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which is currently not fit for purpose as the core technology for content, much like our public website is using an outdated technology, it doesn’t support dynamic content and is generally poorly managed.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.

 

 

2 weeks in and what have I achieved….

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I have now been in my new post for almost 2 full weeks and to say it has been a whirlwind is a bit of an understatement – meetings, discussions, ideas, planning and strategy…It has felt a bit like a localgovcamp event to be honest – but with the added bonus of actually being able to progress work and initiate stuff straight away.

I thought I’d use this post to reflect on the last two weeks and share some of the plans and ideas we are developing which you will hopefully learn more about in the coming weeks and months either here on my blog or the upcoming team blog “Project Beta”.

As referred to in my previous post I am now back to being a line manager of 6 people and I’m very pleased with the team as they are all highly skilled, very motivated and already making stuff happen – I mean what more could I ask for…

So what have I done, I’ve sat down with the team individually and have found out what their expectations and requirements are of me as a manager and what they need me to do to help make them productive.  We also have a draft work programme agreed which is still evolving and has a team member identified for everything task/project.

I’ve had many meetings with people ranging from our improving the corporate website, redefining the intranet, explaining and promoting the digital communication opportunities and I’ve written some documents and have sold ideas…. These conversations have been with the team itself, Heads of Service, Governance Groups, Elected Members and colleagues and staff in general.

A few highlights for me include:

  • sitting down with one of the councillors who attended my social media session and helping them get set up with a personal blog, all in 2 hours. (I won’t share the link yet as they are finalising some early content for a launch shortly)
  • getting agreement and commitment from one of our new Heads of Service to publicly blog about their service.
  • agreement to a programme of work to consolidate the micro sites the council has and to reuse or refocus the content to improve the public website.
  • agreement and support by one of our governance boards to improving and redefining the councils intranet.
  • listening to and seeing first hand the excellent contribution members of the team make in meetings around web and digital communications projects.
We are only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we can do ourselves as team and what we can facilitate across the council.  There are many more things I’m proud of personally and that of my team and would love to share but will leave these for another time.
My challenge and the teams is to keep up the momentum going and keeping pushing things forward.

 

Death of the Local Authority Intranet

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I’ve checked my twitter timeline but can’t find who posted a link to this article on Intranets - It didn’t really offer anything new in terms of definition or uses in my view, in fact I had to check the date of publication just to be sure that I wasn’t reading something from a few years ago. In all fairness I’m focused on Local Government and I’m not for a minute saying that businesses shouldn’t consider them. :o)

The reason I say that is because I believe there is no longer a need for Intranets in Local Government and I for one would be happy to see them all go. I did blog about this before but now I am utterly convinced there is simply no future in them.

They all seem to have common problems around user engagement and usefulness, the promotion and talk of Social Software components for intranets did for some time breathe a bit of life back into them, but times moves on and the cost of replicating this failure across all organisations isn’t efficient (we should fail once and big time :o) ) Seriously though, the shape of councils will change and the concept of what is internal and what is external and what is partnership and what is for suppliers etc will increasingly get more complex that we will simply have no need for a behind the firewall website.

If we are moving towards a strategic commissioning model then we will need to develop effective extranets which can support collaboration across organisations and sectors as well as providing a platform for policy and standards. With Open Government what is really sensitive about all these policies and existing content on Intranets that couldn’t be requested under FOI anyway? In my experience people who do have access to intranets don’t bother looking and it is seen as an after thought.

We would be delivering applications via the web into a web platform – dare I say portal of some kind – I do hate the word portal, but as I type nothing else springs to mind! We would need to ensure security of sensitive data and this will be facilitated through access controls and not simply a giant firewall around a poor web platform which is generally a place where internal information goes to die.

I’ve said it before but the Knowledge Hub project will offer a huge opportunity and although some people have said to me that councils will need Intranets – I can’t think of a single reason why we would need one of our own, instead of using a sector wide extranet which allows staff to connect with each other regardless.

The Knowledge Hub as I see it could be integrated with local technology solutions to provide a proactive destination for information – a place you go to “do” your work and collaborate with colleagues. This is the complete opposite of most Intranets which are a place we “store” policies and documents….

Ok there are some good examples out there – well I’ve heard that there are, the thing is I can’t see them….another thing the knowledge resolves we all see the same platform and only access information which we are allowed to see.

I have been called optimistic before and maybe this is exactly that….but in these tough financial times, can we really afford not to join up….I for one am looking forward to February 2011 when the Knowledge Hub is launched.

What is the future for Public Sector Intranets

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Public sector and in particular Local Government Intranets are in my view a bit of a strange thing really – they are supposed to support productivity, knowledge sharing, internal communications and staff engagement to name a few key areas, but most in my experience fail to do a single thing well.

I don’t think we need to ponder the reasons as i think they are pretty easy to point to: lack of dedicated funding – often diverted to the “priority” public website, lack of focus, lack of direction, lack of external review and benchmarking (no Better Connected report for inside the firewall), lack of interaction and a lack of culture around real collaboration (assumed not proven!).

So I asked myself what is the future for Public Sector Intranets?

I actually find this quite an interesting area to talk about – I know i need to get out more – but there is a convergence happening around corporate desktops and Intranets which has to be considered and recognised if organisations want to move forward. They aren’t the same but the capabilities of each do overlap, depending on how you define your intranet of course.

Then there is the IDeA’s Knowledge Hub Project which in my view offers huge opportunities – Any public sector body considering replacing or rebuilding there current intranet ought to at least find out more about this project as i believe it will transform the way the public sector collaborates and could in my view become a public sector intranet – It almost has to, if it wants to deliver some of the benefits it talks about. This model also becomes even more relevant considering the impending cuts across the sector and the drive to move shared services and a reduction in duplication. Intranets seem a likely if not obvious target in my opinion.

The future for intranets may in fact be that we no longer need them at all. If we are being driven to publish data online to service areas such as FOI, being encouraged to collaborate across the sector to reduce duplication and share best practice and learning, increase staff and employee productivity, work in partnership and across the public sector and ensure a skills transfer and knowledge base. Then how can any single public sector organisation justify or even consider developing there own – well at least until they can prove they need one on there own?

Whatever the future for Intranets, one thing I can say with certainty is that they can no longer continue being static, boring, un-engaging, repositories of out of date information.

Do you think there is a need for an organisation to have its own intranet?