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?

16 thoughts on “What is the future for Public Sector Intranets

  1. Helen C

    I think there will always be a need for an organisation to have an intranet, even if it is partly a portal to bigger social/work networks.

    There needs to be somewhere for people to share stuff privately within the particular organisation, as soon as sensitive stuff goes out into an external domain you start to run into privacy issues.

    I do agree that (like with any website) lack of funding, resource, maintenance, future planning and adapting to change often tends to create a pretty unsuccessful intranet.

    We’re in the process of planning a new intranet here as we speak, so I’m hoping to avoid these pitfalls!

    • Carl Haggerty

      Hi Helen,

      I agree there is a need for private areas, but that can be delivered in a wider platform which also allows for collaboration and communication to seamlessly flow between organisations.

      I’m not convinced single organisation intranets are sustainable or worthwhile investments at the moment.

  2. The larger the organisation there more merit there is in having an intranet of some description.

    The focus of any intranet, large or small, should be about making peoples’ lives easier and more productive. A telephone directory of some description will generally be the most-used application on the intranet, so its vital that it is comprehensive and has great usability. Other productivity or time-saving resources should be equally comprehensive and usable, with good signposting to access them.

    Another key role of an intranet is as a mass communications resource, and I think this is often a missed opportunity for many organisations. It’s widely believed that a global mail will be read by everyone – not true! So the intranet has a role to play in complementing email and giving people a reason to visit it beyond accessing the phone book.

    This aside, I do like the idea of a ‘global intranet’ for local government. I think that would be well received generally, and would enable ‘local’ intranets to focus on local information/priorities.

    Changing tack slightly there is, I think, a strong case also to be made for publishing all intranet content on the public website (in a defined space). Public sector organisations shouldn’t have secrets from the public, therefore there’s no reason why the content shouldn’t (in large part) be published on the www rather than an intranet. Only genuinely sensitive or confidential material would be publish on an internal site in such a scenario.

    • Carl Haggerty

      Hi John,

      I’m still not convinced that an organisation large or small can justify its own intranet. If the Knowledge Hub for example were used once it has been completed, that would provide a staff directory/people finder but across the sector and enable staff to be more productive. An internal focused staff directory only serves to connect our own staff – with greater pressure to work in partnership then access to a global staff directory/people finder would mean we could all communicate regardless of authority.

      If we also consider that a number of authorities have already started sharing senior management posts, you could already see a case for joining or merging organisational intranets to release additional value and cut costs.

      As you say private areas are private, but with the right security measures in place the Knowledge Hub could provide a sector wide platform which could see the end of all intranets in councils.

  3. The intranet is our next big project (isn’t it always?), so this is interesting.

    The main issue comes with identifying what an intranet actually is, and what it actually does – and doesn’t – do.

    I personally see it as more of an information store for staff to get through their daily worklife more easily.

    That means days to day things like staff phonebook, online meeting room booking, simple hubs to provide easy access to online apps like the CMS, how to claim expenses, hr information, where are all the council buildings (and how do I get there), what’s happening on Red Nose Day…. etc etc etc

    I’m not sure how that sort of information would be a benefit to anyone else other than our staff. In that regard I think there will always be a need for that… but is that strictly an intranet, or is it just an internal website?

    Then there is document management and information sharing and all that entails. All the clever and overly complicated things that SharePoint does… but is that an intranet on it’s own either?

    You are spot on with your reasons for failing though.

    The intranet is a full time job, and really needs a dedicated team for it to really work but it is always a sub-note on someone’s job description.

    I’ve been building websites for years, and I think I’m pretty OK at that by now. Intranets are kind of big and scary though. I’ve had intranet projects come up in the past before, but I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to the bottom of where to even start (they never really got going either).

    Where’s the best practice, where’s the examples, where are the things that have worked, the things that haven’t, where are the figure heads? By their very nature they are a dark and secretive black art so very little of this stuff actually exists…

    Having just gone through LGR and having 4 organisations slip into one I’ve seen first hand the very different approaches there are… and how difficult they are to get even remotely right.

    • Carl Haggerty

      Exactly, the definition itself provides added complexity.

      Perhaps what we actually need is a few scenarios which will help focus the minds a bit more. I agree that perhaps internally focused pages are still relevant but as John highlights in the comments also – why does this need to be hidden, even if it isn’t appealing to others.

      When you throw in stuff in document collaboration, presence, instant messaging, networks, internal comms, you start hitting more complex issues about how it should and could be delivered.

      As you highlight where is the good practice (or even average practice) for local authorities to compare and decide which parts could be aligned and joined together.

