IntraTeam Event 2015 – intranet maturity at last?

It was a case of standing room only at the opening of the IntraTeam Event 2015 on 25 February, with a distinct buzz in the room about the conference that was about to start. The workshops on the previous day were a major contributor to this buzz as it was clear that both the mix and quality were excellent. I attended Ed Dale’s search workshop and made a great many notes trying to capture Ed’s experience of search management at EY and the contributions from the participants. Luckily there is still time for me to add and revise the final text of the 2nd edition of Enterprise Search!

The opening paper was given by James Robinson, resplendent in the new StepTwo corporate identity. His subject was the value of design thinking in intranet development, very well illustrated with examples drawn from the 2014 Intranet Innovation Awards. James has already uploaded his presentation to the StepTwo website. The conference then split into three tracks, and as always I wanted to be in at least two tracks at the same time. At one point during the conference I was sitting listening to an excellent presentation but on looking at the tweets from the adjacent room wished I was there in person. Both Sam Marshall and Sam Driessen blogged many of the papers and  you will find many more tweets and blog posts via the #IEC15 tag so I’m not even going to try to emulate them but take an overall look at IEC15.

The balance of the topics covered was first rate. New to IEC this year was knowledge management, with some thoughtful papers on from David Gurteen and Dave Snowden. To get a sense of Dave Snowden’s approach to KM do watch his short video on options for managing children’s birthday parties. The picture that emerged from the presentations and the discussions was a confidence in the value of intranets to an organisation, a pride in the business impact of what had already been delivered and a clear vision of what still needed to be accomplished. In general I sensed that organisations were being a little more forthcoming with resources for intranet development but still in the dark ages with regard to search. There were very good papers on search this year from Ed Dale, Helen Lippell, Charlie Hull and Andreas Hallgren. As always the conference organisation was excellent. I especially liked the small high tables in the coffee/exhibitors room around which participants could gather to exchange ideas but also easily move on to another group. These tables were also used for a themed breakout session, though I felt very lonely at the search table! SharePoint concerns were often close to the surface, with far too much IT push and very limited understanding of the challenges of migration.

This year, for the first time, the presentations were videoed and will be up on the IntraTeam site in due course. However you only really get the benefit of the event from being there so book out 1-3 March 2016 for IEC16. I, like I suspect all the delegates, emerged into the blue skies of Copenhagen with a renewed sense of commitment to increase the impact of intranets on business operations with an awareness of some of the wider issues of social media adoption, collaboration, digital workplaces and knowledge management.

Martin White



Team management – a choral perspective

It’s a Friday evening and I’ve just come back from my regular workout. Some people run, some play golf and others swim. I conduct a choir, and today was just the most recent of perhaps several thousand choral workouts I’ve undertaken. The parameters are easy to define. I have an hour to ensure that the hymns and anthem for the Sunday service are as good as we can sing them. Although St. Andrew’s, Nuthurst is a small village church in Sussex it has a superb 15 voice choir so the anthems are often quite challenging. As I go through the practice I have to ensure that we cover all the music in a balanced way, so that voices, ears and brains can be rested from time to time and then used at maximum performance. I have to be prepared for the unexpected; perhaps a few bars of an anthem need particular attention even though a few months previously the anthem caused no problems at all. I’m also playing the organ at the same time, not only judging the balance of the organ against the voices but also anticipating how the balance will change on Sunday when the church is full and the acoustic changes significantly.

Over the years I’ve learned many lessons the hard way. The first is to know the music by heart and to have worked out a rough schedule for the practice. I have to know not only the organ music but the individual lines of each of the four voices, and be aware of difficult entries and note sequences (even in hymns) that might need individual practice. The second lesson is to listen all the time. As we sing through an anthem I have to remember all the places where there might be a need for attention so that I can go back to them at the end. I can’t stop every time to make corrections. But in addition I have to sense when a missed entry is perhaps accidental and does not need attention. The third lesson is never to criticise but to work with either the individual or a section or the entire choir on difficult passages. “We were fine up to bar 14 – can we get the same feeling into bars 15-18?”.  Notice the ‘we’. I may be the leader but I too can make mistakes and it’s easier for someone in the choir to highlight the need for me to change the way I play bars 15-18 if the ethos is ‘we’ at all times.

