Your intranet *still* isn’t working

[Andrew McAfee] polled the audience about their Intranet.  NOBODY finds their own intranet easier to find information on, than the global unmanaged Internet.  The people trying to make intranets easy to use are failing at this job.  Bad situation and a deep puzzle.

Euan Semple, knowledge manager at BBS noted that managers talked mostly about “I can’t find anything”.  They have a big content management system.  Most of it was static documents stored in “knowledge coffins”.  One problem is that the structure was determined by someone else.  If user does not have the same mental model as the person who organized it, they can’t find anything.  If they do find something, the resulting document was usually terribly out of date.

Sharing his notes from a recent conference presentation by Andrew McAfee, Keith Swenson from Fujitsu shares this all too familiar anecdote about the failure of traditional intranets.

What’s amazing is that we know this is true – we’ve know for years. But people are still desperately trying to fix these intranets and failing despite stronger governance, best practice information architecture, the latest software upgrades, etc etc…

Maybe its time to try something else?


12 thoughts on “Your intranet *still* isn’t working

  1. Its always interesting to note that managers are usually the ones who are unable to find information. This always raises two thoughts in my head. 1. Perhaps they can’t find what they need because they really don’t know what they need, what their job is, or what their staff actually do. (Bitter response)2. Perhaps an upward management technique (provide a solution not a problem, for example) could be applied to how organisations structure their information in order to resolve this persistent complaint. (In all seriousness it must be possible!) If anyone cracks this problem using these insights – keep me in the loop. 🙂

  2. James, agree completely with the problems of “traditional” intranets. We know the basics of how to get them right (I’ve even written a book on it), but yet we still struggle to “solve” the problems once and for all.Once we recognise that change is necessary, the next question is: what to?”Social” tools are certainly part of the puzzle, as are new ways of publishing, using and managing information. Yet this is as much a question about organisational culture, as it is an intranet question.And even in a fully social world, we still have to know how and where to find the leave policy.Tricky stuff, but looking forward to exploring it! 🙂

  3. Hey,The internet provides an obvious benchmark for intranets but perhaps not a fair one. Billions of $$$ are spent making things findable on the internet and if you get it wrong then you go bust or get fired. You rarely see a similar focus of resources (or sanctions) applied to internal information projects.The old mental models around governance are not so much “broken” as poorly applied.One thing that has cropped up in conversations with certain 2.0 fans and “futurists” is the idea that we don’t need governance and structure any more – links, recommendations and badges are enough. I think this is a bit dumb.I would prefer to see a mix of social/networked approaches and hierarchical/managerial approaches to information management in the enterprise – as we see in our broader attempts at governance in society.Matt

  4. Matt, agree 100% with the idea of “mixed model” approaches to intranets (and collaboration, enterprise 2.0, etc).”Published content” needs to be managed one way, and then supplemented by more active involvement from staff.”Social and collaborative” features can then be handled via a different governance model.The trick is to bring all this together in an increasingly seamless way: no easy task considering that vendors don’t often see the benefits of playing nice with each other!

  5. Its the mental models that intranet governance approaches are based on that are broken, not that governance isn’t needed or doesn’t exist. Simply doing more of the wrong governance isn’t going to work, unless you prop up the process significantly. I don’t know if “mixed model” is the right concept, but certainly its about (head)shifting to a view that accommodates the fact that information is fundamentally socially constructed.

  6. “Its the mental models that intranet governance approaches are based on that are broken” – probably – what mental models do you have in mind?

  7. James – The models that you’ve mentioned in the post are quite vague. Now if you want to say that corporate information mgt needs to”- Involve people who will be affected by the change from the very beginning;- Support safe experimentation and ‘agile’ solution development (rather than being locked into a choice of solution); and- Allow people to finish (and continue evolving) the design of the solution as they start to use it.”then I would say “yes”. But we also need decent maps and we also need to look at issues like ownership, responsibility and lifecycle. We need to negotiate what people can change and what they should leave alone for now (because people can break things). And to me, “best practice information architecture” is necessarily participatory and evolutionary.

  8. I see these as information management mechanisms for achieving a particular; what I’m interested in is the underlying assumptions (the mental models) behind them. e.g. if only we can get the right taxonomy or information architecture, then everyone will be able to find things. Those mental models shape how you go about making it participatory and evolutionary (or not). They also determine how you think about issues such as ownership, responsibility and lifecycle and apply them to social objects, rather than being stuck in a document-centric domain.

  9. “Mental models” are tricky beasts. You often find multiple (and conflicting) models at work in organisations (and individuals) and such patterns of perception are not easy to shift. Again, I’d like to see more detail as what these mean in practice.BTW Is there a way of making that Japan Quake bar at the bottom of your screen less intrusive? It actually makes it tricky to hit the “Comment” button.

  10. That’s exactly Morgan’s point in Images of Organization – you should read it, I think you’d enjoy it.Re: the quake bar. its something Posterous (who host this blog) added. Unfortunately, I had to log out to see it and wasn’t even aware it was there.

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