The Intranet is not a single system

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This post is not about stating anything new…but merely sharing some thoughts…

In my new role I am also responsible for the councils Intranet, which is currently not fit for purpose as the core technology for content, much like our public website is using an outdated technology, it doesn’t support dynamic content and is generally poorly managed.

No one  is to blame for that, we are where we are…but it is clear that we need to change the way we operate around the intranet in order to provide more efficient internal communications and better access to internal services and business processes.

One area which is often hard for people to get to grips with is that the Intranet is not a single system…you may have a content management system which presents your content and manages the intranet homepage, but this is only part of your intranet’s ecosystem…So when people refer to the intranet being rubbish or poor, they are generally referring to the top level content and the look and feel of templates…which fortunately is something we can do something about…But the whole ecosystem needs to fit together in order for an intranet to be useful and usable.

I’ve written before on Intranet’s here, here and here and this is an opportunity to get a broader view on the way forward and have a conversation about the core business purpose and not about the underlying technology, which is where my focus in the past has been.

A few weeks back I put together a single side of A4 on the core purpose and some strategic assumptions in order to frame and inform the future direction and creation of an Intranet Strategy, It was kind of quick and dirty but did the job as we now have a collective acceptance to the current picture…which certainly helps when agreeing a future direction.

This is what I wrote:

Core Purpose

The Intranet should aim to be the number one business support tool for all staff across the council.

The ultimate purpose for our intranet (the source) is to contribute to the Council’s strategic objectives by establishing an internal communications network which is able to provide an efficient, internal service-delivery mechanism accessible from anywhere and at any time.

Typical intranet objectives would be:

  1. enabling high levels of employee involvement (2 way dialogue) and productivity.
  2. support collaboration, information sharing and connecting with colleagues (staff directory).
  3. facilitating business efficiency (employee self service tools).
  4. to become a key repository (the source) for information to assist people in their roles.

Strategic Assumptions

  • The current Intranet platform is no longer fit for purpose.
  • The Intranet is part of the councils wider web presence which also includes the public website and extranet capabilities and should be seen in this context when considering and planning technology solutions.
  • The intranet is not a single system, it is an ecosystem of platforms, tools and applications which contribute to the core purpose above. Note: we will need to understand the relationship between the new desktop, extranet and a new redefined intranet.
  • The intranet should be available to all staff regardless of location.
  • The intranet should make it possible for all staff to contribute to the knowledge repository through formal and informal routes.
  • The information structure should focus on the user perspective and not on the organisation structure. As an example, Figure 1 shows a context diagram for intranet services from an end-users perspective.

 

 

Social is a pain in the a**e

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My previous post about closing the social media gap raised some interesting discussion on twitter around how we start to approach the issue of narrowing the gap between those who are active in social media and those that are not, for various reasons – getting access to such websites is still a major block, but also and more importantly is the term “social”.

Social as a term for practically nearly all managers and senior managers in local government (through my limited experience) is something that conjures images of staff not working and chatting in corridors or by coffee machines exchanging stories about the weekend football match or even the latest gossip.

But fundamentally organisations are powered by social interactions in one form or another, however because we don’t often capture these kinds of “informal” social interactions in formal business workflow we fail to recognise that they exist at all.  This is one of the reasons why in my view the term “social” is counter productive, it actually becomes a pain in the a**e when trying to engage people in conversation.

The interesting part of the twitter discussion was actually when we started to talk about what word or words we could use instead of social. The trouble here is, I don’t think a single term works to solve this issue.

I think the most logical way to approach it is to focus on the business challenges and outcomes and then consider how a new set of tools can support, resolve or even solve those challenges. Again my rule number 1 is critical.

An example here is some colleagues our workforce development team wanted to promote the use of the internet and of course some of the social platforms that exist as a way to support self-directed learning within the workplace. Social tools were part of the solution and the word social didn’t come into play at any point really and we had a good level of response from people. It might sound tactical but we did social by stealth and it worked.

