The moral of my medieval fable ( #intranet #digitalworkplace )

Following my last post, several people asked me to explain further what I meant by my Medieval Fable … some even seemed a little upset (<- sorry about that) … so, here goes!

Evolution of the intranet

Simple diagram on the left

In May 2011, I published the simple diagram on the left asking the question about the relationship between the intranet as we then knew it and this new-fangled Digital Workplace thingy which people were beginning to talk about (if you have time to read through the comments on the original post, they make quite interesting reading).

You see the ‘graph’ on the right of the simple diagram on the left … er … well, that’s the moral of my fable.

WHAT, you need MORE explanation??? Seriously, what’s not to get???

OK … I’m going to go out-on-a-limb here and make some assumptions (<– I realise that this is tantamount to sticking a ‘Kick Me’ sign on my own back, but here goes …!)

Assumption 1: Any company worth its salt has an intranet of some description.

Assumption 2: An intranet is an environment/platform/whatever where content is published (<- I know the word published is a bit 1990s, but it still pretty-much covers what has to happen to stuff for it to become visible to other people on an intranet).

Assumption 3: Most – maybe all (?) – intranets have an Intranet Manager of some description.

Assumption 4: Intranet Managers are appointed because they know something about intranets (even those who don’t could pick up the basics from half-a-day’s reading of a handful of great intranet blogs). Intranet Managers know stuff like: good governance is essential; intranet strategy needs to support the business objectives; put users at the centre; business- not technology-led; blah blah; etc. etc.

Assumption 5: Given all the above, being an Intranet Manager is not rocket science (<- that doesn’t make it easy by the way!).

Assumption 7: Intranet Managers can’t count (<- just checking you’re still paying attention).

Assumption 6: As a company’s intranet matures, the list of stuff in Assumption 4 becomes business-as-usual and things start to run themselves to some extent.

Assumption 7: lots/many companies have probably got to Assumption 6 in their maturity cycle (<- OUCH … who kicked me!?).

Assumption 8: So, the more effective we are as Intranet Managers, the more invisible we are to users and, ironically, to senior management who only really take an interest when something goes wrong and they are looking for someone to blame (<- that probably came across a little more cynically than I intended but you know what I mean!).

… and then, along comes the Digital Workplace Monster. As my simple diagram on the left shows, the Digital Workplace Monster gobbles up the intranet. By gobbles up, I mean the intranet as we now know it, suddenly becomes a (small?) component of a bigger ecosystem known as the Digital Workplace.

To put it another way, the intranet becomes the utility cupboard under the sink in the Digital Workplace kitchen … the place where stuff (content) gets put so you can grab it when you need it. The stuff in the cupboard under the sink is important if you need to unblock the plug-hole, descale the kettle or clean the sink etc. … but, frankly, it’s not very exciting. It’s reliable … always there … and useful when you need it.

So, here’s the thing … six months ago you were the Intranet Manager – the go-to-guy (or guyette) guiding your organisation digitally into the twenty-second century. Today … you manage the cupboard under the kitchen sink.

It’s worth thinking about … that’s all I’m saying!

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]

In conversation: social media and the BT Intranet

The second in the series of in conversations with Red Sky Vision – this time a short sound bite or two about why we introduced social media onto the BT Intranet (this one is much shorter … only 1 min 20 sec 🙂 ).

In conversation with Richard Dennison – Social Media and the BT Intranet from Red Sky Vision on Vimeo.

add to del.icio.usDigg itStumble It!Add to Blinkslistadd to furladd to ma.gnoliaadd to simpyseed the vineTailRank

Enough about the technology!

As intranet managers and communicators, we fought long and hard for many years to become technology agnostic and rather than talk in terms of specific technologies we fought to talk in terms of user requirements and user/business needs. Amazingly, we won!


Today, the world seems only to be talking about technology (99% about SharePoint) and we’ve ditched our agnosticism. While I understand that for many of us SharePoint IS the solution we are having to digest, we should still be talking about user needs and not technical functionality – even if we know we might have to compromise in some instances.

By focusing on the technology we are giving carte blanche to IT teams to present functionality/capabilities to us based around technical paths of least resistance for them and their platforms, rather than testing the technology to its full extent to meet business needs. As a result, conversations are almost entirely focussed around what the technology can do and not want the business needs.

PLEASE … before it’s too late … enough about the technology!

add to del.icio.usDigg itStumble It!Add to Blinkslistadd to furladd to ma.gnoliaadd to simpyseed the vineTailRank

Thoughts on SharePoint governance

Nothing seems to attract attention more these days to a blog post than sticking the words SharePoint and governance in the title … without wishing to jump on the bandwagon – actually, jumping firmly on the bandwagon with a double backwards flip and triple salco thrown in – here are my thoughts to add to the cascade of information on the subject.

[To be honest, what follows is not specific to SharePoint but you’ve got to grab attention where you can! 🙂 ]

Anyway … it seems to me that when people talk about intranet governance they seem to view the intranet as a single amorphous blob which needs to be governed (read controlled) in one way. To me, this misses a whole spectrum of nuances around user needs and normally results in an overly restrictive governance regime designed for top-end, formal content being imposed across all content types and all user needs (see previous posts on the subject of differing content types: Changing nature of intranet content; and Content types should complement not compete).

To take account of different content types and user needs, you really need different governance models running in parallel with differing levels of control along a spectrum – a kind of controlometer if you like … at one end: total control; and at the other: the opposite of total control … whatever that is … anarchy; chaos; trust – you choose!

So, below is an attempt to illustrate the above in diagrammatic form.

As an aside, there’s one content type I’ve listed which might surprise people – the under-web. It strikes me that in the drive for control of intranet content over the last few years – fuelled by sound business reasons – we’ve stifled innovation and creativity and decoupled experimentation from core intranet platforms driving it under desks where it is extremely difficult to benefit from the great things which go on in these spaces. We should always legislate for experimentation in our governance models.

A final point, content types shouldn’t be kept apart in a kind of quarantine from each other … there should be exposure and cross fertilisation of different content types both to the left and right of the spectrum to generate valuable context.

add to del.icio.usDigg itStumble It!Add to Blinkslistadd to furladd to ma.gnoliaadd to simpyseed the vineTailRank