Sunday brings different challenges. We are not there to give a performance. Ideally the choir should be heard and not seen. They stand in the chancel but must never intrude on the eye looking at the altar. We are there as a team to lead another team, the congregation. The way we say the words is just as important as the way we sing. We even practice standing up together, not because we are an army on parade but because we are a team and standing together (not easy I can tell you) is a visible sign of teamwork.

Enough of the metaphors. The point I would like to make is that we all need to practice team work. Every member of the team needs to come prepared, be prepared to learn and to share their experience in working towards a common objective. I’m sure we have all sat in team meetings where the lack of preparation is all too obvious. Many observers of knowledge management have used the role of the orchestral conductor as a metaphor for leadership. This leadership starts with the rehearsal. This is where great orchestras and choirs are created. No one does it better than Sir Simon Rattle. Watch him in rehearsal and see what he accomplishes with an orchestra of school children in just 20 minutes. Note in particular his use of language, and I’m not just referring to him using German. In my opinion in  this video he exhibits every aspect of what it takes to create a team. Listen to the performance at the end. What a transformation!

Martin White

Lloyds Bank intranet – a cautionary story for HR Directors

It is so rare that an intranet gets a mention in the press that a story about the Lloyds Bank intranet in the Business section of the Sunday Times on 15 February immediately caught my attention. It seems that Rupert McNeil, Human Resources Director, invited employees to leave comments on an intranet article that praised the bank. According to the Sunday Times the article praised “a fantastic team” and an “agile workforce” that made staff “more representative of our customers”.  Employee complaints in response (according to Sharecast and the Sunday Times) covered the closure of the final salary pension scheme, morale at a 25-year low, inadequate pay, bureaucratic processes, a lack of support from the top managers and a skewed promotion process! The post in question was published in January. Rupert McNeil joined Lloyds Bank in 2012. According to the Sunday Times he has now left Lloyds Bank but apparently his departure had nothing to do with the intranet article.

Much is made of the benefits of intranets, “social”l or otherwise, in shaping employee culture. My experience is that an intranet is also a very good magnifying glass, highlighting issues with the employee culture. For example where are these issues there are often few, if any, blogs and discussion groups and very little employee-authored content on corporate news channels. Now that Pandora’s Box has been opened at the bank it is going to take some time for the incoming HR Director to sort out the mess. Indeed it may take a while to find a new HR Director under these circumstances. Moreover other potential recruits to the bank are going to think twice about coming on board and you can be certain that recruitment agencies will be picking up on the story today.

You would have thought by now that every HR and Internal Communications manager, not matter what the size of the business, would be aware of the power of social media to empower people who otherwise did not have a channel of communication. I have seen so many intranets where ‘communications’ is a one-way publishing channel with no immediate option for employees to respond to personnel initiatives. I am very grateful to Lloyds Bank for providing a very useful case study.

Martin White

The Digital Renaissance of Work

If you are interested in digital workplaces you might go to Amazon to see what books have been published. Out of 40 titles listed most have nothing to do with digital workplaces as this community sees them. There are two exceptions and both have been written by Paul Miller, the CEO of the Digital Workplace Group (DWG).  I’ve just finished reading The Digital Renaissance of Work, co-authored by Paul and Elizabeth Marsh, Director of Research at DWP. It is really two books joined together as Paul has written the nine chapters in Part I with a strong focus on the philosophy and strategy of digital workplaces. His enthusiasm for the benefits of digital workplace implementation come across very strongly, and the section is full of interesting references to case studies, with over 150 references to blog posts, press releases and reports.

