Are there no intranets in the UK?

This year I have been to the Intrateam event in Denmark and Intra.Net Reloaded in Berlin. Coming up I will be at the Intranatverk event in Göteberg in late May. This is not the only intranet conference in Sweden, and there is also a good event in Norway in June. France has a very good intranet conference in March and there are smaller intranet events in most EU countries. Often there are speakers from the UK at these events. Four of the Intra.Net Reloaded papers were from UK-based organisations, all of them very good ones and of general interest to any group of intranet managers.

So why are there no intranet events in the UK?

For sure there is the Interaction Intranet event in October but this event is primarily a meeting of customers of Interact Intranet.  This somewhat restricts user presentations talking about other CMS products even though the event is very well organised. Apart from this event I am not aware of any other ‘intranet only’ event. Given that there must be thousands of intranets in the UK and hundreds of people with intranet responsibilities I would have expected there to be at least one conference a year, if not more given the scale of some UK cities such as Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and others. The population of Greater Manchester is almost one third of the total population of Sweden, which usually has three intranet events each year.

If any conference company reads this blog and sees the scale of the opportunity then let’s talk, and find a way of getting UK intranet managers to talk about their successes and challenges for the benefit of the European intranet community. After all it’s probably cheaper to fly to the UK from the rest of Europe than buy a train ticket to any major UK city!

Martin White


Intra.Net Reloaded, Berlin, 10-11 April 2014

The 2014 Intra.Net Reloaded conference took place at the Kosmos cinema complex in Berlin and attracted around 240 delegates, mainly from Germany and other central EU states. This was the first time I had attended the conference, having been invited to run a forum session on SharePoint 2013 for intranets. Twenty papers were squeezed into the two-day event though this did mean starting at 8am each day. As well as the presentations there were workshops, café sessions and some training sessions. Most of the presentations were excellent. Well presented, very aware of the interests of the audience and keeping strictly to time.

Among the papers that caught my attention were Miguel Lozano (CEMEX) via a 2am local time video link from Mexico, Jean-Paul Chapon (Société Generale), Marc Jadoul (Alcatel-Lucent), Felix Huck (Roland Berger), Paul Jervis-Heath (Cambridge University) and David Orchard (Syngenta). Even though most of the presentations were about intranets in large organisations the lessons learned were generally applicable to organisations of any size. A common theme to most of the presentations was the need for a patient approach to intranet redevelopment, clear alignment with business requirements and culture and strong support from senior managers.

The organisers had gone to some lengths to produce a varied programme, but the café and ‘Challenge your Peers’ sessions each had probably 20 delegates around the table. This was a challenge for the facilitators to manage and meant that participants were only able to make a contribution of only a minute or two. The principle of having ’small’ discussion groups is excellent but  they do not scale to this number of delegates. Cross-talk noise from adjacent groups was also a problem, especially as the facilitators had to speak fairly loudly to reach the outermost edges of their groups. Running the workshops double-handed would have helped, with one person making notes and the facilitator maintaining momentum.

Overall I felt that it was an excellent conference and I came away benefiting not only from the formal sessions but also from networking opportunities over food of exceptional quality. I’d certainly consider going to the 2015 event but would look carefully at the programme to see if the organisers had learned from the 2014 event and recognised the need to manage the size of discussion groups.

Martin White

Enterprise Search Europe 2014 – making the right decisions

I have just been watching a recording of a recent BBC Horizon programme on how we make decisions and the impact of cognitive biases.  It turns out that there are over 150 of these cognitive biases which subliminally influence the decisions we make. Sadly the programme made very heavy weather of presenting what is just one approach to understanding how we make decisions. Of course consultants are trained to ignore these – if only! In a way the theme of Enterprise Search Europe this year is about making more informed decisions. The keynote speaker is Dale Roberts, who has some very interesting insights into decision-making in business and the role of information in supporting these decisions. Thinking back to the Horizon programme perhaps information is the key to overcoming these biases.

Over the last few weeks some additional speakers have been added to the programme. I’m delighted to report that Dr Haiming Liu, from the Department of Computer Science and Technology, University of Bedford will be talking about the challenges of multimedia search, a subject that is becoming increasingly important as collections of images and videos are starting to increase substantially. We have also added a short session on people search. Chris Tubb is the author of a report on intranet employee directories for the Digital Workplace Group and Chris Brown (Basis Technologies) will be talking about the importance of entity extraction technologies in identifying the names of people in large file collections. There is also a new case study given jointly by the UBS bank and Attivio.

