The fall of the house of intranet – a cautionary fairy tale for intranet managers

[Allergy advice: written in an office containing nuts; may contain sentiment offensive to intranet managers]

MonsterOnce upon a time, workers lived among reams of paper – newsletters; memos; phone books; and much more besides … as soon as these bits of paper were spewed out of printers, they were out of date … the cunning and ruthless Sir Lever Arch infiltrated himself into every aspect of corporate life.

Like rising damp, armies of managers emerged from under rocks and from within cracks to manage each other and all sorts of other stuff which oiled the wheels of the corporation, but which were ultimately pointless.

This was a pretty poor state of affairs so, one day, a very clever wizard – no one knows exactly who he was but his magic wand and pointy hat were very magic and pointy – decided that all this paper could be replaced by the interweb.

Not the big-wild-west-interweb-dominated-by-porn-and-gambling-since-discredited-by-Tory-MPs-who-wouldn’t-know-the-interweb-even-if-it-donated-squillions-of-pounds-to-their-evil-cause … but secret interwebs owned and managed inside companies only accessible to those in the pay of the big bosses who were the direct reports of King Arthur himself – for it is he …

And so the intranet was born.

Soon after, it became clear that these secret interwebs needed a firm hand and a stout heart to keep them in order and make sure they delivered shareholder value, met the needs of users and supported business objectives … and lo-and-behold White Knights, or intranet managers, strode confidently from the magic forest to pick up the gauntlet.

These White Knights rode on stallions named Governance, vanquishing unofficial servers … ruthlessly slaughtering poor user experience. For a while, the White Knights ruled supreme – proclaiming the word of the intranet … ‘governance; cost savings; user testing; cost savings; usability; cost savings; business requirements; cost savings; and many more black-magic-type-cost-savings which were lapped up by the men-in-suits who pandered to King Arthur himself’.

All-the-while, in a dark cave high in the mountains of IT-shire, a strange and unknown creature was emerging called the Digital Workplace. At first, the intranet managers hailed the Digital Workplace as their saviour … they saw it as a way to ingratiate and elevate themselves to the Great Round Table at which King Arthur himself sat. Fortified by PowerPoint and buoyed up by free trips to exotic lands in which they supped at the famous and unlimited Fountains of Conference, they enjoyed the good times and grew complacent – talking up the great Digital Workplace and their perceived control over it.

However, the unwitting intranet managers, in feeding the Digital Workplace, were unleashing a power beyond their wildest dreams … a power so strong it would one day turn on them and swallow them up … coughing up their semi-digested remains in a tangled furball of BYOD, tablets, real-estate, smart phones, work-styles, collaboration, network access and slimy social media …

However hard the White Knights fought to untangle themselves from within this furball of complexity, they could never free themselves … and their power and influence was lost forever.

[The End]



  1. Amazing – and somehow very heartfelt – post.

    The give away for me was the concept of control… kills flexibility, motivation, collaboration – knowledge sharing has to be in – and of – the flow.

    Ticking some suit’s idea of what I should share with my colleagues won’t cut it. In some ways, it is a bit like management censorship.

    And didn’t Gilmore say “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it”. And people will route around the intranet..

  2. Great post Richard, and well told. I hope that intranet managers will be able to stay ahead of the curve and move with the digital workplace as it best suits them and their organisations. Which is really the case with any job right? Everything is constantly changing, the choice is to move with it or stay behind.

  3. Hi Rebecca – thanks for the comment. I agree that change is a constant and we must all evolve to remain relevant. However, the more I understand the concept of the Digital Workplace (DW) the more I think it has little/nothing to do with what intranet managers currently do. I also wonder if, in reality, intranet managers are the right people to marshall the Digital Workplace into a reality because of the completely different nature of the beast. It strikes me that ‘content/information’ is a tiny part of the DW … and actually the ‘easy’ bit.

    I suppose my ‘tale’ is a reaction to the way I hear intranet managers talking about the DW as if it’s something they can manage/control just like they always have. I fear, at best, intranet managers may become minor stakeholders in the DW landscape … I’m not sure many have woken up to this fact yet.

  4. Wow, Richard, you nailed it.

    There’s an old joke that the scariest phrase is “I’m from the government, I’m here to help you”. It is starting to feel that a similar phrase from Intranet managers is treated the same way.

    How we used to do Governance is broken – needs to be broken – neither the tools nor the business objectives of engaging people support that type command and control model.

    However there is still a skill set that intranet managers can bring to the free for all party: the assumption that enthusiasm and a ‘build it and they will come’ ethos is sufficient for success is as flawed as it ever was.

    People in an organisation trying to build up engagement in these new type of spaces need guidance on best practice, otherwise much effort is wasted. How can we nudge people towards doing the optimum thing, encourage invention but discourage needless reinventing the wheel. How can we discourage people from spending a lot of time on elements of their spaces that we already know are counter productive, but still let people feel they have a sense of ownership of their spaces?

    Our intranet manager armory still has a few powerful weapons – you mention usability and cost savings – and we need to build a few more -such as encouraging participation techniques – but we can’t wield these weapons in the same way. Maybe once we start wielding differently we stop being intranet managers and become something else. What we need to do is understand what that ‘something else’ is, make sure it adds real value and that the rest of the organisation accepts that.

  5. Totally agree Sandy … finding our feet as intranet managers in this new world will be interesting … slightly concerned we will end up as ‘poor relations’ to CIOs etc. I agree we need to ‘break a few things’ to make this new world work … I’m wondering if what gets put back together will build on what we’ve learned over the years or start to unravel it!

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