In Part 2 the baton is passed to Elizabeth, who explores in some detail how an organisation can transform itself into a digital workplace. The five substantial chapters cover the digital workplace journey, making the business case, designing for a flexible workforce, setting up the digital workplace programme and finally measuring progress and performance. The chapters are based on the DWG Digital Workplace maturity model and again each chapter has a long list of references and a nice Key Takeaways section that acts as a summary and checklist. There are also some in-elegantly formatted (by Gower Publishing!) call-outs of quotes and comments from DWG staff members. The writing styles of Part 1 and Part 2 are inevitably quite different and that does give a sense of two books joined together rather than co-authored.

There is a great deal to commend about this 216 page book. It is well structured and well written. Paul Miller’s enthusiasm is infectious. The case studies are of interest (though mostly from large organisations) and Part 2 provides frameworks and advice based on the work that DWG has undertaken for its clients. I would like to have seen more on the impact of organisational culture on digital workplace adoption.  The issues of working digitally with suppliers and customers to create integrated digital supply chains are hardly discussed at all.

However this is very much a “DWG book” and there is no reference at all (not even in the list of references at the end of each chapter!) to work from other consultants, notably Jane McConnell. Over 600 organisations have contributed to her Digital Workplace Trends report. It was Bernard of Chartres in the 12th century (and not Isaac Newton) who first remarked about the need to stand on the shoulders of others. We are at a point in digital workplace development where seeing, understanding and critiquing a range of digital workplace frameworks is an essential step in finding robust scalable and extensible approaches to substantial technical, governance and adoption challenges.

Martin White

Intranet Challenges – a new book on intranet management

A new book on intranet management is most welcome, especially from a major publisher like Springer. One of the authors, Stephan Schillerwein is well known in the intranet community from his work at Infocentric (especially on digital workplaces). Daniel Lutolf and Stefanie Meier have internal communications expertise.

There are seven chapters, starting off with a brief introduction to intranets and then a chapter reviewing the history of intranet development, the current situation and an attempt at defining some of the many intranet buzzwords, such as Enterprise 2.0 and Digital Workplace. This chapter suddenly moves in to a discussion about intranet development in Switzerland compared with the rest of the world, a sign of the business interests of the authors. Chapter 3 outlines the phases of a typical intranet launch/rebuild project, with more detail given about each phase in a useful Appendix.

The challenges of change management, organisational culture and adoption are the subject of Chapter 4. Chapter 5, almost a third of the entire 150 page paperback book, looks in detail at a range of intranet functional and content issues, including the value of taxonomies and metadata, personalisation, analytics, news, collaboration and social media. Each individual section is set out in a challenge/solution format with some very brief case studies. Although there are a number of screen shots the quality of their reproduction is not good enough for purpose. The ABB-Intranet Toolfinder screenshot on p64 is just one of many that are virtually un-readable. I would have expected better from Springer.

Good practice in intranet management is the subject of Chapter 6, setting out some approaches to defining roles and responsibilities and the importance of effective governance. This is followed by a very short chapter on the future of intranets.  Each chapter has a list of resources at the end but many seem dated, such a guide to portal management dating from 2005 which even Amazon cannot supply and a comment on intranet usability from Jakob Nielsen dating back to 2007.

There are a lot of good insights and advice in this book, though I’m not quite sure what the readership would be. It seems to be primarily aimed at the internal communications community as it is very light on technology. The case studies are interesting but as I have mentioned the poor quality of reproduction means that the screen shots have little value. Having got this far in the review I should perhaps note that the book is in German which inevitably reduces its value to the wider community, as does the rather curious choice of further reading. Nevertheless there is much of value in the book, especially for smaller organisations in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

Martin White

The cost of inaccurate information? – possibly £9million of UK taxpayer money in damages

