Digital Workplace Gold Dust R1.0 – a report from InfoCentric

It has been a while since I last blogged, primarily because of two major digital workplace strategy projects. So it is timely that InfoCentric recently published a report on the experience the company has gained from recent digital workplace projects. As a result the perspective is very different from the survey-based analysis provided by Jane McConnell in the Digital Workplace Trends report.  The report authors are Philipp Rosenthal (formerly at Tieto),  David Franklin and Kevin Hansen. The report is presented in a quasi-PowerPoint two-column landscape format. There are three main sections in the 46 page report, Reality Check, The Way Forward (with sub-sections on Models and Strategy Corner Stones) and DWP Mechanics and Principles. The two objectives of the report are set out as sharing the experience that InfoCentric has gained from the projects and to attract consultants to join the consultancy. The latter is a somewhat unusual objective!

The Reality Check section covers a lot of ground, offering three scenarios, six challenges and six issues related to organisational change in just ten pages. The pace continues in the second section with a five-category typology of organisations, a four stage model of the evolution of a digital workplace, a four element framework for the way in which employees need to be connected and then eight digital workplace strategy ‘corner stones’. The discussion around the corner stone of Concrete Value introduces (very briefly) the 8C Model of Enterprise Information Management. A six-category framework for digital workplace stakeholders labels one of the categories as Cockroach, which is without doubt the first time I have seen this word in a report written for senior management. The report concludes with the section on DWP Mechanics and Principles, listing out five areas which may turn out to be game changers in the evolution of digital workplaces.

There is much of value in this report if you are already actively involved in digital workplace development. All the various frameworks, models, lists and categories are clearly based on a lot of practical experience. However despite the claim that the report is based on projects that InfoCentric has undertaken there are no ‘stories’ about how organisations are approaching digital workplace implementation, which are a valuable element of the Digital Workplace Trends report. There is also no discussion about differences of adoption in vertical sectors. From my own experience over the last couple of months, major law firms and pharmaceutical companies are very different in their approach to digital workplaces. This is certainly not a report you could give to a senior manager. I think that their eyes would glaze over after the first few pages from a combination of the pace of the presentation, the often awkward use of a double column layout and with sentence compression to the extent that it is almost impossible to see spaces between words. Pale green and pale blue highlighting also do not assist the reader, especially if they are reading on-screen and have not printed it out. I would also have liked to see some references for further reading.

Full mark to InfoCentric and the authors for the investment involved in the considerable amount of research and analysis that is presented in the report. I know I will make good use of this very comprehensive analysis of the issues around digital workplaces but I am not sure it is a report that I could recommend to a senior executive trying to make a business case for investing in the scoping and implementation of a digital workplace.

Martin White


A Breakfast Breakout for law firm knowledge managers. London 9 December

Since the beginning of the year I’ve been working on digital workplace strategy for major global law firm and it certainly ranks among the most interesting projects I have been involved with. Law firms are facing a significant change in business model as clients are beginning to engage firms on something close to a fixed price basis, rather than on what can be a rather open-ended time-and-materials basis. Clients also want to work more closely with their legal advisors and have greater transparency on the progress of the matter under consideration. Legal Project Management is one of the new areas of interest for law firms of all sizes. All this comes at a time when there is little real growth in the corporate legal services market. A few months ago my long-time business associate Paul Corney and I met up for our regular state-of-the-market lunch. Paul and I have worked on projects in Cyprus and Barbados as well as the UK. Paul shared with me some of the work he had been doing recently in the law sector. As we compared notes we became aware that some of the knowledge management, information management and project management approaches that we had been using for many years might be unfamiliar to law firms. We decided to validate our conclusions by talking to some of our contacts in law firms and among the comments we noted were

“We are great at capturing, not so great at sharing, especially when it comes to knowledge about clients”

“Too many people think that writing a project plan is all that is needed to make a success of Legal Project Management”

We have decided  to set up a meeting at which we could share some of our experience with senior knowledge and information managers working in law firms. Our Breakfast Breakout will take place in the Benjamin Franklin room at the Royal Society of Arts on 9 December. Starting at 9.00am (but with breakfast at 8.30am) we will be covering (amongst other topics)