So my current view is that use terminology that is context specific to ensure that your audience are able to engage in conversation and dialogue about the possibilities and opportunities of using new tools.

We can’t however ignore that the generic term of social media and social networking represent a set of tools which many of us exploit individually and organisationally…but we should focus on what we are doing and not on how we are doing it.

It’s all just Business

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For those who don’t know me – I work as an Enterprise Architect in Corporate ICT for Devon County Council – The challenge for an Enterprise Architect is to focus on the whole Business and not just the IT function or service – we are employed to facilitate Transformational Change across the whole Business. Not an easy job as such but a very interesting and challenging one.

So for me what I do is ALL about the Business of the County Council.

I have recently posted (a collaborative effort with Martin Howitt) on our team blog about the wider implications of the changing landscape of corporate ICT and how that effected our ability to realise cost savings to the scale we hear about and need to deliver.

But we must first address some key issues and get organisational acceptance to some basic building blocks of Effective and Efficient organisations.

IT offers no value on its own. It really is ALL about the Business. The people outside of IT (Business People) are the people in control of the organisation and they specify the priorities and direction through strategy. So why don’t they control IT more effectively? Why isn’t there one Governance stream in an organisation – Business Governance?

IT governance is really business governance. In many organizations, IT has led the way in implementing governance over critical decisions related to strategy, business architecture, investments, change, programs, risk and sourcing. Over time, organizations have realized that decisions in these areas need to be coordinated across the enterprise and have elevated and consolidated these activities outside and above IT.

Via – HBR – What does the future hold for IT?

In the team post we talk about how core IT competencies need to be mainstreamed into the Business. What we really mean by this is that Business Leaders should have the skills and competencies to procure IT solutions, manage IT contracts and drive value from the investments they make – not just in IT.

Another issue which is critical is how will the current Heads of IT or CIO’s deal with the current financial situation.

I see two options in local government:

  1. Drive cost savings, innovation and transformation in the organisation through radical approaches to ICT delivery and infrastructure.
  2. Play safe and wait for someone in the Business to make the decision for them

If I were a CIO or head of IT, i know which one i would rather opt for as Option 2 pretty much spells “outsourcing” to me.

The following presentation covers the CIO dilemma well and is worth checking out.

confused of calcutta >> More on the Facebookisation of the enterprise

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Following on from my post last year about intranets and what drivers do local government need for them.

This post by Confused of Calcutta starts to not only articulate what people need internally in “facebook terms” but also pulls out the fundamental changes that IT departments need to go through.

It will be important for IT departments to get the basics right and to offer real value to staff. This also means that IT will need to truly understand the business it sits within.

Can we say that IT departments in the public sector really understand the nature of the business they are a part of. Probably not, but then again can anyone really understand the true breadth of public services.

If the IT department was made to behave like Facebook, what would an enterprise look like?

via More on the Facebookisation of the enterprise – confused of calcutta.

I like the question, it starts to make you think about what your IT offering should be and how you can align that with the business. This also requires IT to change from just being a “Provider” of services to an “Advisor”, helping and understanding the business achieve its business goals and strategies. I have recently commented on a post by Todd Biske which also highlights the shift IT has to go through.

DeJa Vu – A lesson for social media

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A colleague and friend of mine Martin Howitt has just started blogging outside the comfort of our team blog, where he was the most active blogger. I should blog more over there and will do in the coming weeks about IT/Business Alignment and the benefits of Enterprise Business Architecture in reducing the “lost in translation” effect that often happens when business folk talk to IT and vice versa. I am current fascinated by this issue as it can also help explain some of the issues and negative perceptions that people have about social media.

Anyway, Martin has provided an excellent post on the ROI potential of Social Media and had provided some great seeds for others to hopefully expand  and build on.

Martin states:

it’s probably time someone tried to start mapping out the benefits of SM right across the piece so that a full business case can be made by those who are trying to make the change in their own organisations.

via The social media ROI braindump « Martin Howitt’s blog.

