The four simple truths of Intranet

This month saw Investis host the first of many Intranet thought-leadership seminars. Over 45 people from 38 FTSE and multinational organisations filled the room made for 40, for what was to be an insightful if not somewhat snug gathering at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden.

In this post I summarise some of the key points discussed:

The workplace is out of date – Mike Boogaard (Investis)
I started off the event by revisiting the point I made in my last blog post about the workplace being based on a 20th century model even though we find ourselves in the 2nd decade of the 21st century. Coupled to this is the reality that consumerisation of IT is raising the user’s expectations: organisations that fail to improve both their digital workplace and access to up-to-date technology risk losing their best people to the competition.

I concluded, however, that there is a huge gap between what we as organisations are ready for and what the consultants and vendors are trying to sell. In most cases organisations are simply not ready for the utopian ‘totally mobile, social and collaborative network’ and simply need to focus on connecting people with people and people to information, achieving what I refer to as ‘networked productivity’ and ‘coordinated working practices’.

The Four Simple Truths of Intranet – Mark Smith (Investis)
Rather than focus on the big business transformation piece, Mark focused on four practical ways of ensuring your Intranet is fit for purpose.

1. Your Intranet doesn’t have to be ugly!
An ugly Intranet reflects a lack of investment and says to the user that the organisation doesn’t care (…and so why should the user?). Also, as people are working more from home and remotely, it is important that entering the Intranet gives the same sense of ‘brand feeling’ as walking into the physical office itself.

2. Make things simpler
A key win for an Intranet is if it is simple to use, easy to navigate and fast at finding information. The focus should therefore be on what you can take out rather than adding things in. Intranet managers should focus on eliminating complexity.

Mark gave the example of the mobile Intranet site of the UK parliament. Developed by Sharon O’Dea (then at the UK parliament), it is focused solely on what MPs really needed when on the move. Namely, alerts telling them when they needed to go into the house to vote , maps of the parliamentary estate and of course a list of bars and restaurants. A great example of making things really simple.

3. Use technology intelligently
Technology should never be the driver of a project, but the enabler. My approach is always to take a step back from technology as this allows me to focus on the needs of the business rather than be restricted from the outset on functionality. Technology needs to be used smartly to deliver content and tools that are relevant to users. Define your objectives and needs first, then select the technology to do it.

4. Put people at the centre of the Intranet
Lastly, Mark focused on the most important part of any Intranet: the users. He made it clear that content is not king, people are. This means focusing on the activities and requirements of the user rather than publishing pages. He concluded that by focusing on the users you will allow them to become more efficient, and efficient employees lead to efficient organisations.

Integrating social collaboration within your business – Bruce McKay (Jive)
Bruce focused on the benefits of integrating social collaboration for the organisation and gave 3 practical examples: Toshiba which achieved faster sales cycle, SAP which reduced product release cycles and News Corporation which reduced multiple Intranets to one.

They achieved this by improved access to information, easy scalibility, ideation and innovation, and improved general awareness.

But the best way to get a feel for what Jive can do is to watch this great video (put your headphones on!).

Simplifying the Intranet – Paul Hewitt (Deutsche Bank)
We are incredibly grateful to Paul who gave us some of his precious time to talk about DB’s initiative to simplify their Intranet and give a practical example of how they went about integrating their social collaboration platform into the workplace.

Below I have outlined the key points that I noted down:

1. Deutsche Bank has the same challenges as many of our clients: multiple intranets, several disparate and diverse systems, out-of-date content and a desire to make use of social collaboration.

2. Clearly defined roadmap – DB had a clearly defined roadmap, divided into four phases with well-defined activities and benefits per phase.

3. Solid social collaboration business case – DB launched their social collaboration platform to a select number within the organisation and let it go viral, but prior to launch they developed a clear strategy and solid business case for the implementation of the relevant platform, and were able to measure performance against these objectives. Their key objectives (each stream split into several activities) included reduction of service costs, consolidation of the Intranet, a focus on eliminating waste/duplication of work and decommissions the total number of tools used.

Paul concluded by highlighting some of the key opportunities that he believes DB’s social collaboration platform has to offer, which included: improved findability, visibility beyond your own division, a great way of driving traffic to the Intranet, and helping people connect to management.

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I would like to thank Mark, Bruce and Paul for their time and all the attendees for making it very interactive and insightful morning.

If you are interested in receiving a more detailed presentation of the event, please get in touch.

The Dream Team? Or Nightmare? – Microsoft and Yammer

Yesterday Microsoft confirmed the news Bloomberg reported 12 days ago: Microsoft buys 4-year old Yammer for $1.2bn.

Wow! This really has blown the game wide open. I will be honest (and apologies to my friends at Yammer) but I did have some concerns about Yammer being maybe a little too social (vs collaborative) and that it was slightly handicapped by the more limited level of integration with SharePoint and Microsoft Office suite which, lets face it, is pretty essential for most organisations (although Yammer was working on this already).

However, this partnership must have the others (i.e. GoogleJive, Chatter and Newsgator) running a little scared. And not without reason as the potential opportunities of this union could be massive.