The workshops are beginning to fill up, with a day of SharePoint 2013 search insights from Raytion and Jeff Fried (BA-Insight) being especially popular. There is still room for more workshop delegates but I’d recommend booking in the near future. Finally I’d like to highlight the Enterprise Search Meetup which will take place following the cocktail session on the Wednesday evening as a joint event for the London and Cambridge Meetup Groups. The link will be added to the ESE website shortly.

So if you are making any decisions about your current or anticipated search environment there is no better place to get the best possible insights and advice than Enterprise Search Europe. I look forward to seeing you there.

Martin White

Enterprise Search Europe 2014 – so much to talk about and learn

Enterprise Search Europe 2014 is now less than two months away, and there is a lot to talk about. Last week I attended the IntraTeam event in Copenhagen where Jane McConnell gave a keynote about the findings in her new Digital Workplace in the Connected Organisation report fir 2014. The findings on the use of search remain very concerning given that they are based on 314 responses from a wide range of organisations and therefore are probably representative of the overall situation.

The headlines after over 20 years since the release of Verity (arguably the prototypical enterprise search application) include

  • Only 25% of respondents have implemented enterprise search
  • Just 11% of respondents are ‘Very Satisfied’ with search
  • Information quality, poor user interface design and insufficient resources are all significant reasons for search dissatisfaction
  • In only 20% of cases are business departments involved in search management and only 58% take the trouble to review search logs

Many of the delegates I spoke to said that their organisations still had not invested in an adequate level of search support and few understood the challenges posed by SharePoint 2013 search when used as a global enterprise search application. The papers from Peter Wallqvist and Agnes Molnar about SharePoint 2013 search were both excellent and quite a number of delegates were making detailed notes!  Agnes will be speaking at Enterprise Search Europe.

Enterprise Search Europe offers almost 20 case studies on search implementation and plenty of time for conversations with the presenters in the breaks and at the evening Meetup on the first day of the conference. Add in workshops on open source search implementation, search user interface design and SharePoint 2013 implementation, excellent keynote speakers and two strong panel sessions and I hope that you will see ESE2014 as the best possible event to find new ways of increasing search satisfaction without yet another change of technology. The deadline for early booking is 21 March, which is 15 working days from now.

Martin White


One Third of Fortune 100 Organizations Will Face an Information Crisis by 2017


Gartner predicts that, by 2017, 33 percent of Fortune 100 organizations will experience an information crisis, due to their inability to effectively value, govern and trust their enterprise information. In a press release Andrew White, research vice president at Gartner states “There is an overall lack of maturity when it comes to governing information as an enterprise asset. It is likely that a number of organizations, unable to organize themselves effectively for 2020, unwilling to focus on capabilities rather than tools, and not ready to revise their information strategy, will suffer the consequences” and goes on to say “Information is becoming the competitive asset to drive business advantage, and it is the critical connection that links the value chain of organizations.”

In the recently-released Digital Workplace 2014 in the Connected Organisation report from Jane McConnell one of the many charts that showed a significant difference between Early Adopters and the Majority is the degree of maturity (assessed on the Meta Group model) in the management of information. Taking the top two levels (Organised and Managed) the survey shows (p105) that 48% of Early Adopters were at this level but only 6% of the Majority. That single chart indicates the importance of a pro-active approach to information management in achieving an effective digital workplace.

Organisations still seem to think that if they have a Big Data strategy then success in the digital economy is assured. Commenting on this approach Andrew White notes “When we say ‘manage,’ we mean ‘manage information for business advantage,’ as opposed to just maintaining data and its physical or virtual storage needs.”

Over many years in this business (including five years competing with Gartner!) time after time I have heard CIOs take the position that if Gartner recommends a strategic direction then that’s the direction they will adopt. So why (in the case of information management) have the recommendations consistently made by Gartner (and others) over the years been equally consistently ignored? 

Martin White 

The Digital Workplace in the Connected Organisation 2014

There are a small number of people in any area of endeavour who become recognised as builders of fundamental frameworks that stand the test of time and become the accepted way of managing complex problems. Notable examples include John Zachman for enterprise information architecture,  Edgar Codd for relational databases and Murray Gell-Mann for elementary particles. Jane McConnell, of NetStrategy/JMC,  deserves to be added to that list for her work on digital workplaces. Jane has just released the latest edition in her eight year series of reports that started out with surveying intranet progress and now provide an unmatched level of analysis into the development of digital workplaces. The change in the title this year to Digital Workplaces in the Connected Organisation is one to take note of. The connections do not just refer to internal networks but making customer and supplier facing connections, something that is often overlooked in discussions about digital workplaces.