  • Knowledge Loss & Knowledge Gain,
  • Legal Project Management,
  • Getting the best from firm/client virtual teams
  • Stakeholder Engagement and Management

We will be talking about Knowledge Chameleons, the “Balloon on a Phone” and WTGTGQ – When They Go They Go Quickly. There will also be a chance to benchmark your own situation, though the Chatham House Rule will apply throughout the meeting. With just ten working days to Christmas we’ll provide a relaxed setting, no PowerPoint presentations, a good breakfast and an opportunity to support the PlanZheros charity instead of paying for a ticket. You will be able to be back at your desks by 11.00. The room will be set out cabaret-style and we’ll be moving everyone around after the mid-way break to foster networking.

If you are interested in attending keep a track through either @intranetfocus or @PaulJCorney for further information on the event.

Martin White

Findability Survey 2014 – findability meets information management

September was a good month for search. AIIM published its first ever survey of search adoption and implementation with a particular focus on the role of enterprise content management applications. Although a global survey the majority of respondents were from North America. Findwise released its third Enterprise Search and Findability Survey at the Findwise Findability Day. The sample size was a little smaller than AIIM but 80% of the responses were from Europe. The top line outcomes of the two surveys are similar. Organisations know that information is a business-critical asset but pay little attention to ensuring that the information that has been expensively created by an employee is then discoverable by anyone else in the organisation that has a need for it. The problem is more acute in organisations with more than 5000 employees where nearly 60% were dissatisfied with the existing search application.

The report is structured around a five-dimension model of findability, covering the alignment of search with business objectives, meeting the requirements of users, having an organisation/governance framework, ensuring that information is of adequate quality and implementing a technology platform which provides an appropriate level of functionality. What comes across very strongly in the report is the positive impact of adopting an information management strategy which sets out the scope of a search strategy. For example, 33% of respondents in organisations with a search strategy said that information was easy, or very easy, to find. Where there was no strategy the figure was only 14%. Again, where there were Key Performance Indicators for search only 25% of users were dissatisfied with search performance compared to 47% in organisations without KPIs. The most dramatic difference was in regard to search analytics. Where analytics were analysed and acted upon only 22% of respondents stated that it was difficult or very difficult to find information, compared with almost 60% where no analytics were available.

The message is very clear. Search satisfaction is significantly better in organisations with an information management strategy for content quality, taxonomies and metadata, allied to a search strategy that supports positive action from analytics reviews and the provision of search-as-a-service architecture.

The survey team at Findwise were led by Mattias Ellison. The quality of the analysis in the 2014 report is excellent. The team reduced the complexity of the survey compared to previous years and this decision has undoubtedly led to the much higher response rate. One-off surveys are useful but regular surveys are even more useful as trends can be identified. I do hope that both Findwise and AIIM run their surveys again next year. Overall I have a sense that there is a gradual increase in the organisational awareness of the importance of search. Although the Findwise report does suggest that search satisfaction has been getting worse since 2012 I feel that the somewhat heterogeneous respondent range in previous years may have skewed the data. I hope I am proved right in 2015.

I’m in the process of integrating the outcome of both these surveys and data from other sources to build a reasonably comprehensive view of the search landscape and this will be published in mid-October.

Martin White

Take account of dyslexia in search result page design

Taking account of accessibility issues in the design of search results pages is a significant challenge. Google notes that it has “taken some deliberate steps to further improve the accessibility and tools that are commonly used by people with disabilities such as blindness, visual impairment, color deficiency, deafness, hearing loss, and limited dexterity.”  The missing disability is dyslexia, which is a condition in which there is a wide spectrum of challenges to the user.  Search results displays often make life very difficult for people with dyslexia, a point well made to me last year when I was working on a search strategy for a UK university. Many famous people have achieved a great deal despite having the condition. In most cases they make no mention of their condition because they have been taught, or have discovered, ways of coping with understanding text. Many of those with the condition are able to recognise words by their shape. The indications are that 10% of the UK population and perhaps 15% of the US population have some degree of dyslexia. That means in an organisation with 1000 employees 100 will need support.