The benefits are easy to see: the ease-of-use of Yammer, fully integrated  with SharePoint, Office 365, MS Dynamics and Skype is pretty exciting. If done well this will catapult it ahead of the competition and provide a seriously powerful collaborative platform. Add to that the investment capabilities of Microsoft, and this has got to be a partnership made in heaven.

However, as is to be expected when this kind of news is revealed, the doom-sayers are in a high state of excitement.

Not everyone is a Microsoft fan (suggested by the CEO of Jive) – although this may well be true, I dont think we will see people leaving Yammer in their droves just because Microsoft is now involved. First of all, most multinational businesses I work with have SharePoint and MS Office running in some shape or form and therefore are not Microsoft averse. But more importantly, considering the effort it takes to get a social collaboration structure up and running successfully (even with the easy-to-use Yammer) , I don’t think companies are likely to abandon their efforts and/or switch to an alternative platform just because Microsoft is on the scene.

Microsoft dwarfs Yammer and kills the technology – although Microsoft have made it clear that Yammer “will continue to develop its standalone service and maintain its commitment to simplicity, innovation and cross-platform experience”, there is a risk that they will see this as an opportunity to commercialise their other products through Yammer (i.e. force feed them to us). I don’t see this as a risk but as a benefit. It will add the necessary weight to Yammer’s offering rather than threaten its existence.

The Microsoft curse – the argument that for some inexplicable reason Yammer will suffer the same mysterious fate as some others, like Groove, have suffered after they have been bought by the software giant. The reality is that Groove’s fate was already sealed before Microsoft got involved, but for the more superstitious amongst you, here is a list of investments that Microsoft has made over the years. There are a couple of bloopers but I think you will agree they have won more than they lost.

I am conscious that I am starting to sound like a Microsoft groupie. I am not. In fact, I come from a totally platform agnostic angle. I believe that your needs should define your choice of platform (based on a clear understanding of the user requirements and well defined  business objectives).

However, I do think it is great news, not just for Yammer but for the whole socially collaborative landscape. It is going to spice up the competitiveness (hopefully bringing down the costs),  raise the awareness of the benefits of social collaboration in general and lead to more product development, thereby improving the functionality, usability and effectiveness of the platforms. Lower prices and better products – who doesn’t like that!?!

Social business and the internal evangelist

social collaborationAs we find ourselves on the eve of the largest IPO in history, and Mark Zuckerberg is about the join the elite and enviable ‘top 10 richest billionaires’ list at the ripe old age of 27, there can be no doubt that social media has not only revolutionised the way we spend our time and how we interact but also that it is here to stay.

Facebook is not the only social platform but it has been the most active in adding functionality and content, making sure that we spend more time there. The question is why does Facebook spend so much time, effort and money on making our experience richer? Well, the real reason is because Zuckerberg & Co is not selling a platform…
he is selling us!

We are not the customer, we are the product. A product that has an estimate market(ing) value of $100bn.

What Facebook, and social media in general, offers is an incredible and unrivalled insight into the human psyche, behaviour, habits and likes/dislikes. It is this and the fact that social media has changed the way we communicate that makes it such an asset to the business world.

There are already a wide variety of social business platforms out there including giants like Yammer, Jive and MS Lync as well as lesser known options like Igloo. Even Salesforce, the CRM giant has jumped on the bandwagon with Chatter and I suspect we shall see many more come (and go) over the next few years.

Putting the choice of platform aside there are many obvious benefits to implementing a social business strategy, namely that it allows people to collaborate in real-time, facilitates exchanges of ideas and discussions without geographical boundaries. It is more mobile, and provides the generation Z workforce with a platform that is familiar, slick and quick. It allows them to have conversations on their turf, in their language and on their terms (we are after all talking about a generation which is arguably more comfortable typing LOL than actually laughing out loud!).

And of course then there is the cost benefit. Social business platforms are relatively affordable in terms of licence fees but the enormous savings are made in the deployment. As they are to be used ‘out of the box’ and don’t need (can’t/shouldn’t) be bespoke, they are unwrapped and configured in weeks rather than months and there are less bug fixing or training requirements. You don’t need a battery of people in a dark room tinkering away 24/7 to keep it going. Add it all together and the savings over implementing an intranet are enormous (note: that is not to say one replaces the other!).

The fears about conversations getting out of control or it becoming a distraction rather than a benefit are real but with the right governance in place and the essential absence of anonymity, experience shows that these platforms do become self-policing and hugely effective. The harsh reality is that the conversations are going to happen anyway so the question is: would you rather they ‘graffiti the inside of the company or the outside’ (love this analogy but can’t claim it as my own – Thanks Nick Crawford).

But now the million dollar, euro, pound (and soon drachma??) question is: what makes them successful?

I am sure some may disagree and offer suggestions like usability, adoption campaign/internal marketing (all of which are important!) but for me it is the same ingredient that made external social media platforms such a success: The Evangelist.

This is the person who is first to post a comment. The first to like a post or start a poll. The first to use locations to identify where he/she is. More importantly the person who loves to talk about it and who people listen to.

Identify your evangelist(s), give them subtle incentives, allow them to be the ‘alpha leader’ who influences the rest. Make them part of your core team and let their enthusiasm enthuse others. There are few things as effective as endorsements from your peers and colleagues.

It is these evangelists that have a commanding influence over success and failure. Embrace them, I say!