Web Content Management – Deane Barker

I remember with great affection the Content Management Bible that Bob Boiko wrote in 2002. At over 1100 pages it covered everything you wanted to know about any aspect of specifying and implementing content management applications. It was published at a time when supporting the selection of these applications was a significant element of my business, and led to me writing the Content Management Handbook in 2005, now out of print. The book was no where near as comprehensive as the CM Bible, but instead was written for non-technical intranet and web managers to help them fend off vendors promising the ultimate CMS experience. This baton was then taken up by the Real Story Group with its subscription services so the arrival of Web Content Management, authored by Deane Barker (Blend Interactive) and published by O’Reilly, is very timely as the range of CMS applications shows no sign of decreasing.

The strap line of the book is Systems, Features and Best Practices, and it runs to just under 350 pages.  Part 1 deals with Basics, including advice on a CMS team. Part II is a pretty deep dive into the technology. covering topics which include content modelling, content aggregation, editorial tools, output and publication management, and APIs and extensibility. Deane is adept at explaining quite complex technology in a way that intranet and web managers without a technical background will appreciate. Part III deals with implementation issues, including a very good chapter on migration (“content migrations…are always underestimated”) and on working with external agencies. The layout is excellent, as with all O’Reilly books, and I noted that Deane has been guided by Ally MacDonald as Editor, who also provided me with a great deal of support for Enterprise Search. There are useful footnotes and many call-outs written by other CMS gurus. For a technical book the writing style is excellent, and Deane’s expertise and experience shines through each paragraph. As always with an O’Reilly book the index is faultless and that makes it so easy to find guidance on a specific topic.

The quality of the content throughout the book is excellent and I could find nothing that caused me to raise even a slight eyebrow. But then I would be surprised if I could as Deane has been in this business for around 20 years, co-founding Blend Interactive in 2005. My only reservations on this 1st Edition is that there is no advice on how to manage a CMS selection process and the word ‘intranet’ does not appear in the index. Since receiving the book for review Deane and I have had a very good exchange of views on the extent to which intranets might be a ‘special case’ and worthy of a chapter on their own. I’ll be doing my best to persuade him to consider adding a chapter in the 2nd Edition. However I would not want to convey the impression that this book would not be of value to the intranet community – a solid understanding of the technology and how this translates to high quality applications is essential for any intranet manager.

Overall this is a book I can recommend with enthusiasm even if you think you know all there is to know about CMS technology. I know from my own experience just how much time a book like this takes to write, and the impact that writing has on earning a living as a consultant. The CMS community should be very grateful to Deane for finding the time and energy to write this book.  The quality and scope of this book are such that if you were planning to write a book on CMS technology press the delete button now. There is a significant gap in the market for this book, which in many respects is the essential technical annex to the Morville/Rosenfeld/Arango book on Information Architecture. . All you then need is a book on enterprise search (!) and perhaps Theresa Regli’s recent book on Digital Asset Management applications.

Martin White

Social networking adoption, digital working and information culture

In almost all of the presentations and blog posts I have seen about enterprise social network adoption there is an implicit assumption that organisations are homogeneous and that works for the target group will scale for the entire organisation. One of the benefits of being in the intranet and search business is that I get to talk to employees at all levels across the organisations, mostly in departments untouched (in line management terms) by the IT organisation. What I see is that information behaviours vary widely across even quite small organisations. One of the reasons for this is that information cultures also vary across the organisation, and information behaviours arise from the information culture. Where the culture is primarily relationship-based or result-oriented the propensity to use social networking may be different than in rule-based or risk taking cultures. Organisations will usually have one or two predominant cultures with the others at a much less obvious level.

