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.

11 thoughts on “Death of the Local Authority Intranet

  1. Whilst working for local councils I did not find intranets uniquely useful. All the information I sought could reasonably have been public. Why should organisation charts be hidden? This could help citizens seeking information to get to the right person.

    Do you class Sharepoint as Intranet? If so, there were working documents that could be exchanged and it would be inappropriate for them to be made available in draft.

    • Thank you for your comment,

      I don’t consider sharepoint as intranet, but i do consider it part of the platform to support collaboration which in my view has to be “extranet” capability. Access controls would stop “draft” documents from being issued to a public enviornment anyway. This is just part of the document workflow and lifecycle.

  2. Carl,

    we have touched on this topic before, and fully endorse what you are saying. The Knowledge Hub is ideally positioned to become an ‘extranet’ for local government. I suspect the attachment to intranets stems from the need to keep some information private and secure – but the KHub offers a very sophisticated secuity model, with role-based and organisation-based permissioning down to object-level access (e.g. documents). Using open standards such as Open Social you can find and connect with other users of the KHub platform, and also use plug-in apps for doing Devon CC specific things, like room bookings or expense management (note – the apps will need to be developed – they’re not bundled-in with the baseline product).

    Maybe a conversatiomn to scope out what you’re requirements are so that I can get this onto the development roadmap? Maybe Devon CC can show the way for other local authorities thinking the unthinkable?

  3. Spot on Carl. I’m convinced I forfeited a promotion to another government department a few ago when I responded to a question about redeveloping their website by replying “don’t waste your money, intranets will be dead in five years”.

    As they had just invested a few million quid in their intranet this didn’t go down too well.

    But I still stand by it – and subsequent moves to routinely put information in the public domain will, I think, bear me out.

    • Thanks Jeremy,

      I think anyone who wants to build intranets, doesn’t understand Open Government and wants to feel safe behind a pointless firewall.

      Security of information is critical but most of that critical information is held within business applications – documents etc which we are working on, why couldn’t people comment on these as part of the co-design of services. I doubt the take up would be huge to be honest but if people wanted to volunteer their time we should let them – after all this is also big society.

      I’ll keep plugging away. :o)

      Casrl

  4. Helen Connole

    It’s not just a question of confidentiality – some organisations might not want to flood search engines with, for example, endless minutes of meetings which are probably not of much interest to the general public but are required for internal use.

    Such information overload can pollute the waters of usability and distract end users from getting to the important information they may need, often into which time and money has gone into marketing and writing in a user-friendly way, especially designed for an external audience.

    I know there may be ways to attempt to deal with this but one very easy one is to have clearly defined internal/external areas of content. If you already have all the servers, cms etc. in place for an external website it shouldn’t be a massive overhead to extend those to an intranet.

    Just my two cents :)

    • Thanks Helen, but I think you are talking about access control mor than the need for an actual intranet.

      I don’t believe that just because you have the tech you should use it anyway. It clearly needs a business case and a reason.

      I believe that with the impending devolution and increasing move to outsourcing or commissioning it will require different models to emerge – I can’t see intranets being a part of this as they are now. I think we will all move to shared extranets which will replace the traditional intranet model.

      It is of course only a matter of opinion until something changes ;0)

  5. Helen Connole

    Looking at it the other way around I think that an intranet is a very good solution to the need for access control!

    The business case and reason is often that internal comms are important within an organisation and an intranet is a good way to prevent some of the millions of internal emails which take up so much of everyone’s time.

    I do agree that extranets are very much part of the future as well :)

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