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I’ve just completed a briefing paper for DWG and, I have to say, it’s been intriguing. I was asked to look at that stalwart, the employee directory, and what I found worried me.

An unfulfilled promise

Research report on Intranet Employee DirectoriesA few years ago we knew where our favourite killer app was heading. It was going to be transformed from the boring old phonebook into an amazing view of everything about your colleagues. We were going to be able to see their picture (wow!), and lots of other cool stuff like their skills and their experience. We were going to be able see everything about their digital life within an organization: what groups they belonged to, what documents they’d published and how they were connected to everyone else. The future was sunny indeed.

Whilst there are some very good employee directories out there, it looks like everything is a lot less rosy for everyone else. There is disappointment in the air. People aren’t updating their profiles. The advanced features aren’t getting used. What’s going on?

Well, a few things have changed in the past few years.

Profile proliferation and integration barriers

Online personal profiles were once a rarity and now people have half a dozen, internally and externally. Some they polish with great attention (LinkedIn), while internal profiles on employee directories tend to languish unattended. Organizations at first push employees to populate them with photos and other rich data, and then need to push them again and again to keep it updated.

If your organization chose a cloud-based enterprise social network like Yammer or Chatter, it’s likely you have two profiles that are now competing with each other, with partial data that is out of sync. Also any view of the employee’s digital activity (in SharePoint-land anyway) has frankly tended to stop at the boundary of the content management system. What happens in SharePoint stays in SharePoint. Connectors are coming but they add complexity and are another thing to go wrong.

In the vast majority of large organizations the basic and essential information you need to contact  your colleague is now in the Microsoft Active Directory. This means that you can usually get this data straight from Microsoft Outlook and, increasingly, from the Microsoft Lync instant messaging client, right there on the desktop.

So we’ve got a quandary. How are you going to convince your colleagues to update their profile in the employee directory, when it is just one of many? Other profiles are far more hip and everyone gets email address and phone numbers using Outlook and Lync.

When the directory’s view across the organization stops at the edge of SharePoint, the future doesn’t look so bright, does it?

Time to rethink employee directories

The future will be, I think, possibly different. In the research paper, we look at the ways in which some of the problems that I have mentioned above can be mitigated, but I also address alternative ways of considering the problem:

  • What can we learn from the empirical evidence of nearly 40 IBF benchmarking evaluations?
  • What are the limits to self-maintained data and what are the alternatives?
  • Can we automate expertise location? And if we can, what are the potential drawbacks?
  • Are people looking for expertise? Should the employee directory stick to phone numbers?
  • What’s the future for the employee directory? Will it disappear, and be subsumed into the enterprise social network?

With three case notes from experiences at two major financial institutions and a pharmaceutical company this report provides an honest, real-world look at the state of intranet employee directories.

If you’ve been disappointed with the evolution of your intranet employee directory, know that you are not alone and that there are practical resources for improving your situation.

IBF members can access the report on the IBF member extranet. Everyone else can download a report summary.

Get copy of report summary

About the author

Chris TubbChris Tubb is an independent intranet and digital workplace consultant, who lives in Brighton.

For the Digital Workplace Group (DWG) he is a strategy consultant, lead benchmarker and a member of the research team.

Working with intranets since 1996, in and out of IT and Communications departments, Chris was formerly responsible for intranet strategy and architecture at Orange SA and France Telecom Group.

2 Comments

  1. Yes, I think the proliferation of multiple profiles is a huge problem within organisations, as new tools are implemented, particularly in the collaboration and social spaces.

    The answer is easy: ensure there’s only one profile. I covered this a while back in an article:

    http://www.steptwo.com.au/papers/cmb_profile/index.html

    Of course, the hard thing is actually achieving this!

    One element must, I think, be putting pressure on the vendors to play nice: “we won’t purchase your tool unless you demonstrate how you can use our existing staff directory, rather than creating a new set of profiles”. Big companies with big deployments can apply the greatest pressure to vendors, but the rest of us can help.

    Cheers, James

  2. There are really only a handful of vendors out there that provide a standalone corporate directory application that can connect to the most common types of employee databases.

    I’ve worked with one that provides a turn-key solution…..www.mypeoplequest.com.

    Check it out! They have prices and demos on their site. When they installed our on-site directory in 2012 (with an HR portal) they were just kicking off their app/mobi versions too.

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