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I just read a post by Gerry McGovern suggesting that obstacles to Intranet success don’t lie with oft-blamed senior management, but instead with intranet teams who aren’t seeing, or seizing, the value of their mission. Gerry refers to Jane McConnell’s Global Intranet & Portal Strategies Survey, which reports on the top serious obstacles for intranets:

  • Intranet not seen as a priority
  • Lack of awareness of the potential role of the intranet
  • Lack of ownership at a senior level
  • Lack of or insufficient
  • search solution
  • Not aligned to processes, not essential for daily work

Here’s what Gerry says

The “top serious obstacles” do not lie with senior management. They lie with the intranet teams themselves who see their intranets as this vague way to “distribute information”, rather than make the organization more efficient and productive.

As I’ve been meeting intranet managers and management teams, I am struck by the need for intranet leaders and their team members to evolve their own thinking and skills in order to achieve more capabilities and value for their intranet. Many teams, even in large, global organizations, are still too tethered by their origins or the constraints
of the corporate culture, to become a function that elevates and enables work and business process.

But I’m not absolving “senior management” altogether: CIOs, CTO’s and CEO’s should be joining with their intranet teams in broadening their skills and thinking about intranets in order to let them reach their full potential.

Intranet managers and senior leaders must be big-picture thinkers with the organizational experience, vision and knowledge to deliver work processes, knowledge and tasks through the intranet. Intranet workers, employees, and team members must also be able to understand and experience the way individuals work across the organization, in order to translate that experience correctly to the online environment.

In addition, intranet teams must be functionally agile, so they can connect with organizations and processes in any corner of the enterprise. Leaders must figure out a way to string together the architects and database managers in IT, the knowledge management gurus, the communicators and marketers across all business functions, and the designers, User Experience professionals, and information managers in a typical intranet team. In order to achieve this level of organizational agility, the culture of the organization will have to shift also. Companies used to silos and rigid reporting lines must adapt in order to allow the intranet’s full potential to be realized.

Even more important, though, is intranet managers and workers must also see themselves in a new light. I recently had a conversation with Mike Wing, VP of strategic communications at IBM and a former intranet leader for that company. Mike made some great statements about how intranet people (“Intranauts,” he used to say) need to be thinking about their work:

“Your goal is not running the intranet, but rather unleashing the capacity of the organization,” he said

Those of you in the trenches of daily intranet management may be reading this and thinking that while this all sounds very grand, there’s real work to be done. And there’s no doubt that the daily grind of managing an intranet can be all-consuming. For now, a few small but powerful activities may get you and your leaders started down the path of evolving the intranet thinking in your company:

  1. Hold a roundtable to discuss this topic with other intranet site managers
  2. around the organization, and within your team.
  3. Focus on organizational bottlenecks and roadblocks that prevent holistic approaches to intranet management, and hinder collaboration and communication across functions, geographies and organizational hierarchies.
  4. Organize a “blue sky” session with senior leaders presenting some of the key challenges gathered from the previous steps. Allow participants the time and freedom to freely configure the organization to maximize intranet potential. (n.b. this shouldn’t result in an organizational land grab; let go of familiar arguments about ownership and power, if at all possible.)
  5. Finally, go ahead and order yourself some new business cards: Congratulations, Chief Liberator of Organizational Capacity!

About the author

Nancy Goebel - DWG's Managing Director for Member & Benchmarking ServicesNancy Goebel is DWG’s Managing Director for Member Services. In addition to heading up service delivery, she is responsible for member engagement, retention and growth. Nancy also sits on DWG’s Board of Directors.

Prior to joining the Digital Workplace Group, Nancy was a accomplished executive at JPMorgan Chase where she built and led a global team in desigining and implementing an award-winning intranet. She also led digital enablement and business re-engineering initiatives.

Outside work, Nancy is a wine maker, fundraiser, meditator, wife and mother of two.

Connect with Nancy on Twitter: @nancyatdwg or on Google +.


  1. Abi, you have stated really clearly the different ways of thinking about intranets. A major challenge of teams who already have an intranet, is that the perspective is shaped by the existing structure & limitations, to a degree.
    Folks who are starting projects to build new intranets are at a fortunate point right now because there is so much great thinking about intranet strategy and approaches available.
    At Oxfam America we have started a project to build a new intranet. When I start explaining the project to folks I say that the goal of the intranet is to be “truly helpful to all staff.”
    Helpful in what ways? Well, that’s what we’re researching right now – what are the biggest needs that the intranet could fill. Not just for basic organizational documentation, but for communication, collaboration, tools, etc.
    We will select an intranet platform and features and build the information architecture based on extensive user research.
    And we aren’t in a hurry. We are a nonprofit and can’t afford to get this wrong, so we aren’t cutting any corners and are doing our best to do it right the first time around (though of course there’ll be bugs, changes, etc.).

  2. Anonymous

    Hi Ephraim, sounds like a great project at Oxfam and the right approach. Probably the biggest challenge most folks have is organizational panic over new trends (“we need a wiki/blog/networking thing!”) and the failure to map decisions about technologies and applications to user needs and business requirements. Good luck with the project!

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