The obvious next question is how much you know about the information cultures in your organisation, and have worked through the role of social networking in each culture. One of the first to look at information behaviours was Professor Don Marchand at the IMD Business School in Lausanne. He and his colleagues developed an Information Orientation model that included an information behaviours axis that was published in 2002. The problem with this book is that the survey questionnaire is not included as the authors clearly wanted to build a business from the model.    There is a concise summary of the approach which can be downloaded. A survey questionnaire was included in the paper published by Adrienne Curry and Caroline Moore in 2003 but that was before Professor Chun Wei Choo published his four-element framework. A case study was published in 2015 by Thais Elaine Vicka, Marcelo Seido Naganoa and Silvio Popadiukba, and this does provide much more in the way of a practical methodology. The book by Professor Choo also considers each of the four cultures in some detail.

Another valuable perspective is the hubs, hives and hangouts model from Sam Marshall, Clearbox Consulting. If you take the 2D view of Choo and add in Sam Marshalls’ analysis you end up with quite a complex 3D view of working together in a digital workplace. That may seem over-complex but in my view it is better to start with this and then pare it down than work on a homogeneous adoption programme and find it fails to get beyond the pilot stage.

With the exception of the Information Orientiation summary and the book by Professor Choo the research papers cited above are not on open access. However I am confident that just reading Professor Choo’s book (Chapter 7 in particular) will help you to appreciate the implications of information cultures and information behaviours on social networking on a helicopter-view level. In my consulting work I find that just having this culture model enables me to recognise some of the features of each culture and then adapt my questioning and recommendations appropriately. There is no metric that would suggest that in a relationship-based culture 70% of employees (just as an example) should be using social media. It is more about using information culture and information behaviour models to ensure that signals about a resistance to, or a demand for, social networking can be recognised at a stage early enough to define technology requirements and adoption support, not when the technology is in place and the adoption is assumed to be ‘intuitive’.

Martin White

Intranets and digital workplaces – the missing 20 years

At the Intranet Now event in London last month I highlighted the situation that, in my opinion, there had been little development in intranet good practice over the last two decades. To be sure mobile now has a larger role to play and we dabble in enterprise social networks, which are basically low-functionality intranet applications. I’m working on a lecture on digital workplaces for 130 students at the Information School, University of Sheffield and I wanted to set the scene for them, as most were still quite young in the mid-1990s! This was a period when Charles Grantham was leading the discussions about the future of work, writing ‘The Digital Workplace’ and ‘The Future of Work’ in 1993 and 2000 respectively.

However arguably the first book on digital workplaces was ‘Liberation Management’ by Tom Peters, published in 1992. This book has not had the publicity of ‘In Search of Excellence’ and ‘A Passion for Excellence’ published in 1982 and 1986. Peters did not refer to the case studies in the book as examples of digital workplaces and indeed the subtitle of the book is ‘necessary disorganisation for the nanosecond nineties’, which might have put off many potential readers. In reality this book is about the way in which networked organisations (this was the era of Lotus Notes) were starting to flourish, There is a section in the book starting on p153 of the paperback edition which lists out 27 organising propositions for the survival of businesses working in a very fast-changing market era. These include

  • Most of tomorrow’s work will be done in project teams
  • You will routinely report to a person for one task who reports to you for another
  • Organisational learning will be highly rewarded
  • Applying new technologies to out-moded organisations is a design for disaster
  • Real-time access to information is a must
  • Market-place power will be a function of your place in an array of networks

These may all seem commonplace now, but how many organisations truly believe in them? For the late 1980s and early 1990s this was remarkable forecasting. Liberation Management is full of insights that even now we are  only slowly accepting. I especially like the section on ‘Don’t Let Project Teams Be Committees’ (pp208 – 201), which includes

  • Let teams pick their own leaders
  • Honour project leadership and project membership skills
  • Allow outsiders in
  • Give members the authority to make commitments on behalf of their functional departments

When you combine the learning in this book, all gained from synthesis of corporate case studies, with the rapid adoption of intranets a few years later I do wonder what we have been doing over the last two decades. As with intranets the concepts of networked organisations and digital workplaces are emerging as innovative thinking. It would be easy to blame the financial crash of 2008 onwards but this book was written 16 years before the banks went bust. Without doubt the technology has changed since 1990 but primarily in technology. The history of artificial intelligence, a concept developed in the mid-1950s, seems to be following the same pattern. The fundamentals have not changed but are now being enabled by processing power. I would encourage any digital workplace practitioner to find a copy of Liberation Management (it seems to be out of print at present) and read through it to see if there are ideas and guidelines that you can adopt that might shorten development times and increase corporate impact. Technology may have changed, but our brains have not, which is why for me this book still has significant value.