Jane suggests 5 minute and 30 minute routes through the analysis of over 300 responses from organisations around the world, but in reality you need to take a team of your senior managers away for at least a two-day retreat to work through the report and its implications for your organisation. This report is not just a survey analysis but a synthesis of the outcomes within what is now a well-grounded framework, Hence my references to Zachman , Codd and Gell-Mann. The three elements of a digital workplace emerge as capabilities (individual, business, enterprise),  enablers (process, structure, reach) and mindset (asset, leadership and culture) and each are explored in detail in the report.

One of the many innovations this year is a self-assessment scorecard, which Jane emphasises is not a benchmarking tool. The idea for this came from the very experienced Advisory Board, the members of which made significant contributions to the content and structure of the report, and as a result the value to organisations of all sizes and in all sectors. Digital workplaces are not restricted to large organisations. I also liked the Digital Workplace Maturity Scale on p173. It may be ‘work in progress’ but it already has considerable value. The 23 case studies are also more extended this year.

This report is impossible to review in the length of space I have on this blog. I can only guess at the amount of effort that went into the text, tables, charts and design. The report runs to almost 200 pages and has an excellent contents page that enables you to dive quickly into any of the ten sections of the report. The single user price is €390 and there are other purchase options. No matter where you are on your digital workplace journey, and even if you have not yet started, this report will provide an agenda for discussion and action over the coming year that could transform your organisation and with it your career.

Martin White





Essential SharePoint 2013 – book review

I’m in the fortunate position of books arriving on a fairly regular basis for me to review. A few months ago Essential SharePoint 2013 arrived from Addison Wesley and has stayed on my desk ever since as a definitive handbook on SharePoint 2013. Thinking ahead to meeting Susan Hanley, one of the authors, at IntraTeam in Copenhagen next week it suddenly dawned on me that I had not actually got around to posting a review.

The book is the third in a series. Essential SharePoint 2010 ran to 580 pages but the 2013 version has grown to 750 pages. Scott Jamison and Susan Hanley have worked together on all three books and for the 2013 edition have been joined by Chris Bortlink. The 20 chapters are organised in two sections, with the first 10 chapters (almost 400 pages) in the Planning section and the remainder in Operations. This balance is important because I remain very concerned by organisations who install SP2013 without any forward planning and then make up the governance as they go along. That’s when the problems start. In my view SP2013 is more like a new version of SharePoint, not just an upgrade. Some of the changes are so fundamental that you need to drill deep to get the very best out of the application. I like the way that each chapter starts with an overview of what is new in SP2013 that needs special attention. Comparing this edition with the 2010 edition I felt that there was a little less independent guidance in terms of what SP2013 “can do”,  ”can’t do” and “can do but it will take time and effort”. My main area of interest is in the search capabilities of SP2013 and some of the topics (e.g. the difference in the crawl management) are not given in the level of detail that other features of SP2013 receive.

The writing style is excellent. You feel that the authors know their subject so well that they don’t have to struggle to explain the inevitable complexity of the application. However the book is not just a list of functional capabilities but more like having one of the authors sitting alongside you as you being the planning and governance phases of a SP2013 project and subsequently providing a wealth of good practice on operational issues. Each chapter is carefully structured into sections that result in a very usable contents page and the index has been compiled with care. The screen shots are sometimes difficult to understand. They would benefit from the features on the screens being numbered and then referenced in the text, though occasionally there are text boxes and arrows to key elements of the screen shot.

This is a book that no SharePoint team can afford to be without, especially at the planning stage of the installation. Right from the start you get the secure feeling that the authors really do know what they are writing about, and for a technical book there is a sense of passion about their writing style which makes a refreshing change. This is not a techie book. There are no lines of code, just good explanations of what SP2013 offers and how to make the best of the application. Don’t make do with one copy, buy enough for everyone on the SharePoint team. It’s a small price to pay given how much your organisation has already invested in the licences!

Martin White

Designing workspaces for teams – a case study from Novartis

In the course of my career I have worked in many different physical spaces, ranging from a large office with two desks to a totally open plan environment. Each has benefits and challenges and many organisations are now paying a substantial amount of attention to optimising workspaces. Workspace design in the case of scientific research presents some special challenges because of the importance of weak ties between scientists working in marginally related areas. If you read the story of the discovery of the structure of DNA by Crick and Watson you will find that a crucial step in the process was a casual conversation with an organic chemist who pointed out an elementary mistake that the two scientists had made in the structure of the nucleobases which was halting their progress towards the identification of the double helix structure of DNA. Another challenge is that of needing both desks and laboratory benches.

