition and Future Challenges (2012) Preprint can be downloaded
  • Group Information Behavioural Norms and the Effective Use of a Collaborative Information System: A Case Study (2010) The link is to a 400 page PhD thesis written by Colin Furness, University of Toronto

Of the many books that have been published on collaborative working Collaboration by Morten Hansen is a very valuable resource and I also find Collaborating in a Social Era,by  Oscar Berg to be full of insights and some very useful graphics.

Martin White

Website search – “Must do better!”

Although most of my projects are internal enterprise search engagements I have just been assessing the website search of a major consulting firm. One of the elements of the project was to compare the website search against those of other professional services firms, The results were very depressing. In total I looked at around 20 firms, and the consistent message was that website search is not important enough to pay any attention to, even though to me the quality if the search experience is an indicator of how important the firm regards attracting new clients. This is because for a professional services firm the major challenge in a highly competitive market has to be finding new clients or new business from existing clients.

As I look through my notes there are some common problems with the sites.

  • Almost invisible search boxes tucked away on the edge of the page
  • Search box either too short or opens up Google-like on a new page with no warning or search help notes
  • Very little date information on the results and no ability to sort by date to show off how much recent information the firm had available
  • No highlighting of query terms in the results summaries
  • Filters and facets in abundance with little consideration of their value in focusing in on highly relevant information
  • A common filter is file format, which assumes that “web pages” (for example) are of especial importance to search users
  • Poor expertise search. All too often “people search” is primarily a name search feature
  • Very limited use of promoted content to highlight core firm capabilities

Those are of course common to many websites but when I consider the amount of investment in the design of the website and the consultant hours spent on writing briefing notes etc for publication on the website I do wonder why there is invariably not the slightest sense of user centricity about the site and about the role that search should play vis-a-vis the navigation.

A specific problem I came up against was the way in which query terms which are noun adjuncts are handled. For example [risk management], [corporate finance] and [interim management]. Most professional services firms (and it is the same with universities) use these two word noun phrases quite extensively. Of course in a perfect world site visitors would use quotation marks as a proximity function. However my experience with some university websites suggests that search users may be assuming that they can query [chemical engineering] and the search engine will be smart enough either to check “Did you mean School of Chemical Engineering?” or to have promoted content that is specific to the School of Chemical Engineering just in case. These are the sort of issues that user testing and high-quality search log analysis will uncover, but in website search and in enterprise search the lack of commitment to search evaluation is usually very obvious.

As well as the wealth of material on the Nielsen Norman Group site (though it’s not the best example of site search!) Chapter 9 in Information Architecture for the Web and Beyond is a very well-written 50page overview of the business case for website search and implementation good practice.

Martin White

Could Google transform enterprise mobile search?

The presentations at the 2016 Search Solutions conference, organised by the Information Retrieval Specialist Group of the British Computer Society on 30 November, were uniformly excellent. For me the most interesting was given by Dr. Qin Yin from the Google Research Laboratories in Zurich. To explain why I need to provide some context. In general the enterprise search experience on a mobile smartphone is poor. As the desktop UI has become more complex with multiple filters and facets it has also become more difficult to provide a sensible UI for a smartphone. Responsive design is not at option. There have been attempts over the years to develop mobile enterprise search UIs.  Autonomy offered one briefly and Sinequa does have a mobile solution but I remain unconvinced of the value of using a smartphone as a terminal device for enterprise search applications. It may be possible but is it desirable?  Another search product that is now largely history is desktop search, overtaken by improved (in relative terms!) Office search and the challenge of indexing (in my case) 10GB of stored data.

Qin Yin’s paper was about the work that Google has been undertaking on offering users the ability to search content that is already on their smartphone, in effect providing the mobile equivalent of desktop search. Now I know that Apple offer the Spotlight search through Siri but that is not a good experience in my view. Google is now offering the initial versions of what it describes as App Indexing, using its Firestorm suite. In effect you can now search through content you have downloaded into apps on your smartphone. The index is held within the smartphone but is revised periodically when (rather like with software uploads) from Google when there is sufficient bandwidth. There are some case studies on the Firestorm site.

Now for another bit of context. People tend to want their internal enterprise search to be as good as Google. We know that is technically not possible but at least it provides a default benchmark for the user experience. What occurred to me is that as this mobile internal search improves users will start to say “why can’t I have the Google App search on internal content”. I discussed this with Qin Yin after her presentation and the answer is that in principle you could, especially as Google ramps up its enterprise cloud offering. This would give the user effective access to people and expertise directories, policies and task applications, especially where the mobile desktop is getting rather crowded and you just can’t find the app with the information you need. Offline access would also be facilitated.

Now I may be off track with this but I think that as the application develops, along with Google’s enterprise cloud service, there could be a new dimension to enterprise mobile search. Although Apple have something that is sort of similar in concept  (but certainly not in execution) it is not in the enterprise information services business at all. I would be the first to admit that some of the systems architecture diagrams and descriptions from Qin Yin passed me by.  Mobile app development is not among my skill sets and I have to say that it was only half-way through the paper that the enterprise angle occurred to me and I transformed into a very active listener.  Even so I would recommend that you keep monitoring the way in which Google develops this approach so that you can be prepared to respond to the “Why can’t our mobile enterprise search be like Google?” question.

