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Intranet Week 2008 was held in Boston last week, the Digital Workplace Group was among the event sponsors for this IQPC conference.  IBF North America Director, Nancy Goebel, chaired the event, and Abigail Lewis-Bowen (an IBF strategist) came along to take part in panel discussions on governance and design.

Some of the main themes of the two-days of main conference presentations included:

1. More and more about social networking: Everyone seems to be talking about how to introduce some aspect of "social media" into their organization. And most intranet managers seem to be attempting to do this through careful implementations of "2.0" tools, mostly the introduction of discussion forums, blogs, or "myspace" like applications. We heard the compelling story of Blue Shirt Nation, the Drupal-based networking and discussion site created on a shoestring budget by Steve Bendt and his colleagues from Best Buy. Among Steve’s tips for success:

  • It’s important to understand the social contract your company needs
  • Be a listener
  • Efforts fail from poor community management, deploying overpriced, shiny features
  • Never make an investment you are too proud to give up
  • Okay to fail, fail frequently, with a low cost implementation you can try, try again

2. Continued move to distributed governance models: We heard a number of different takes on intranet governance, and the general trend in this area is moving away from centralized "command and control" approaches to more de-centralized, distributed author models. Whether by necessity due to budget cuts, or in response to "self-service" publishing trends, it seems many intranet teams are handing content control back over to line of business site owners, SME’s and in some cases, anybody who wants to author. This decentralization seems to be facilitated by an increased understanding of the use of templated systems to ensure content quality and UE consistency. The new catch phrase for this approach seems to be the "gardener" role, where community, content, and quality is cultivated carefully and weeds gently removed as needed.

3. Poor content management solutions: Several intranet managers from larger corporations echoed a common frustration: It’s difficult to find one good CMS that fits the needs of a larger organization’s intranet. Marshall Alexander of Cisco told of more than one effort to deploy a centralized CMS, and Laurel Castiglione of GM told the same story, although she said a common CMS is "coming soon" for GM.  Cisco’s story of deploying a hand-built solution to managing navigational consistency without a CMS in place sounded familiar: IBM’s Intranet (and Internet) ran without an enterprise-wide CMS until very recently, and parts of the Intranet are most likely still migrating over to the common platform.  The lesson here might be not to wait for the perfect CMS to come along, but instead to focus on content quality and cleanup to improve information discovery.

4. Dumping intranet detritus and improving search: We heard a few compelling figures from presenters on the amount of intranet content they ditched in an attempt to improve search. Susan West from Delta Airlines said their clean-up initiative deleted a whopping 70% of intranet content, while Helen Galasso who heads up Coldwell Banker’s CBWorks intranet said her cleanup eliminated 50% of content.  And it’s not just large companies that have a ton of garbage on their intranets. In telling the story of how Serena Software dumped their intranet in favor of Facebook, Kyle Arteaga said that a content audit showed only a very small percentage of company content as actually proprietary. Serena puts their proprietary stuff on HiveLive and lets the rest go free on Facebook.

Since every intranet has problems with search, it was interesting to hear Cisco’s Marshall report less than enthusiastic on their success with the Google Search Appliance.  Great ammunition for every intranet manager who has fielded endless pleas to “just get Google.”

Clearly the solution to poor enterprise search is not just about the engine, but mostly about content quality, and partly about information structure and meta data. Many intranet managers spoke of their nascent efforts to enhance search results by implementing social results along side traditional ones, through tagging and ranking tools.

5. Improving the off-the-shelf experience: With many intranet managers struggling to retrofit user requirements into off-the-shelf solutions, George Levesque from Staples, Inc. delivered an interesting look at approaches for thinking "outside the box"  and innovating by repurposing an existing products without expensive customizations. These ideas included using a mantra to stay consistent and focused on the goals of the project, while looking to low-tech solutions to basically "fake" information integration in the portal environment without high cost.

Overall, Intranet Week offered a good roundup of valuable experience and insight into many interesting intranets and intranet-related projects, in an intimate setting that allowed for frequent networking and discussion with presenters.

About the author

Nancy Goebel - DWG's Managing Director for Member & Benchmarking ServicesNancy Goebel is the Digital Workplace Group’s Managing Director, Member Services & Strategic Partnerships.

During her six-year tenure with DWG, Nancy has been involved in account management, benchmarking, research, blogging and executive producing Digital Workplace Live and DW 24.

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 +.

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