Some of the design considerations should be taken into account are

  • Do not underline text
  • Do not use capital letters
  • Use high contrast colour palettes but not black on white
  • Use a line space or 1.5 or ideally 2
  • Minimize the amount of information presented on a single page
  • Keep line lengths short
  • Write in good ‘standard’ English

A quick look at some websites indicates that little thought seems to have been given to dyslexic users. Warwick University underlines the titles of search results, as does Southampton University. Moreover the summarisation application on the Southampton website does not result in well-structured English sentences. The Office of Communications has pink titles on a greyish background and there are instances of all capital letter summaries and the URLs are dark grey on a light grey background. The Financial Times squeezes a dense array of filters and facets and picture thumbnails onto the search page. That’s a very small selection of sites which seem not to have taken dyslexia into account.

The challenge is this. In your organisation the chances are that 1 in 10 of the workforce have some degree of dyslexia, a much greater percentage than any other accessibility challenge with the possible exception of red-green colour blindness. The condition is invisible to anyone other than people who are having to cope with it, and they are probably the last to raise it as an issue. Although your intranet pages may not present too many challenges, based on a limited sample of websites and thinking about my clients over the last few years I suspect that most search results pages make life and work rather difficult for 10% of your workforce, and the same percentage of visitors to your corporate website.

Martin White


Intranet Focus Ltd – the first fifteen years

Intranet Focus Ltd opened for business on 22 September 1999. My interest in intranets started in 1997 and in 1998 three colleagues at TFPL Ltd joined me in writing Intranet Management – a Guide to Best Practice, based on some consulting projects and a significant amount of research. The report stimulated considerable interest but not a great deal of work. By late 1998 I was corresponding with Howard McQueen, who was creating what turned out to be the first major intranet conference, scheduled for San Francisco in February 1999. Since 1999 was also our 25th Wedding Anniversary Cynthia and I decided to spend it in San Francisco and take in the conference at the same time. By the end of the conference I was hooked on intranets. TFPL were not keen to move into a more technical consulting area from their work in knowledge management (at the time the right decision) and so I left the company and started up on my own. The first challenge was to find a company name that also had .com and web addresses available. It was Simon, one of our sons, who came up with Intranet Focus.

I’d have to say that the first couple of years were scary. I worked on some projects but none of any size. Then in 2001 I won a contract to redevelop the intranet at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, starting work the day before 9/11.  It turned out to be a challenging project in many ways but the team I built up for the project delivered on time and to budget despite the after-effects of 9/11. That was the turning point for the business as the IMF was the definitive ‘reference client’. Just as important I learned a huge amount about intranets and the management of intranet projects.

Over the last 15 years I’ve worked on projects on a dozen countries and enjoyed myself enormously. Working inside an organisation is a fascinating experience, be it a major pharmaceutical company, a Gulf State conglomerate, a convent or a global law firm. I’ve worked with some very talented and generous colleagues, including (amongst many others) Jane McConnell, James Robertson, Howard McQueen, Paul Corney, David Gilroy, Gerry McGovern, Michael Sampson and Jed Cawthorne. Janus Boye, Kurt Kragh Sorensen, Kristian Norling and the Information Today teams in the USA and in the UK have all been very supportive and given me many opportunities to run workshops and speak at conferences. I would also like to acknowledge three clients who were an especial pleasure to work with – Christiane Wolff at Boehringer Ingelheim, Kristin Dom at Atlas Copco and Stavri Nikolov at the European Commission. Helen Carley at Facet Publishing and Simon St. Laurent at O’Reilly Media guided my work on four books, each of which has been an invaluable calling card. However none of what I hope I have achieved would have been possible without the support of Cynthia and our sons Nick and Simon.

Most of the ‘best practice’ guidance in the TFPL 1998 report is still applicable. This is not because my colleagues and I were especially insightful in 1998 but because we all had a background in information and knowledge management consultancy, and in publishing. We brought best practice from those disciplines into an intranet framework that has stood the test of time. Rarely do I now come across an intranet manager who is unaware of best practice. However intranet managers (and search managers) remain lonely people with very limited resources, recognition and career opportunities. My role is not to teach them but to work with them in gaining the support of the senior managers of their organisations, very few of whom seem to understand the value of information in achieving business objectives, the role of an intranet in managing information and the need for effective search.