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


Migrating from Google GSA – the technology is not the core issue

I am greatly indebted to Search Technologies for publishing the results of a survey of clients and other contacts about attitudes to Google GSA migration. The cessation of GSA supply and support hit the headlines back in February this year. I was not the only consultant and vendor to sense a market opportunity. After the initial flurry of activity everything went quiet but I suspect that this survey and an associated e-book will do much to alert GSA customers of the need to put migration planning on their 2017 objectives.

It is worth looking at some of the outcomes of the survey. The first is that 62% of implementations were out of the box and a further 38% had some degree of customisation. One of the important attributes of the GSA was that all it needed to up and working was some rack space and an IT manager who knew (or could find out) where to point it. Maintenance requirements were minimal. It therefore does not surprise me that only 22% of respondents have a migration plan and 72% would like to have a plan, but do not know where to start. Of those who had a plan (I assume) only 30% were planning an on-premise replacement, with 23% planning to wait to move to the Google cloud search solution in due course. I was not surprised to see that most respondents were looking at open source options. The associated e-book is a good summary of the technical issues that need to be considered when developing a migration plan, with a good focus on connectors, content preparation and security management.  However I was very surprised to note the recommendation to “Make sure your in-house IT staff has the bandwidth and skill sets needed to conduct a thorough assessment of the elements above and develop a detailed plan for transitioning from the Google Search Appliance to a new search engine.”

If an organisation has a Google GSA the business justification was usually that it did not need any search skills to manage it. The extent to which you could tweak the ranking was pretty limited. So how would the IT team have developed the skills needed to undertake not just a technical audit but the user requirements analysis that is essential to a successful search implementation? In a recent CMSWire post (which had a staggering number of retweets – thank you) I made the point that users want information and not documents, and the range of those information requirements was very wide indeed. Each of these requirements involves developing a good understanding of how users will search and what information they expect to see on the first one or two pages of results. I also suspect that the GSA was primarily an intranet solution but organisations will now be looking not just for a replacement for intranet search but a solution for enterprise-wide search.

The second issue is that even if the technology is pushed into a cloud the team needed to run a good search application is much larger than most organisations are willing to consider. At the recent Enterprise Search conference in Washington Ernst & Young disclosed that it has a search team of 6 people. The statement drew gasps from audience. To support the migration, testing and on-going management of the GSA replacement is going to require a team, even if a virtual one of people doing job-sharing alongside other commitments. For business planning purposes it will be a major challenge to explain why the increase in headcount is needed and an even bigger challenge to find and train the team in time. Good search managers in the UK are commanding very good salaries, almost certainly beyond those of IT managers at the same grade.

All the major search implementation companies are offering advice but if you would like some personal vendor-independent advice then both Agnes Molnar and I are more than willing to help. I don’t know how many organisations are using a GSA for either an intranet or a website but it is certainly in the thousands, so there is plenty of work for all of us!

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

Building Information Modelling – a prototype for digital workplaces

Much of the discussion and debate around digital workplaces takes place in a vacuum. With the exception of the case studies in Jane McConnell’s Organisation in the Digital Age reports there are very few published examples of working digital workplaces. For that reason it is well worth taking a look at what is happening in the global construction industry in the adoption of Building Information Modelling. The Wikipedia entry on BIM is written by people who are very conversant with this work. One definition of  Building Information Modeling (BIM) is that is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility providing a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility that then forms a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle; defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition. I’d like to highlight the word ‘shared’ as BIM brings together all the stakeholders in a construction project from design to build to maintain and then demolish. Demolishing a complex building requires knowledge of how it was built!

There are global standards for BIM files and file management, an area where the UK construction industry is very much in the vanguard. For several years the Royal Institute of British Architects has been publishing an annual survey of BIM adoption. The 2016 report notes “We can see that BIM adoption is set to increase. Within one year, 86% of people expect to be using BIM on at least some of their projects. Within three years, 95% expect to be using BIM. Within five, that number increases to 97%.” Among the leaders in implementing BIM is Laing O’Rourke and it is well worth reading through its Engineering Excellence Journal.  Although there is a lot of good news the challenges are also important to be aware of. In the 2014 edition of Engineering Excellence Journal Laing O’Rourke comment that “The current fixation with Building Information Modelling (BIM) within our industry globally is gathering pace and this is undoubtedly progress. However, it once again reflects the vested interests within our own ranks that we chose to embrace the minimum standards of these new ideologies and technologies only when pushed to do so, rather than seize the opportunity to exploit their potential for real and lasting industry-wide transformation.”

This challenge is not unique to the global construction industry. In all sectors there will be a tendency to do the minimum possible rather than look to the future and work backwards to define what is required to take full advantage of not just the technology but the way in which the technology facilitates teams working together to solve complex problems. Of course the problem is always that we can often learn more from failures than we can from success stories and it is very difficult (especially for quoted companies) to share project failures There is no open forum for the exchange of visions, roadmaps, achievements and challenges, and in my opinion many conferences in this area focus on how employees are working in the back office at headquarters and not 30 stories up on a skyscraper building with only a ruggedized tablet for company.

If you are engaged in any digital workplace initiative I would strongly recommend that you take a look at BIM implementation. There may not be any individual elements that can be applied to your own sector but the principles are eminently transferable. Note just as an example the exemplary commitment of the Royal Institute of British Architects in supporting BIM initiatives. Are your industry and trade organisations playing a similar role?  And if not, why not?

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



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