Good intranet governance is a balancing act

March 2, 2011 by

Governance is a much maligned and overused term (particularly in IT projects), but in reality most companies are doing some form of governance even if they don’t call it “governance”. Taken literally, to govern means to steer, and in general terms governance is the exercising of the required checks and balances to provide guidance to an organization, and maintain the correct course. You will find that there will not be a “one size fits all” model that works for you. Some content on your intranet will demand very strict governance, but other information is more transient and does not require formal governance models to be in place.

Regardless of the level of governance that you need, there will be some common strategic imperatives that drive adoption of governance models:

  • Legal / compliance. Many organizations are subject to clearly defined legal or regulatory frameworks that impose strict business rules which require governance to function. This kind of requirement is mandatory, and internal and external auditors must be satisfied that you are following due process.
  • Avoiding chaotic systems. Modern business now live and die on how fast their employees can access key content, and your users will expect and demand consistency as a payback for participating in the process. Any systems that can respond quickly to provide structure and context to an organization can help drive up profits and employee satisfaction.
  • Reduce risk. Risk management informs a business on how likely potential issues are, and mitigating those risks via robust processes is very important to ensure that a business functions. Governance provides you with the ability to effectively manage these risks, with some businesses complete risk management through governance risk and compliance software similar to those provided by companies like Aravo.

Intranet Governance can be split into: Technical Governance, Information Governance and Project Governance.

Technical governance seeks to reduce the operational risk of the system, by providing systems and processes that should satisfy the business, senior management and external auditors that risk is managed. In general, you should be looking to provide the business with confidence that the solution will deliver:

  • Resilience
  • Reliability
  • Security
  • Management
  • Compliance

Information Architecture provides the framework for your information, but someone within your organization will need to take ownership of the plan and ensure that it is being followed. Without this information governance, you will not be able to enforce the new structures you have worked hard to define, nor will you be able to fix issues quickly, and it is unlikely that your information architecture will succeed. Information governance needs to provide proper

Like other forms of governance, project governance provides a framework to reduce risk. Unlike other governance, however, this is short-lived and only relevant to the timescales of the project in hand. Project governance is important to ensure that your intranet project rolls out on time and to budget, and meets core objectives. Common approaches to Project Governance are outlined in standard methodologies such as Prince II.

“Good” governance is a careful balancing act. There are some scenarios when tight governance is not appropriate, because it will hinder the end user from achieving their objectives. Good governance is about making sure you have enough governance in place to reduce the risks, while at the same time trusting your users to be sensible. If users do not perceive the value of the governance you are putting in place, they will find ways of circumventing your governance model. They can do this in a variety of ways, but the worst case scenario is that they simply stop using your Intranet to store their content.

How to tackle governance
Governance is a living process that never stops. Most of the points remaining in this chapter can be applied to every implementation – large or small – though you will find that smaller intranet implementations (including tactical solutions) will find it harder to get buy-in and budget for long term investment.

1) Form a governance committee. The governance committee is key to ongoing success of your ECM strategy. It should have regular meetings, attendance should be mandatory, and it should have senior management support to drive through initiatives. This committee should have representatives from:

  • Executive management
  • CIO’s office
  • IT Operations
  • HR department
  • Legal department
  • Finance department
  • Any relevant business department
  • Representation from regional offices

It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of this group: it is the embodiment of the whole governance process and without it no governance can function. Of course, in larger organizations, you may need to split this into sub-committees focusing on specific challenges.

2) Change job descriptions across the business to include governance responsibilities.

3) Accept what you cannot change. Change is always difficult, and in many cases you will be starting from almost no governance. It is very difficult to implement change quickly, so do not try and build Rome in a day:

  • Accept your organizational limitations
  • Consider piloting governance practices in some divisions of the organization and using that experience to incrementally improve the information architecture practices across the wider organization.

4) Do not put everything into one big document. This never works since you will end up with an unwieldy document which is very difficult to read or change. Instead, break the document up into multiple documents, or use other technologies such as web publishing or wikis to document your governance plan.

5) Meet regularly and allow enough time, especially in early sessions, to consider every issue.

6) Use your intranet to store and manage your governance process:

  • Use wikis and discussion lists to brainstorm ideas
  • Maintain a set of milestones and a shared calendar
  • Use blogs to provide reports to the wider organization
  • Run surveys to gather requirements across the organization

There are some common challenges you might face when implementing intranet governance:

  • The pace of change within your organization may outstrip your governance team’s ability to respond. Careful alignment with the overall corporate strategy, good communication and visibility of changes in regulations are all important in mitigating this risk.
  • There will be technical complexity, especially where you need to align existing business processes and compliance with new technology. Having skilled and knowledgeable technical architects to advise your governance strategy is very important here.
  • Without doubt, legacy systems will still be in operation well after you end the first iteration of your ECM strategy: managing these so that they are still discoverable and useful, and where possible enhancing these systems to align them with your strategy will be challenging.
  • One tendency you will face is that you try and over-govern your information. Does it really matter if a document in a project team site has not been seen by the legal department before it gets published for internal consumption? Always question what the driver is for introducing new governance within your organization.

What is your experience of intranet governance?

This is a guest post from Ben Robb. Ben is CTO of cScape. He has been given the prestigious Microsoft “Most Valuable Professional” award for the past four years for his work on SharePoint, and is publishing “Enterprise Content Management using Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010” for Microsoft Press / O’Reilly this year.

At IBF we focus on intranet strategy and governance in our benchmarking model – the world’s first all-encompassing intranet benchmarking standard – and our best practice research programme. (Note: IBF is vendor neutral.)

Categorised in: Strategy & governance

Nancy Goebel

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