Shortly before I announced my departure from TFPL an experienced senior business manager I knew advised me not to move into intranet consulting as people would quickly work out how to make use of the technology. Fortunately for me, and for the only time in his distinguished career, he was wrong. One of my favourite quotes comes from US President Lyndon Johnson. He remarked that the fire of progress is lit by inspiration, fuelled by information and sustained by hope and hard work. All I can do is provide the information. The inspiration, hope and hard work is down to my clients.

Martin White

The 20 minute presentation – they are not as easy as they seem

All the presentations at the Findwise Findability Day and many at Intranet Now were just 20 minutes in length. There seems to be a trend towards shorter presentations so that more speakers can be squeezed into a day rather than have delegates take two days away from their office desk. In theory that’s a good approach but my experience at a number of recent conferences is that many presenters fail to understand the implicit rules of the game and end up either saying nothing of value or so much that the value becomes invisible. In writing this blog post I checked out how many presentations I have given over the last six years (the rest are archived off line) and was surprised to find that it was over 300, though quite a number of these have been internal presentations to clients. Over the course of a career behind the podium I have developed an internal clock that enables me to time a 40 minute presentation without looking at my watch, and that is mainly because I’ve worked out how much information I can deliver in a single PowerPoint slide.

In the preface to the 1852 edition of Christmas Stories Charles Dickens observed that he found it much more difficult to write a short story than a novel, and that he had to go about writing a short story in a very different way. I know how he feels. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has a very large collection of presentations from which slides can be extricated and reassembled. In the case of my Findability Day presentation I started from scratch and every slide was created from a blank format. With a 40 minute presentation I can usually end with perhaps two or three ‘messages’ and I have the option to speed through or slow down at points where I feel the audience needs less or more information. A 20 minute presentation has to be very carefully timed and needs to work towards a single theme. Listening to 20 minute pitches over a number of events this year it is clear to me, and I suspect the audience, that the presentation has been redacted from a much longer one with the result that there is no coherent structure. There is a very helpful post on how to develop a 20 minute presentation by Carmine Gallo on the Forbes website.

However the responsibility is not just on the side of the presenter. The conference organiser knows (or should know!) what the audience is expecting. It is essential that the organiser actively works with each presenter to review their content in line with the overall objectives of the event. That takes time but the audience deserves this level of attention. Of course that also means that the presenter cannot leave it to the last minute to compile their slide deck. To my mind two of the presenters at the Findability event had failed to take a user-centric view and you could sense the immediate increase in heads-down on handsets, not to Tweet but to catch up with emails. The problem nowadays is that as a presenter you do not know what use is being made of mobile devices until later on the day when you see no tweets with your name and the event hash-tag.

One final thought. There will be fewer questions after a good 20 minute presentation because a) it will be mono-thematic and b) there is a sense that a question will throw the entire agenda into confusion. So I would suggest to organisers that there are gaps for a general Q&A with perhaps a group of speakers so that themes that have emerged can be discussed in more detail in an open session. I’d also suggest having a speaker’s corner where after each session a group of speakers could meet up with delegates who might want to have a one-on-one discussion rather than ask a question in an open session.

Martin White

Findwise Findability Day 2014 – conference report

This year Findwise moved the venue of its Findabilty Day to Copenhagen, and attracted an audience of over 200 along with a thousand or so who logged in to the live streaming. The day started at 10.00 with a summary of the 2014 Findability Survey. I’ll comment on the survey shortly when it is live on the Findwise website, but the core message is that adopting information management good practice will have a significant benefit on search performance and satisfaction.  That was very much the theme of my opening keynote in which I used the website search of the UK Office of Communications as an example of what happens when you ignore the precepts of information management.

