Does size matter when it comes to intranets?

I was at a meeting today with some key staff from one of the UKs largest companies, kicking off the deployment of Claromentis for the holding company.

The deployment is for 10-20,000 staff, and during the meeting the CIO made an interesting side comment about smaller collaboration systems, saying “who needs an intranet when you only have 200 users – you can just shout”.

This is something we have often discussed internally as very small companies deploy intranets and collaboration software – in fact the smallest Claromentis license is for just 25 users – at which level you would think you wouldn’t even need to raise your voice.

This is a good question, with a complicated answer. The rest of the post makes some excellent points about companies that are small, but distributed and also the impact of the Dunbar number. This is generally on the right track, but I think there are few more subtle nuances if we dig a little deeper.

I like to use Handy’s model of a Shamrock organisation as a starting point to examine the proportion of different types of users in an organisation. On closer inspection, a large company of many 1,000s of staff many have only a small proportion of ‘knowledge workers’. In a sense, this core element of the organisation can be treated like a small company. This doesn’t mean that the other people in the company don’t need an intranet, but the

y will have different needs.

For example, consider the example of iPick at Illawarra Coal. This system provided a complex Web-based document management system for one set of professionals (quality managers) and a simplified kiosk interface for non-computer users.

Another aspect to consider is the degree to which information (in the broadest sense) needs to be shared or collaborated on. In some small organisations, individual members of staff are responsible for discreet areas of the business so communication of input and outputs is important, but not necessarily direct access to shared information. But where people perform similar or overlapping roles, then a different need emerges. The management overhead in larger companies also creates a need for providing access to common information in a cost effective and time efficient manner.

Looking at Headshift’s case studies the legal sector provides a good example of the scale shift between small and large legal practices. In essence a lawyer does the same job in both a small and large practice, but their information and collaboration needs are very different because of overlaps in clients, skills and expertise.

The final consideration is the relationship between the company and its external environment, which again may create other drivers for Web-based information and collaboration sharing. Headshift itself is a great example of this, as we routinely use a Wiki platform to provide collaboration spaces for our client projetcts. The number of users in the Headshift wiki far exceeds the number of staff.

The other big challenge for smaller companies isn’t necessarily one of need, but that they often lack the capacity to invest resources into understanding, implementing and sustaining intranet and collaboration tools. In some respects – when we take in account the factors we’ve talked about – generic information and collaboration tools will work successfully because their organisational social network is small enough to fill the gaps in those tools (e.g. you can still tap someone on the shoulder to ask them question). However, rightly or wrongly, the internal dynamics will ultimately determine if they will accept new technology.

Size is an attribute, not a factor in the need for an intranet.

Hat tip to Peter Richard.


2 thoughts on “Does size matter when it comes to intranets?

  1. I like your focus on knowledge workers as key users. “Normal” staff certainly need a lot of standard information, and an intranet (or equivalent) is the obvious place to store this.But it’s definitely the knowledge workers who need intensive support. For example, in our modest consulting firm of half-a-dozen or so, it’s amazing how much we need to put on our own intranet.We obviously spend our lives helping big organisations deliver intranets, and have observed how large they can get. Despite being tiny in comparison, it’s fascinating how much of the same information we need, from consulting methodology to resources, timesheets, forms, standard admin processes, etc, etc.

  2. Thanks, James. Your own company is a good example of why we shouldn’t draw simple conclusions about the need for these technologies. I would also still be careful about the distinction between ‘knowledge workers’ and ‘normal staff’… its probably more related to the level of flexibility and discretionary powers of those core employees versus other involved in service or product delivery (who might still be knowledge workers in some instances). Ultimately the only way (I believe) to understand this of course is to get in on the ground and see how people work and what they do.

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