Although there is an agreement that effective information management is important in improving operational performance and reducing organisational risk it is rare to have any documented examples in the public domain. Now two have come along almost together. The first is an analysis of how information management failures were a contributory factor in the Fukushima nuclear disaster in a paper by Andrew Thatcher and Ana Vasconcelos (Information School, University of Sheffield) and David Ellis (Department of Information Studies, Aberystwyth University) and I will comment on this paper in due course. The second is an interesting court case in the High Court regarding a winding-up order being issued by Companies House as the result of the bankruptcy of Taylor and Son Ltd in 2009. However the winding up order was actually issued in the name of Taylor and Sons Ltd, just one letter different. Companies House corrected the error three days after the initial order but by then the credit rating of the Taylor and Sons Ltd was damaged beyond redress. The company, which had 250 employees and 3000 customers, went into liquidation three months later.

The published judgment makes interesting reading as the Judge decided that Registrar at Companies House owed a duty of care when entering a winding up order on the Register to take reasonable care to ensure that the Order is not registered against the wrong company. The claim for damages has yet to be agreed, four years after the demise of a successful family business, but lawyers for the former owner of the business estimate them to be of the order of £9million. In the end the people paying the damages will be UK taxpayers.

The judgement is well worth reading to learn about how Companies House manages its information quality and how the Judge interpreted the law. The problem seems to have arisen from a failure to follow agreed internal information management policies. This decision (especially from the High Court) might well be a precedent for other actions where public organisations have not taken due care to ensure that the information on their records is correct, but I am not a lawyer so that is only a personal opinion. It is only fair to point out that Companies House has a very good record for managing data errors but the Judge commented that the implications of this excellent record were that such errors were easy to avoid and so should not have occurred. My thanks to Charles Oppenheim and Rich Greenhill for bringing this case to my attention through their Tweets.

Martin White


Intranet Design Annual 2015

I’ve spent a lifetime writing books and reports and so have some idea of the effort that goes in to producing a 370 page report that sets out to critically assess 10 intranets. I’m come across far too many people who question whether the Design Annual reflects the best intranets in the world. The Nielsen Norman Group can only judge the intranets that are submitted and the value of these reports is in the behind-the-scenes research into how these intranets have been conceived, planned. implemented and managed. Moreover this report is an Annual, and not an Award. The organisations profiled this year are Accolade (the Netherlands), Adobe (USA), ConocoPhilips (USA), Klick Health (Canada), Saudi Food and Drug Authority, Sprint (USA), Tauron Polska Energia (Poland), Foschini Group (South Africa), UniCredit (Italy) and Verizon Communications (USA).

The report starts off with an analysis of the award winners since 2001 and some of the highlights of this year’s winners. Nine of them used role-based personalisation though the approaches adopted are somewhat different. Responsive design approaches were used by five organisations, with a lot of care being taken to remove irrelevant content. In the case of Verizon (a three-times winner!)  50% of the HR content was removed in the upgrade. At last social features are being integrated into intranets instead of being tacked on as an after-thought, and several of the winners used some elements of an agile development approach. I was pleased to see that much more attention is being given to search implementation, with a good use of facets and filters and a couple of examples of federated search. Adobe, Sprint and Verizon were the only non-SharePoint intranets, with Verizon using a combination of Drupal as a CMS and IBM Watson (!) for search.

Each of the intranet descriptions provides an overview of the intranet, the business case for redevelopment, governance, the design process and usability work, content and content contributors, technology platforms and applications and a final lessons learned review. The 149 screen shots are not only a feature of the text but are available as a high-resolution png file. A most welcome addition to the report this year is a well-prepared index. There is also a useful review of the reasons why other intranets failed to make the final selection.

The report works at two levels. A read-through provides inspiration, because each of the organisations featured went through a long and complex journey to achieve excellence. The second level is the detail provided about each intranet, and this where the index is invaluable in providing a cross-case study entry point into (for example) thirty examples of the use of video. As I now can’t fault the lack of an index I would like to suggest that the technology platforms are listed in the introductory profile, so that as you start reading you are already aware that you are looking at an SP2010 (Unicredit) implementation.