This is the DeJa Vu aspect of the post – haven’t we been here before, with email and council websites and online services?

What we need to remember here though in all this conversation around Social Media ROI is that it wasn’t that long ago, that some councils didn’t even have websites and that officers within councils had to construct a business case for email (yes really a business case for email) – but don’t we all have one ( or even more) now and don’t we all believe even the doubters of social media that email, is a tool that if switched off would have a detrimental effect on how businesses run and function.

The shift and progress around local council websites was helped by the now infamous eGovernment agenda, but credit also needs to go to Socitm who year on year publish Better Connected (whether you like it or not, it provides a snapshot of what is happening) – eGov also did many good things but in my humble opinion failed to address the real issues in technology innovation – again a topic which i will touch on in my IT/Business Alignment post. But we also need to remember that a number of councils had websites before this and were doing some great innovative work on them including online services.

My council (Devon County Council) has had a website (as well as a basic intranet) since around 1998 and it grew organically much like other websites, starting with a strong tourism and visitor information presence into other council services and information resources. I wasn’t involved in the web at that time but i can imagine the type of discussions that were had about developing a County Council website, were quite similar to what people are saying now about social media sites. What is the benefit, how many people will use it, it won’t and doesn’t reach everyone yet….and so on. The key message is, you HAVE to start somewhere and you HAVE to be patient, even more so with social media as we are dealing with relationships and connections with real people, not transaction or visitor statistics.

We (local government) were given targets and timescales to get our websites up to date and up to speed with a set of basic requirements plus a sprinkle of transactions. The ROI that is being used and promoted is that the cost of interacting with people over the web is cheaper and more cost-effective, well it can be if your services are connected to your back office and people are not having to intervene in the process.

BUT where eGovernment failed in my opinion is that instead of focusing on developing online transactions that people actually wanted to use and demonstrated a high volume potential (based on local need and preference) we were mandated to deliver all of them in one way or another. So for most people eGovernment became one very large technology project and it lost the support of people in the business due to the amount of time available.  Plus with so many services developed, the marketing message became diluted with so many services that not many people used. We could be in danger of doing this again unless we start to connect people in the business to the opportunities and technologies out there, whether this is social media tools or not.

OK, so this is where Martin’s post for me gets really interesting. It starts to connect business terms with outputs and opportunities of Social media   – Martin picks out 9 areas, here are a three of them:

  • Infrastructure (administrative management of eg buildings) -> need maintenance and planning (and even strategy) -> SM can streamline maintenance processes, alerts, and educate people in how to get the best out of their investments.
  • technology -> Social media can reduce email, provide mashups, enhance remote, mobile and flexible working. This is a big topic in itself.
  • HR management -> social media tools can be used to provide early warnings of things that are bothering the workforce, ways to access employee resources (like workplace counselling or learning and development); conversely the blocking of social media sites can be demotivating for employees

What WE and i mean everyone who is currently able to work on this stuff proactively, needs to start looking at the metrics and agreeing some consistent ways in which we can demonstrate effectiveness and cost savings. We also need to really start looking at the business issues which our employers have and be flexible enough in our approaches to accept that social media won’t work everywhere.

I think we need to start with opportunities where there is a desire and opportunity to demonstrate value. It sounds obvious but i often here people talking just about twitter or facebook without linking that to a specific business objective. It seems to be more about demonstrating twitter and facebook can work instead of demonstrating that we can improve business outcomes by using a new set of technologies and tools. It is only then we will actually start seeing the ROI of these tools, but it will always become complicated because it will in nearly all cases be part of a wider provision including face to face, telephone, web etc.

For me, all of the tools provide exciting opportunities but that is all they are until i can connect them to a business problem in my council. The new skill for social media people won’t be about the tools but will be about understanding business (people) problems. Which is afterall one of the key features of anything “social”.