Martin White

Information Plus – my consulting toolkit is now open access

I have two heros that I turn to time and time again for inspiration. For music it is J.S.Bach and for science it is Richard Feynman. The scale of the entry in Wikipedia gives a good sense of the scale of Feynman’s interests and achievements. Both were very dependent on what he often referred to as his toolbox. This was a vast set of mathematical processes that he used to solve the apparently unsolvable. Feynman was always approaching problems from a different direction to everyone else, using in effect a set of different mental models.

My own toolbox consists of the outcomes of academic and applied research carried out over the last 50 years into areas that might be broadly termed information management. As a chemistry major you quickly become adroit at understanding how research is published, and in the case of chemistry indexed in Chemical Abstracts. That interest has stayed with me for the last 35 years, and is responsible for my collection of around 100  books and some 2000 research papers. In the course of my consulting work I often find that the route to finding a solution for a client lies in the research literature. There is rarely a complete answer waiting to be implemented, but something more akin to the way in which the Rosetta Stone enabled the language encased in Egyptian hieroglyphics to be read for the first time.

I have now added a new section to the Resources category of the Intranet Focus website. It is called Information Plus because it consists of a series of pages each summarising key research in areas which begin with ‘information’. Among the sections that are now available are information behaviour, information charter, information life cycle, information quality, information relevance and information seeking. I plan to complete work on the remaining 16 by the end of 2016, though some sections may disappear and some may be added. Each will be updated if a significant new research resource becomes available. In effect Information Plus is my toolkit, and I am just following the trend in scientific research of making it open access.

Although much of the research is published in journals specifically about information topics (such as the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, International Journal of Information Management and the Journal of Information Science) the nature of information is that it lies very close to the surface of almost every area of human endeavour. For the last few years I have been writing a quarterly Perspectives column in Business Information Review (BIR). The aim of this column is to bring to the attention of readers of BIR important papers published in Sage journals that they may not be aware of. Some of the journals cited in recent columns have come from Human Factors, Ergonomics in Design, Health Informatics Journal and the  Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation. Many of the papers in this column deal with collaboration and other aspects of team working.

It is easy to disparage academic research as not being grounded in the real world. However a significant number of research papers are based on real world case studies and apply a rigour to the information collection and analysis which intranet managers and other information professionals would not have the time and skills to replicate. The problem that many face is that they do not have access to this research because it is behind a subscription firewall. That is why I have tried only to include books and open access publications. Moreover the use of either Google Scholar or Microsoft Academic Research will often provide a link to an alternate source of the paper from a university server. I should add that Information Research is open access and is a very good source of papers on information management.

I would welcome comments on the scope of the Information Plus section, and on the style and value of the entries and especially about high-quality research that I have overlooked. If you are interested in how I approach client engagements then read my recent book ‘Managing Expectations – Building Client/Consultant Partnerships‘ published by Intranatverk.

Martin White

Skills acquisition for intranet and digital workplace management

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Gartner Digital Workplace Summit, which focused on highlighting the opportunities for IT departments to lead the digital workplace revolution. There have also been recent reports on the development of digital workplaces by McKinsey and Forbes.  The title of the McKinsey report is “The New Tech Talent You Will Need To Succeed In Digital” and to me creates the impression that IT alone can manage the transformation of organisations into the next generation of digital workplaces. There is no reference at all to the role of business departments or to the need to find and train employees across the organisation to provide the business input into IT development and then to support implementation. The only reference in the Forbes/IBM report on training is “Training for both users and the system is time intensive and requires a level of expertise in natural language processing and machine learning.”  It makes no suggestions as to where people with these skills are going to be found.

