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Many intranets, collaboration platforms and digital workplaces have evolved over the past few years to put people at their centre, often by enabling contributions from individuals through social tools, and also enabling “findability” centred on a person rather than a topic or piece of content.

This trend has meant that an individual’s online user profile has become increasingly important. It’s no longer a static resume with an embarrassing photo which nobody updates or reads, but a dynamic snapshot of a person’s activities, contributions, interactions and interests.

It’s also the point where you can often collaborate with a person via tools such as Lync and microblogging. Moreover an individual’s contributions and connections are also increasingly being used in weighting for returned search hits, or deriving suggested content for other users.

The problem of multiple profiles

This is a highly positive direction for the digital workplace, but in practice there is a common problem. Many digital ecosystems are being undermined by having multiple user profiles for each individual, none of which are integrated in any way. For example, at many companies a user has a base of at least four different profiles, namely:

  • A MySite (SharePoint) or intranet-related profile
  • One on a social or collaboration platform, such as Yammer
  • One on an employee directory or phonebook
  • One in a Human Resources Information System (HRIS).

Having these four profiles with overlapping functions causes confusion for users and frustration for intranet managers. Throw in similar information in Outlook, as well as profiles in systems such as e-learning and a load of cloud-based applications, and the picture gets even more complicated.

One company we work with has 10 (yes, ten!) different enterprise systems with user profiles, all of which are trying to integrate into one central profile scheme. Profile proliferation has caused so much trouble that they have an entire cross-functional project dedicated to solving the problem. So, why exactly is this such a big deal?

Bad for your data

Having more than one user profile per individual undermines the intranet or the wider digital workplace in a number of ways.

  • Managing user data in many repositories: Intranet managers and their colleagues throughout IT and HR have to update and manage user data in multiple systems.
  • No 360-degree view: Profiles which only link to online contributions in one particular system do not give a full 360 degree view of that individual and his or her interactions.
  • Confusing search results: If search acts across multiple systems and returns more than one profile for each user, the results undermine confidence in search itself.

Clearly having more than one source of truth – with potentially conflicting information about an individual – is not good. Some of the damage can be mitigated by having information about users sourced from a central directory (usually via Active Directory or LDAP) but most of the richer, more valuable information is not system-driven and has to be entered manually by a user.

Bad for user adoption

Social intranets and collaboration platforms are powered somewhat by the “network effect”. In essence, the more people who are on the network (have filled out their profiles) the higher the value of the network (which includes finding colleagues).

Having to keep more than one profile up to date ends up being time-consuming for the user and highly inefficient and frustrating.

  • Users won’t keep profiles up-to-date: Of course the main effect of multiple profiles is that users will not keep their profile up to date and information will be incorrect.
  • Users don’t trust the data: When users find multiple profiles for a colleague, but with different data, they won’t trust either one.
  • Lack of confidence in the overall system: Missing or contradictory profile information not only results in poor adoption, but also undermines the whole credibility of the digital workplace and intranet environment.

Finally, as more digital workplaces work towards a more integrated experience, having more than one profile per user can be a real practical stumbling block for building better user-centred platforms.

More action from vendors please

We think more could be done by vendors to help this situation. For example subscribers to Office 365, who effectively get SharePoint in the cloud from Microsoft, also receive Yammer bundled with it.  Yammer is a fantastic product, and SharePoint 2013 is also the best release yet, but these products are still not integrated. This means there are potentially two separate user profiles for every user.

While Microsoft clearly will merge the capabilities eventually there is still no timeline or roadmap available, a frustrating turn of events for any intranet or collaboration team needing to advise users whether it is worth completing information on their Yammer profile.

Aspiring to adequateness

We think having a single point of truth for user profiles within an intranet is important.  It’s something we specifically reflect in IBF’s intranet best practice model, from which we derive our benchmarking methodology. In fact we specifically want to see that “The employee directory is up to date and authoritative, and a single profile record is visible across the intranet.”

This is a live issue affecting many organizations  There is no single right answer and companies approach the problem differently.

Our recent research report explores these issues and suggests related strategies for making intranet employee directories more valuable: Employee directories – adopting a strategic perspective.

Related research: Intranet employee directories

Intranet employee directories: adopting a strategic perspective

Intranet Employee Directories - cover

DWG’s new research report shows that most companies have failed to realize the promise of rich, social employee directories. It catalogues today’s major challenges with intranet employee directories and highlights the strategic questions intranet teams must answer.

When Helen Day, Managing Director of the Digital Workplace Group, first read this report she said that “every intranet manager should read this paper. The analysis and guidelines it puts forth will help any intranet team take a more strategic approach”.

Download a free executive summary »

About the author

Steve-BynghallSteve Bynghall is a freelance consultant, researcher and writer specializing in the digital workplace, intranets, knowledge management, collaboration and other digital themes. He is DWG’s Research and Knowledge Lead, a benchmark evaluator and research analyst for DWG. Steve previously worked at accountancy firm BDO in a variety of knowledge roles, including managing its global extranet programme.

Connect with Steve on Twitter: @bynghall or on Google +.

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