The world of pharmaceutical research is a highly secretive one, and therefore I was suprised and delighted to come across a study of workspace development within Novartis. The research was carried out by a team from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) who spent over 700 hours observing team and individual interactions as research teams were moved from a cellular to an open workspace. What emerges from the research, published in Drug Discovery Today in April 2013, is that there is no ‘best’ layout, and indeed the layout may well be different for teams working at different stages of the drug discovery and commercialisation process.

The authors of the paper also make the point that in drug discovery the initial stages in particular tend to be poorly defined. They make a comparison with production teams (where it is known what needs to be done) and engineering tasks, where it is known what is needed. One size does not fit all, and yet many presentations on collaboration, team working and virtual teams all tend to make generic “organisational culture” assumptions about the working processes that need to be supported. The paper is not open access, and it will cost $27.95 to download it. If your company is involved in any aspect of research then I think this six page paper and its associated 36 item bibliography will provide you with some important insights into the issues around designing effective workspaces. For more on virtual teams come to my workshop at the IntraTeam Event in Copenhagen on 25 February

Martin White



NNGroup Intranet Design Annual 2014

The start of the Intranet New Year is marked by the arrival of the Nielsen Norman Group Intranet Design Annual 2014. This year the case studies come from Australia, Austria, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Qatar and the United States. They are included in our intranet case study database. Just sort on date. The amount of time and effort that the NNGroup team expend on selecting, reviewing, writing and publishing these case studies must be immense. In my view I don’t really mind at all if they are not the ten best intranets in the world. NNGroup can only review the intranets that are submitted, and there is quite a heavy load on intranet managers to provide the information and deal with the follow-ups, as I know from working on the Intranet Innovation Awards.

Each of the profiles extends to around 30 pages of why and how the intranet was developed, with quite a bit of focus on governance and the skills of the intranet team. Clearly mobile was on the agenda this year, along with agile development and social media integration. If you will excuse my bias the degree of commentary on search provision is weak and needs attention in the future. I think I learned useful tips and tricks from every profile, and many will make their way into intranets I work on this year. There are 144 screen shots and I’d pay the single user price of $248 just for these!

The team of Kara Pernice, Amy Schrade, Patty Caya and Jakob Nielsen provides a synthesis of the themes which emerge from the case studies, recommendations for intranet design and comments on the intranets that did not make it. These three sections all have value but some of the statistical information about trends over the years is not grounded on a firm foundation of consistent information. Presenting the average team size as a percentage of employees to four significant figures (0.138% for reference) is not helpful.

My disappointment continues to be the published format. There is no index and no section bookmarks so you have to scroll down the screen. There are not even hyperlinks from the contents page to each of the profiles, and the summary of trends would be so much more valuable if each comment was linked to a relevant page. All you get is a pdf version of a printed report over 300 pages long, full of valuable information but with no index. Usability score is 1 out of 10. I’ve been commenting on the format for at least five years now. I’d rather have it published a month later and usable for the purpose for which it has been developed, and that is to inspire other intranet managers to do as well, and ideally better, with their own work. Another week of work by a first rate copy editor and indexer would transform its value, and probably sales revenue!

Martin White

Managing Virtual Teams

It has been a while since I last blogged. The main reason is that I have been working on the development of a cheminformatics strategy for a client and that has been a fascinating but time-consuming project. It has enabled me to combine my background as a chemist with my experience as an information scientist. In the course of it I went back to my university at Southampton for the first time in over 40 years! One of the features of the way that science is conducted is that the research teams can be spread around the world in both academic and industrial laboratories. In the case of science at least there is a widespread use of English and science itself uses terms that are universally understood around the world.

In other cases virtual team management can be a significant challenge. Even if the meetings go well there is the problem of ensuring that the team delivers between meetings, especially if team members report into managers who may well have different priorities than those of the team manager perhaps thousands of miles away in a different section of the organisation. Most of my projects involve virtual meetings, even if they are based in the UK. I have just published a revised version of my Research Note on Managing Virtual Teams.  Over the last couple of years I have developed a one day training course on virtual team management which is set out in Appendix B of the Research Note. In this new version some additional topics have been covered and the list of books and other resources has been expanded.

I will be giving a 90 minute version of this course at the IntraTeam Event in Copenhagen on 25 February which will focus on the practical aspects of making virtual teams successful, including stories of good and horrendous team meetings that will help you in enhancing your own approach to virtual team management. The course will run at 10.45 and 13.15.

Martin White