There is already a serious problem with finding people with the skills for intranet management, especially at a more senior level. There are no structured training courses which could lead to some form of professional certification and no opportunities that I am aware of for continuing professional development.  In the UK the Institute of Internal Communication makes no reference to intranets in its material on professional development despite the crucial role that intranets play in internal communications. I have spent the last decade trying (without visible success) to persuade CILIP to recognise intranet managers as information managers. As for AIIM, its Certificate for Information Professionals makes no reference at all to intranets in the scope of the Certificate, which is quite incomprehensible.

In 1996 David Strom, writing in Forbes, noted that “If you are about to begin your first Intranet project, you need to gather together people of diverse skills: computer geeks, artists, diplomats, and negotiators. It seems like a motley crew, but you’ll need these diverse talents, along with some careful choices in hardware and software, if you will be successful”  That is as true today as it was perceptive in 1996. If these skills are needed for intranet management then that is even more the case for digital workplaces, and yet no one seems to be addressing the challenges. I’m tired of seeing an endless succession of schematics about the development of digital workplaces and of collaborative working with no attention being paid at all to the skills and related resources needed to achieve the promised nirvana of fully digital working. There is a very good analysis by Willis Towers Watson on the issues that insurance companies face in staffing for a digital revolution which has many lessons for all other industry sectors. I would also note in passing that the issues of multiple languages are also not being taken into consideration nor (prompted by an excellent presentation by Paul Zimmerman, COO of Invotra, at Intranet Now 2016) the complex issues of accessibility in a digital workplace.

At Intranet Now 2016 it was interesting to learn that Hanna Karppi, formerly Group Internal Communications Manager at Skanska, is now Head of Digital Workplace. This is the direction that all intranet managers should be seeking to develop their careers, but many will need to enhance their skills to gain a broader understanding of the issues, challenges and opportunities. I have a concern that the availability of training courses and opportunities for professional development are not going to be equal to the demand. We could end up with a substantial amount of technological sophistication but with no impact on organisation performance because of a lack of support for definition, implementation and adoption.

Martin White


Intranet Now 2016 – 30 September, London

Based on the buzz generated by 200 intranet managers there can be no doubt Intranet Now has established itself as ‘the’ UK intranet conference, though perhaps ‘event’ is a better description. The core is a fast moving set of 7 minute presentations, interspersed with a few slightly longer presentations from sponsors. The result is at the end of the morning you may not be sure who said what but the totality of the notes jotted on paper or keyboard provide a wealth of ideas for consideration and inspiration. User research, working relationships between intranet managers and their IT counterparts, case studies, accessibility issues, performance metrics, intranet design, project management, models for collaboration and much more. The best metaphor I can think of is that it is like being in the design and development area of an intranet factory where as you walk down the corridor you pause outside doors to hear a little of the discussions taking place in each workspace.

To make this work requires the speakers to keep strictly to time. Almost everyone did so (I know – I overran by one minute!) and the lunch break was almost spot on schedule. This is a result of the respect that everyone has for Wedge, Brian and their team of volunteers. In the afternoon the pattern changed after the cake break with simultaneous workshops (run by sponsors) and a series of five round-table discussion slots at which delegates could move from table to table. This approach was new for 2016. I’m not sure it quite worked out in terms of learning or logistics but it was certainly worth trying out. Intranet Now ended with the presentation of the Diamond Awards for significant contribution to the intranet community being given to the Intranetizen team and (earlier in the month) to James Robertson for his work with Step Two Designs.

Intranet Now is as much about making connections as learning from presentations. Good breaks and the round table format facilitate this and I became aware of attendees from Denmark, Malta, the Netherlands and of course James Dellow from Australia. The Park Plaza Hotel coped well with such a large conference though the projectors need to be pensioned off and the long queue for dessert should have been sorted by the hotel events team.