Following me were a further eleven speakers, each with a 20 minute slot, and I cannot do justice to all the presentations. They ranged from improving an e-commerce site with better search, how graph databases work, using text analytics to improve a legal information service, the use of search-based applications in the Swedish Court system and the implementation of a search portal approach at Scania, the truck manufacturer. From my perspective there were a few that that really stood out. Nicklas Ericksson talked about the use of a search-based portal to implement what will become a digital workplace in Scania as the company seeks to double the annual number of trucks built whilst not expanding the workforce. That’s a strong business case for a digital workplace. David Montag (Neo4J) described the technology and applications of graph search very elegantly indeed.  I had seen Tony Russell-Rose’s presentation before on search use cases (you have all read the book that Tony wrote with Tyler Tate of course!) but I heard many positive feedbacks on his approach.  I also enjoyed the presentation on the way that search had boosted the revenue of Sprell, a small Norwegian e-commerce toy website by its founder Alexander Arnesen, which illustrated brilliantly that search is not just for big companies. The final paper was on IBM Watson, which intrigued me technically and concerned me ethically. The demo failed to work for technical reasons!  Sadly there were just a few papers which were really disappointing. I won’t embarrass the presenters and their organisations as I’m sure they will find out the errors of their ways in the evaluation form feedback.

I know I was attending as a guest of Findwise but I found it quite an exhilarating day because of the positivity of the presentations regarding the business impact of search. Both the Findwise survey and the AIIM survey (which I have seen but will not be released until 16 September) suggest that organisations are beginning to get the message and are taking a more strategic and business-focused view of search even though at present the quality of the search experience from a user viewpoint remains very poor. Findwise put a lot of effort (and investment) into the organisation and although most of the presenters were Findwise clients the company made sure that the Findwise presence was light-touch. My only disappointment was that the programme was so good I did not have an opportunity to enjoy Copenhagen bathed in Autumn sunshine. I still feel embarrassed by the actions of Admiral Nelson in destroying much of the city in 1807!

Martin White

Enterprise Search Strategy A-Z Topic List

In 2012 I started publishing a series of Research Notes which were typically 10-15 pages long and covered a range of topics from search team membership to the management of virtual teams. The download levels were very good. Then in 2013 I launched the Search Circle, a subscription information service to search managers. Each month I released a Search Note similar in concept to the Research Notes. However there was no time in the month to continue the Research Note series. The Search Circle was not as successful as I had hoped and I closed it down in June this year. One of the benefits was that I had written over 60,000 words of text on a broad range of search topics and most of that text will end up in the 2nd Edition of Enterprise Search, which will be published in April 2015.

I have now restarted the Research Note series, and it will cover both search and intranet/information management topics. This month I have published a Search Strategy A-Z Topic List. I have struggled for some time to develop a structure for a search strategy.  Having written a number of them over the last couple of years it dawned on me that the structure was very dependent on the way that the organisation wanted the strategy to be presented but that the topics that needed to be covered were virtually the same in each case. Many surveys have indicated that only a minority of organisations have a corporate search strategy and my experience is that search managers, especially those in IT, seem to have a difficulty in deciding what to cover in the strategy.

The Search Strategy A-Z Topic List sets out 40 potential topics in 12 pages.  For each there is a brief annotation on why the topic is important and what should be included in the strategy. The list starts at Analytics and ends with Website Search. Included in the Topic List are two topics that I feel should not appear in the strategy but you will have to read the listing to find out what they are. At the end there is a table of all the topics with columns that can be used to note which topics need to be included,  who is responsible for a specific topic (strategy development is a collaborative task) and when the section has been completed. The Topic List can be downloaded as a pdf from the Resources section of this website. Comments on topics that I have missed would be appreciated as this Topic List will be the final chapter of Enterprise Search in due course.

Martin White

Information Governance Initiative Annual Report 2014

The Information Governance Initiative recently released its 2014 report on the state of information governance. The report, subtitled “information Governance Goes to Work” is based on quite a broad research base, and includes data from Canada and the UK as well as the USA. To start with a definition, in the view of the IGI “Information governance is the activities and technologies that organizations employ to maximize the value of their information while minimizing associated risks and costs.” A chart on p13 of the report shows that in total respondents identified 19 different activities under this heading. There are three sections to this 39 page elegantly presented report covering The Concept, The Market and The Work.

A feature of this report is the two-page quick read section at the beginning (other analyst firms take note!) with fifteen highlights from the report. In a brief blog it is not possible to do justice to them all, so I’m just going to focus on those that resonated with my own views.

