I spent most of my day yesterday at a J.Boye Intranet Strategy and Round TableMeeting. For those of you unfamiliar with J.Boye, the group facilitates closed-door, confidential, and vendor-free conversations between intranet managers and similar professionals across a wide range of industries.  They meet quarterly to have very open and honest discussions about intranet related issues, with the goal of helping each other to solve problems, discover new technologies, and to develop professionally.   

In most law firms, management of the intranet falls to either KM, IT, or the Library. My unique position is Manager of Intelligence and Intranet – is a combination that “geek extraordinaire” Ryan McClead recently pointed out is akin to being both an umpire and a hot dog vendor at the same baseball game. At the J.Boye meeting, I put my umpire gear away and focused on hot dogs, discussing the evolution of the intranet as a platform.  Lots of companies are implementing micro sites, social media tools, people directories, content management systems, and enterprise search solutions.  They are evaluating UX (user experience) and IA (information architecture) best practices. They are attempting to marry these concepts with robust, never-out-of-date content that people really want and will actually use, even  discussing strategies to encourage users to publish and own content.  There is discussion around monitoring metrics and analytics to determine how effective (or in most cases not) all of these tools are. Their analysis suggests that people are not engaged, user adoption is low, and they need new technologies to bring people in and increase usage across the site.  

Sometime before noon, nearly exasperated, I  tweeted:

By the end of the day, however, I was starting to think that maybe I had been too hasty with my tweet. The intranet isn’t entirely dead, though I can’t help but think that maybe, rather than greater evolution, the intranet needs to devolve a bit.  Let me explain. 

It seems to me, based on the general chatter at J.Boye, that intranets have not successfully evolved much beyond electronic HR manuals anyway. The most frequently used pages on most intranets are vacation request forms, benefits summaries, people directories, and general HR content.  Most other content either goes unread, or people are consuming it elsewhere – in emails, at team meetings, or on external social media platforms. There still isn’t a fool-proof, unvetted, and successfully integrated channel for “social” and the bulk of intranet content is the same sales and marketing content that is available on externally facing websites, in pdf media libraries, and stuffed in glossy brochure stands in reception areas.  

Although intranets were originally intended, as I understand it, to be a source for write-once content, to increase efficiency in the workplace, and to give people all the tools they need to do their jobs in an single, easily accessible location, most intranets have stagnated at this level of first generation “brochure-ware”.  

I would argue that our lack of intranet progress is not for a lack of trying, but because the majority of people currently consuming content on intranets are actually looking for “brochure-ware”, not internal blogging platforms, or collaborative workspaces. 

The concept of an intranet will undoubtedly change as the demands from users change, and as more and more firms start to make content available through mobile browsers, tablets, and the like. The question is not how we can make the current intranet more effective, or what direction we should take the intranet next, but what direction will its organic evolution take once it is driven by user demand and not by hot dog vendors?

  • Hi Zena

    It was a greaqt meeting, and I am glad you focused us on this discussion of intranet evolution. However, the group members being largely Law firm or large (i.e. conservative) FI's are not really representative of start of the art Intranets or Digital Workplaces.

    There are numerous Intranet "maturity" frameworks out there; Janus himself has blogged on the subject:

    but Razorfish, Dion Hinchcliffe, Jane McConnell (NetStrategyJMC), IBF, StepTwo and all the other "usual suspects" have covered it in some form or another.

    I think the problem is that Intranet's evolve at different rates in diferent industry context's; in some places the generic stage 1 "information publishing" intranet remains, whereas in others they have moved on to the stage x Digital Workplace as an online place to actually get stuff done.

    Looking forward to some more debate on "the Intranet is dead, long live the Digital Workplace" (or something….)

  • Anonymous

    The reference manual style intranet where each department and practice area have their own silo of content has many issues. Its structure stems from the fact that authors have control in design meetings and only work on their part of the site.  Visitors opinions come too late in the process if at all.

    If navigation is logical and search works well, it achieves its mission of answering questions for people who know what they are looking for. 

    A better law firm intranet adds awareness on top of that. A feed of information dominates the new home page. Much like Facebook and Twitter, items from different sources are combined into one list making it scalable. 

    In addition to generic firm news, visitors can now subscribe to areas of the site that interest them.  These sources appear in their news feed.  

    Going forward, we add information from business systems.  When a new document on a matter you're working on is created, it shows up in your feed. The rest is only limited by your imagination. 

    Douglas R. Irvine
    Cravath, Swaine and Moore

  • Hi Zena,

    Very interesting article.
    I do think that SharePoint are getting there gradually! Completely agree that intranets need to work with the pre-existing organic processes of the organisation. Having said that this is done more through really thorough launch planning and discussions about requirements.
    SharePoint are recognising the way we work, Yammer and SkyDrivePro are recognition of this.

    The intranet is definitely not dead but it is something organic as you say, part of the problem you identify is adoption. In ggo launch planning each of the key departments like HR, Comm… are taken through the intranet, the edvantages it has for them and the enhancements that can be made to the way they work should really be worked out at this stage. I work with SharePoint and frequently see the needs of HR and Comms not being met because of overly complicated rules and not enough value being placed on user experience by whoever has delivered the intranet.

    Now for the vendor bit! http://www.easysharepoint.com

  • There is a good report from Deloitte where the author makes the claim that focusing on adoption as a success metric will likely lead to failure because it engenders resistance.

    Instead organisations should be looking at solving specific pain points.

    Social software for business performance

  • Hi Zena,

    Great post! The evolution of the intranet is often debated in many of the J. Boye groups. 'The intranet is dead' is one extreme point of view; I would argue that the traditional, static intranet is becoming less important, and the social and collaborative intranets are taking over.

    I recently presented my thoughts on the subject to a J. Boye group in Luxembourg, you can check it out on slideshare:

    Keep up the good work in the J. Boye group in toronto!

    Guy Van Leemput – J. Boye