Monday, August 8, 2011

Why is Intranet so Hard?

Why is intranet so hard to get right? It's one of the things I keep wondering about. Especially after reading the Global Intranet Trend reports, following discussions on LinkedIn groups and listening to talks at conferences. There definitely is progress in intranet deployment, but the steps are small.
I'd like to share my thoughts on why intranet is hard. As in all (my) blogposts I don't not claim to have all the answers and reasons. I'd love to hear from you why you think intranet is hard (or maybe I'm getting it all wrong: intranet is easy).

Right
With 'get right' I mean having an intranet that really fits the needs and processes of a company, truly supports employee in their daily work, etc. It's an intranet with which the company is happy. It's a business critical 'tool'.

Reason 1: People and technology
To me the most important reason why it's hard to get intranet right is: people and technology don't fit. An organization is made up of people, hopefully focused on working towards shared goals. In human interaction all kinds of important and subtle things count. They're hard to grasp and fit into rules and processes, but they're there. More and more we try to support people with technology. This is great. But people are not electronic and/or digital, they're human. Technology isn't. Connecting people to technology is hard (if not impossible). Although the 'social space' has moved technology in the right (human) direction. Intranet is technology (for the larger part). For that reason I think it never fits the organization (people) perfectly, making it hard for people to be happy with it.

Reason 2: Business and intranet
Another reason is that many intranets seem to have no relation with the core of the business. 'We need a space to share news, information and communicate.' Great. But what does that have to do with the core of the business? Relating news, information and communication to the core of the business is hard. To me it's obvious. The importance of information and communications flows is crucial to all successful companies. However, lots of decision makers don't see this. They say: making products/services and delivering them is our core. Relating this statement to the intranet is essential for a successful intranet. And it's hard for many to actually do it. Most intranets are out there in splendid isolation. It doesn't relate to or impact the core of the business.

Reason 3: Information and 'information'
Informing and communicating are often reasons to set up an intranet. One thing I think we tend to overlook is the difference between the concept of 'information' that IT is selling and the real concept of 'information'. This difference also makes it hard for an intranet to get it right. On most intranets information is published by an owner, has little relation to other information or people, has no context and doesn't evolve in meaning over time. Real information comes from a person with time (history) and location, it has meaning because there is context, it changes over time, etc. Intranet usually doesn't take the real concept of 'information' into account.

Reason 4: Intranet context
'We need a central place to share news and information.' This is a top reason for an intranet. This statement is almost always done by a central organization, like the Communications department. So they set up and roll out an intranet (after doing some user research). But if we didn't have an intranet, would employees still get there news and information? And how would they do that? They would and mostly via email.
The context of the intranet, the tools that are already there or are popping up for news and information sharing give the intranet a hard time. 'Why is a central space better than my own toolset? I get work done anyway.'

Reason 5: Intranet evolution
Relating to Reason 1, people and companies change all the time. New markets are targeted, new people join the company, others leave, etc. But most intranets stay the same as when they were released. As if the company hasn't changed over the years. Most intranets can't change, because they are digital and don't support real stuff going on in the organization. And they don't need to change because they don't relate to the core of the business.

Reason 6: Intranet itself
Relating to Reason 4: the intranet is conceived centrally, so it's also designed centrally. 'They' decide what information you need to get your work done. 'They' decide what navigation is best. Etc. Furthermore, because it's the central information and communication hub, everything gets stuffed into the intranet even if it doesn't fit well. E.g. process descriptions are published on the intranet, while everyone know they're outdated as soon as they've been published.

Comments welcomed
I'm curious what you think of this list. Do you (dis)agree with my list? Are there elements you'd add? Please feel free to comment on this post. Let's see if we can come up with a complete list!

Shortly, I'll also write a blogpost why intranet easy. Keep in touch! (UPDATE: Here's the link to that post.)
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