      My thinking is that if you are embarking on this, then as i point out consider all the options and focus on what you think adds value to your organisation and consider what already exists that you can embed or link to which also offers value to your fellow colleagues.

      Good luck with your project….

  4. The intranets I see fail the most are the ones that are run as an isolated web site (or set of) separate to where any work gets done. The ones where people get told they have to update their department’s intranet page. And then the updates go through an approval process, as if the world will end if someone uses incorrect grammar.

    The intranets that succeed tend to focus on key information that people go looking for – staff directory, templates, deadlines for submitting stuff like expenses and monthly reports. And the rest is left to teams and departments to share or not versus focus on internal collaboration. With instant publishing and sharing of content direct rather than duplicating text into official page layouts.

    Just my 2ps worth for the day :-)

    • Carl Haggerty

      Thanks Sharon,

      I agree with you on integrating the outputs into business processes to make it streamlined and easy to maintain.

      I think what i’m hoping for is something that also allows for this process to scale upwards across the whole sector – after all i doubt it will be long before we are all one big shared service :o)

  5. I think it’s the right question to ask, and clearly stems from having some insight into what the Knowledge Hub is (or will be) that your readers probably don’t have. Perhaps one way of looking at this is to separate those business functions that are unique to a local council from those that can be shared. For example, a room booking system, or links to back office systems such as finance (for expenses) or HR (for personal data). Anything else could be supported on a shared sector-wide intranet – but perhaps more correctly defined as an ‘Extranet’. It would meet security requirements for any sensitive data; it would have a sector wide address book; it would have shared and private spaces for conversations; it would have a common library for storing information assets; it would be a place for finding and contributing to notable practice and shared policies. It would enable sharing and comparison of performance. All of these things will be supported by the Knowledge Hub, and if it goes any way to breaking down the silos of knowledge that exist across the sector, then it will have achieved its purpose.

    If nothing else, I’m hoping it might raise awareness for anyone developing or renewing their intranet to consider what is unique to a local council, and what could be shared with other councils. The days of living in splendid isolation are surely numbered, and we ought to be thinking of a federated local gov sector with a joined up system to support it.

  6. An interesting debate about the definition of the intranet and also I don’t see anyone replying about the lack of “external review and benchmarking” you mentioned Carl yet?

    At IBF we are constantly thinking about the definition of an intranet and it’s different for our different member organisations. In our developing conversations this year we see the development of the ‘digital workplace’, where we consider all of the content and services mentioned above, from core information on policies, through basic work environment processes, internal micro blogging, discussion, online meeting spaces. These are all part of the users’ digital workplace.

    http://www.intranetlife.com/intranet_benchmarking_for/2010/05/intranet-garden-video-blog-may-2010.html

    In most organisations the user really doesn’t care about the definition of the intranet, they care about the information and services they use through their desktop, if they are easy to use and do what they expect them to do. As ‘intranet managers’ of old it’s a great opportunity to expand the definition of what we do and represent the user in this wider field. Some intranet managers are already there, some are moving into this space quickly, it’s an exciting place to be.

    On the second point about external review and benchmarking, this is what IBF (Intranet Benchmarking Forum) is all about! We have 70 member organisations, several from the UK public sector. We benchmark the intranets and provide comparative reports showing how an intranet performs in various areas VS all the other member intranets, and versus other public sector intranets. We’re just reporting back to the Ministry of Justice later today in fact. As well as benchmarking we facilitate discussions and meetings amongst the members to share best practice and provide research in the field

    http://www.ibforum.com/

    If you’d like to compare your intranet with others next week – do sign up for your FREE IBF24 place. IBF24 is an online meeting where we’ll be showcasing intranets from around the world for 24 hours from 11.00 GMT June 2nd to 11.00 GMT June 3rd. We have some great speakers and intranet tours lined up, so do come along and join in the debate!

    http://www.ibforum.com/?ibf24what

    • Carl Haggerty

      Thanks Helen, some great links there, i’ll check them out and hopefully i’ll be able to sign up.

      I agree that it is all about making stuff simple, but we also have to make sure we reduce costs in the sector as well which to me leads me to think that a shared infrastructure of some kind would offer huge value to the sector but also the employees working in it.

  7. I believe that there will always be a need for a private area for staff to share knowledge and best practice. Whilst Freedom of Information and the drive to make information and data freely available is ot be encouraged, it is still necessary to prevent public access to certain information. For example, specific information could have commercial or security implications if released into the public domain but there might be an operational need to share it internally. It is crazy, though, that government organisations create their own intranets on different platforms where economies of scale and sharing of development and hosting costs should be adopted where possible. You never know, it might mean that organisations even start talking to each other!

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