It is just not possible to summarise Intranet Now, and perhaps that’s why it has maintained the momentum from 2014 and 2015. Even if one presentation does not connect with you there is only a 7 minute wait until the next one. My own presentation looked at the development of intranets from their origin in work at the University of Illinois in the early 1970s. I remarked in that presentation that virtually all the accepted principles of intranet governance had been established by 1999, and yet on a number of occasions presenters made comments along the lines of “What we found was….” . As a community we often seem to be reinventing the wheel and not building on the experience of others, for example in the almost 200 case studies that have been published over the last five years. As a contra to that I came away from Intranet Now with at least two ‘lightbulb’ discoveries which will be added to my toolkit for client engagements and an idea for a new section to the Intranet Focus website. Watch this space.

I have to end with highlighting the enormous amount of work that Wedge and Brian Lamb put in to this event, which brings with it considerable financial risk for two entrepreneurs. I’ve been in the conference arranging business for over 30 years and I know just how much the pressure builds up towards the conference date. They both deserve a Diamond Award themselves, but for now will have to bask in smiling faces of delegates leaving the underground bunker of the Park Plaza Hotel on their way to building even better intranets in the year ahead. Hopefully many will return next year to report on their achievements to delegates at Intranet Now 2017.

Martin White

Text Data Management and Analysis – Zhai and Massung

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

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

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

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

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

Martin White



Digital and Marketing Asset Management – Theresa Regli

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

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

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

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

Martin White


Gartner Digital Workplace Summit, London, 21-22 September

Gartner Summits and Symposia are a core element of the way in which the firm delivers advice to its clients. It is therefore not appropriate to judge the event as a ‘commercial’ conference even though (like me) there were some external delegates. The content of the presentations also includes research that is proprietary to clients and so I am not going to comment on specific presentations in this review. The Digital Workplace Summit is a re-branding and re-positioning of the long-standing Portals and Collaboration event which I attended a few years ago. The event attracted probably around 400 delegates from across Europe, mostly senior managers in IT departments who are the primary contact points for Gartner services.

Gartner is clearly making a significant research commitment to digital workplace development. Many of the presentations used data collected from a number of large scale surveys that Gartner undertakes, together with on-going discussions with its clients. This research does provide an important underpinning of the advice provided, something sadly lacking in this arena where there is a tendency to scale up to a generic position from a single case study. There were a number of external case studies and presentations from sponsors including one from Robert Leeson, Head of Service Design and Transition at Vodafone. Serving over 110,000 employees across the world what was immediately obvious from the presentation was that the rate of progress and success were because of the support from the CEO, the CTO and the global HR Director. This support extended to them blogging on a regular basis on Yammer. I was especially struck by the way in which Vodafone had given 250 Digital Ninja millennials the responsibility of mentoring 200 of the most senior managers in how to get the best of digital technologies. A quite brilliant idea that could be of immediate benefit in any organisation.

The Summit was also an opportunity for Gartner to introduce its assessment framework for digital workplace maturity. This is designed for self-assessment benchmarking and as the basis for on-going discussions with Gartner consultants. Although focusing on only a few aspects of the digital workplace I was impressed with the balance of IT, employee and organisational issues. I did get a sense that the focus needed on employee and organisational issues was somewhat novel to the presenters, who tended to have a somwhat one-dimensional view of organisational culture but I’m sure this will broaden out as the DWP programme develops.

There was some very good advice given on cloud-related issues. One of the presentations was about the benefits and challenges of moving search into the cloud as either a hosted service or SaaS. Another focused on the challenges of migration to either Office 365 or Google Cloud, and highlighted the problems of negotiating a contract with Microsoft. Little mention was made of the role of intranets, though there was a Roundtable Session on Redefining Your Intranet for the Digital Workplace. I thought it would not be appropriate for me to attend! I was however surprised that there was just that single presentation on search. Of the 400 delegates only perhaps 25 were in the search presentation and no more than 50 in the Sinequa presentation on the move the company is taking to enhance search with analytics and machine learning.  As well as the consultant presentations and the case studies there were two superb external speakers. Sahar Hashemi talked about how she started up Coffee Republic as an example of innovation, and Stefan Hyttfors was equally inspiring on how the nature of work is changing.