  • Organizations with complex information environments should appoint a Chief Information Governance Officer (CIGO) to balance stakeholder interests from each facet of IG information governance)and develops an operational model for the organization. Currently only 28% of respondents had such a post, a figure much higher than I had anticipated.
  • IG is a coordinating function for a long list of information activities. By a wide margin (79 percent) respondents see IG as the highest-level description for all information management activities at their organizations.
  • IG should incorporate all the tools needed to better manage information. This includes organizational controls commonly expressed in the form of policies and procedures. It also includes the processes that are driven by these controls and the people who develop, enforce, and follow those processes
  • Practitioners are taking on a wide variety of IG projects, right now. On average, SMBs have four IG projects under way, and large organizations have six. A majority of organizations are actively working on updating policies and procedures, migrating unstructured information, and consolidating and cleaning up data. Other popular projects include implementing a new corporate governance framework for IG.

The amount of research data in the report is almost daunting to read through but it will provide invaluable support to anyone wishing to make a case for an acknowledgement by their organisation that information governance (I still prefer information management for reasons I’ll blog about another day) is a core activity that demands senior management attention and support. The report concludes with the view that IG will be pervasive by 2020. In my view if it is not then organisational productivity and innovation is going to take a big hit.

At present the IGI is largely US in membership and in governance and it feels slightly biased towards a general counsel/corporate compliance/records management view of the world. I’m sure this will gradually change as my own experience suggests that in the UK is a rapidly growing interest in information management even if the base of active projects is still low. I’d certainly suggest you take a look at the IGI website and track the availability of future reports. There is also a good analysis of the report by Nick Patience on the Recommind site, from which the report can also be downloaded.

Martin White


Howard McQueen – an intranet pioneer

Very few of you will have met Howard McQueen as he retired from his consulting business several years ago. He was very much in my thoughts when I received my award at the Intranet Now conference this week as he was my mentor and guide throughout the period from 1999 to 2009 when we worked together on a range of projects.  I first met Howard in 1997 when we were both active in the use of CD-ROM tower systems. He was already talking about intranets with great enthusiasm, and in 1999 set up the Intranets 1999 Conference and Expo for Online Inc. It was held in San Francisco in April and I was there!  I set up Intranet Focus Ltd later that year and returned to San Francisco for the 2000 conference. Howard made sure that I met everyone of importance in the nascent intranet community, though looking through the 2000 programme only Lou Rosenfeld is still associated with the web community. At that time Howard was the founder and editor of Intranet Professional which was initially published by Online Inc before being acquired (along with the conferences) by Information Today.

In 2001 I won a contract to develop an intranet strategy for the International Monetary Fund and Howard was instrumental in winning the project. It was an immensely challenging project, not only because of the reputation of the IMF but because we started it one day before 9/11. Howard’s calmness in the face of chaos was invaluable. Most of the frameworks I use in intranet projects were developed in the IMF project, usually over breakfast and supper. At both meals Howard would consume substantial quantities of iced tea. It was at the IMF that Howard developed the concept of a persona advocate in adapting personas to an enterprise environment. We used this approach in a subsequent project for the Food and Drug Administration with considerable success, as well as our interview spider approach. A few years later we worked on a CMS project selection for in Philadelphia which turned out to be a personally enriching project.

Of the projects we worked on together the most complex was an intranet (and in the event information management) strategy for Boehringer Ingelheim in 2007/2008. For this project I was able to assemble a ‘dream team’ which included Janus Boye, Jane McConnell and James Robertson. Howard worked on an extensive survey of the North American operations and perfected his persona advocate approach in doing so. Overall we ended up with 176 interviews in 13 countries, including China and Japan.

Following the BI project Howard decided to wind down to his consulting work, moving initially into landscape gardening and then retirement. His enthusiasm for intranets and intranet professionals was infectious and the energy he created in the early intranet conferences were a major contributor to the development of intranets and the ethos of being able to share intranets in an open forum. Throughout the years we worked together it was rare for a week to pass by without an exchange of emails and then a long telephone conversation about some interesting way of developing and promoting intranets. Even now, when I am stumped for a way through an intranet strategy project, I ask myself what Howard would have done in the same situation. So far he has never let me down.

Martin White