The team of Kara Pernice, Amy Schade and Patty Caya, together with probably most of the NNGroup team, deserve a round of applause for their work on the report. There is a summary on the NNGroup website and an individual licence is $248, which works out at (say) only $20 a profile and $48 for the summary, or around $1 per day of your intranet working year. However you do the maths it is excellent value as a source of inspiration and neat ways of delivering business-critical information to employees. If you think your intranet is better than the selected 10 why not enter it for the 2016 Annual?

Martin White

Content curation – a response to good questions from APQC

Recently Paul Corney and I were asked by APQC to comment on three questions relating to content curation. We have worked together for many years on projects for organisations (many of them law firms) who realise that it is not about ‘content management’ but about ‘information management’ and ‘knowledge management’. Paul gave the closing address to an event on Knowledge & Information Management at Lisboa Business School in December and sparked a friendly but passionate debate when he suggested that you needed an information foundation on which to build the KM structure. In fact he said if you haven’t got the former don’t bother with the latter. Knowledge starts with information and if the information cannot be trusted then building from information to knowledge is building on sand no matter what subject expertise and experience someone may bring to making a business decision. The questions and our collective response are below. Stephen Dale has also commented on the questions, as has Harold Jarche. You should also read Steven’s paper in the December issue of Business Information Review as it sets out a very useful framework for consisting content curation processes and governance.

  1. Our best practices research says great content management systems have content developed around stakeholder needs. Why is this not always the case, and what can companies do to make sure it happens?

Companies rarely understand the importance of information as an asset. So all processes related to content curation are fitted in as a ‘hobby’ around other tasks. This makes the work difficult to prioritise, it may be invisible to a line manager, and when a content author leaves it may not be obvious that this is a role that their replacement needs to take on board. Companies have to adopt good practice in information management and appoint someone at Board level to take responsibility for content creation.

  1. What are the keys to having content that different generations of employees can use and understand?

This is not a sensible question. Content should be readable to anyone with an appropriate command of the language. However they may not always have the knowledge context to understand the value, perhaps because it has been written in a very technical way with far too many acronyms.  Content authors should write for all the potential users of their work, perhaps summarising technical reports for a business audience.

Perhaps more importantly is the need to take into consideration the device through which the content is being initially accessed and how it is going to be shared. Here there are some significant generational differences and where techniques such as gamification have an important role in enhancing value.  Mobile first is the only way to consider content consumption.

  1. A lot of content management systems are filled with content that is no longer relevant or useful. What processes have you seen or used that ensure CMS isn’t cluttered with material of questionable value?

Every item of content should be owned by an employee, not a department. There should be an automatic review of the content after (say) a year, at which time it can be revised, archived or withdrawn as is appropriate. Successive reviews might be either at yearly intervals or gradually at shorter interviews as the content reaches the end of its useful life. This is important work, ensuring that employees can trust the content when taking decisions.

If you have information that does not align with the business and will never be of value in making employees making business decisions that support the development of the company and their own careers then why are you sorting it?  Storage may be cheap but the time taken to work through search results that contain outdated, irrelevant and low quality information to find business-critical information is very expensive. It also takes time to undertake the review process, which leads us back to Q1.

Martin White

Seven questions to use to benchmark your digital workplace strategy maturity

Digital workplaces are receiving a lot of attention at the present moment. I for one am looking forward to the next edition of the Digital Workplace Trends report from Jane McConnell. It’s still not too late to take part and the survey will ask you some questions about your organisation and its plans for which you may not yet have good answers. A while back I mentioned in a blog post that I had seven important questions that I felt that organisations should be able to answer if they were on course to a digital workplace future. I use them as test questions, usually just one or two, to gauge the depth of understanding an organisation has about digital workplace development and management.