Overall I gained a great deal from the event. It was very helpful to have a research-based view on how digital workplace adoption is proceeding. It is clear that good progress is being made when there is a clear commitment to changing working practices from the most senior levels of an organisation. Bottom-up attempts to improve ‘productivity’ by just implementing more technology may bring short term glory but no longer term impacts. One of the challenges is that few CIO/CTOs are on the main Board of an organisation and so are not in a position to sell the benefits across the Boardroom table, and have to leave it to others to do so. The 2017 Digital Workplace Summit takes place in London on 25/26 September.

Martin White


1996 – the Year of the Intranet?

On 30 September I will be giving a presentation at the Intranet Now conference about the history of intranet development. The presentation will be based on the text of a chapter for the intranet handbook being published by Kristian Norling, Intranatverk, later this year. 2016 is an appropriate time to be looking at the history of intranets because for me 1996 marks the year when intranet technology  really made the headlines and a significant number of books, reports and technical articles were published.

Among the many books on intranet management published in 1996 were

  • Intranet Working, George Eckel and William Steen, New Riders Publishing,
  • The Corporate Intranet. Ryan Bernard, John Wiley & Sons,
  • Running the Perfect Intranet. David Baker et al Que Publishing
  • Internet et l’entreprise Olivier Andrieu, Eyrolles, Paris
  • L’avantage Internet pour l’entreprise Jane McConnell and David Ward-Perkins Dunod, Paris
  • Building an Intranet. Tom Evans net Publishing
  • How Intranets Work. Paul Gralla, Ziff-Davis Press
  • Intranets as Groupware, Mellanie Hills, John Wiley & Sons.

It is interesting to note that John Wiley & Sons, one of the leading global publishers, had two intranet books on its list, both of which were probably commissioned in 1995.

However was Business Week that set everyone talking about intranets in early 1996. In a feature article by Amy Cortese in February 1996 the benefits of intranets were clearly set out with a number of case studies.

“For now, most intranet Web sites are used for basic information sharing: publishing job listings, benefits information, and phone directories, for example. Some of these simple information-sharing setups already provide strategic advantage, though. Cap Gemini’s Knowledge Galaxy is a giant repository of technical information that helps the consulting firm respond more quickly to customers, for example. More sophisticated intranets are coming. They will let employees fill out electronic forms, query corporate databases, or hold virtual conferences over private Webs. Corporate information systems managers are “just now seeing [the Web] as the next step in application development and distribution,” says Greg Sherwood, National Semiconductor’s Web coordinator and chairman of the chipmaker’s World Wide Web council. For a taste of the future, check out Silicon Graphics. Using its intranet, dubbed Silicon Junction, the company today accomplishes such feats as making accessible more than two dozen corporate databases that employees can traverse by clicking on bright-blue hyperlinks. Previously, to get the same information, an employee had to submit a request to a staff of specially trained experts who then would extract the requested data from the company’s databases–a process that could take several days.”

The impact of this article was quite significant given the readership of Business Week at the time was around 6 million. The reputation of Business Week was probably at its peak and undoubtedly many managers read the article and started to plan for an intranet future. The most notable development in 1996 was the visible commitment of NetScape, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and Amdahl to intranet technology. NetScape, Microsoft and IBM all made public announcements of their intranet technology strategies in June 1996, with Amdahl and Oracle following on in August 1996. The Gartner Group were certainly taking the intranet seriously. In September 1996 the company published a 50pp report entitled Creating an Enterprise Internet and Intranet Policy. Although there is a heavy emphasis on security management it is clear from the text of the report that the Gartner Group not only recognized the potential of intranets but was also pushing hard for companies to take an overall perspective on web and intranet policies. Twenty years later that remains very uncommon.

In many ways 1996 was a false dawn. The technology companies soon realised that there was little revenue for them in intranets. The technology was really not that complicated, especially when Microsoft bundled Front Page into Office 97 followed by arrival of  HTML 4.0 at the end of 1997, starting an era of ‘build-your-own-intranet’. For another perspective on intranet history see this blog post from ChiefTech

Martin White