I included the seven questions in a presentation I gave to the JBoye 2014 Aarhus conference.  A slightly revised list is given here in case they are of value in assessing your digital workplace strategy.

  1. Are suppliers and customers able to access your corporate information repositories and collaboration areas?
  2. Have you carried out a survey of how cooperative working is carried out that highlights any requirements for better training and support?
  3. How certain are you that employees can quickly find the information they need, and then trust it when they have found it?
  4. Do you certify skills in virtual team management, distinguishing between skills for participation and skills for leadership?
  5. Do you have information management policies that are approved at Board level and owned by the business, not IT?
  6. Have you taken account that digital work takes place inside physical spaces, not just in your organisation but in other locations?
  7. Do job performance interviews, engagement surveys and exit interviews in your organisation include a review of how well employees are managing their digital working environment?

There are of course many more issues than these involved in digital workplace development but these are seven which I find most organisations are not able to respond to with a considered answer.

To expand on a few of these, in Q2 I have deliberately used the term cooperative working, not collaborative working. Work can be managed cooperatively but need not be collaborative. There is a well-developed discipline of computer-supported cooperative working that many information and knowledge managers are unfamiliar with. Q7 is about the issues of information privacy, which is not the same as data privacy. There is a very good 80 page report on information privacy from office equipment manufacturer Steelcase once you’ve registered on the site. Moving on to the question about where digital work takes place an issue that is almost always overlooked when considering mobile device access is how documents are going to be viewed or printed.

Of course there is far more to a digital workplace than just these seven topics, and one of the benefits of taking part in the Digital Workplace Trends survey is that you are able to benchmark yourself at a vertical industry sector level. So I present these questions as a more informal benchmark. If you need help developing good solutions to increase the number of positive responses you give please let me know.

Martin White

The opportunities for digital workplace adoption by law firms

Since February I have been working on a digital workplace project for a major global law firm. It has been a fascinating project as it is taking place against the background of very significant changes in the business of law, especially in what is often referred to as Big Law. This is a the term applied to the top 100 law firms. the top thirty of which have revenues in excess of $1 billion. The Harvard Law School Centre on the Legal Profession has just launched a new bi-monthly subscription journal entitled The Practice that will report on and analyse the changing market for legal services. In the preamble to the launch issue there is this statement

“Sophisticated clients have more access to information about legal services and what they need from those services. They’re demanding more transparency, asking firms to take things that used to come all packaged together—such as “litigation” or “deal work”—and unbundle and array those services across increasingly global supply chains. Such market forces are accelerating a move toward efficiency and what is euphemistically called “value” billing, in which work is priced not by input, but by the value of a firm’s output to clients. Vague, inexact measures of quality are no longer enough.In addition, competition is moving away from reputation or credentials to value as measured by metrics, and from firms to networks.”

What I find fascinating about the situation is the scope it gives to knowledge and information managers to transform the roles they have inside a law firm and build stronger links out to their opposite numbers in clients.Technology is also an important element of supporting changing market requirements and it is interesting to note the very rapid growth of UK collaboration software vendor HighQ in identifying specific requirements of the law business for closer collaboration internally and between a law firm and its clients. In terms of digital workplaces it could well be that major law firms move quickly to become significant adopters of digital workplace good practice, and it will be interesting to see the outcomes of the 2015 Digital Workplace Trends survey in this respect. The techniques now being adopted by law firms are largely standard practice in other professional services organisations and it will be interesting to see whether law firms start to entice the best KIM managers from these organisations to join them. Law is a very competitive market, dependent on the skills and reputation of senior partners.  Almost daily there are reports of either individual partners, or small groups, moving from one law firm to another, a substantial challenge to knowledge managers.  It is also a very conservative business and it will be interesting to see how quickly partners respond to the opportunities and challenges of digital legal workplaces in the next couple of years.

If you are a KIM manager and like to explore some of these issues at a breakfast meeting in London on 9 December book a free place on Eventbrite.

Martin White