Behind the Firewall

I recently received a telephone call from a communications manager at a major German company asking if I could provide her with a copy of Intranet Management, a report that I had written 10 years ago when I was working for TFPL, Ltd. TFPL provided recruitment and consulting services to the information profession, and it was a leader in knowledge management methodologies. was inclined to tell my enquirer that the report was now hopelessly out-of-date, but I decided to read through it and remember old times with some great colleagues...
- December 2008 Issue, Posted Dec 01, 2008
Over the last 2 years, it seems to me that increasingly the intranet is becoming the gateway to a significant proportion of the information assets of an organization. This is especially the case if portal technology is being used as an application integration platform. However, enterprise search is starting to do the same thing for more conventional CMS-based intranets. As a result, the borders between an intranet and other information platforms such as document management are becoming increasingly blurred.
- October 2008 Issue, Posted Sep 24, 2008
A few years ago, the department of information studies at the University of Sheffield invited me to be a visiting professor. On a recent visit, I talked to an undergraduate student who was starting to look at what might be her first step on a career in information management. Like so many information professionals, I got into the business by accident, after discovering that I was not really that good at chemistry. While not uncommon, that approach is difficult to commend to a student.
- July/August 2008 Issue, Posted Jul 10, 2008
At the heart of assessing search engine performance is the concept of relevance—a word that dates from 1733.
- May 2008 Issue, Posted May 02, 2008
For me, one of the most important insights that the Intranet Leadership Forum brings to intranet development is the need to make incremental improvements that bring visible and tangible benefits to a group of employees. Much of the discussion at the most recent Leadership Forum was about how to go about identifying the need for such improvements.
- March 2008 Issue, Posted Feb 22, 2008
I've just returned from representing EContent at the second Gartner Portals, Content & Collaboration Summit in London. This turned out to be an excellent conference in every respect. It was especially notable for the balance of strategic insight and tactical best practices in the areas of search, portals, collaboration, and content management.
- December 2007 Issue, Posted Nov 15, 2007
People contact me hoping that I can solve whatever the problem is with their intranet but have no idea of what I do or how I do it. So in case you are reading this and thinking of hiring a consultant, I thought I would tell you a little about how I go about "making your intranet work better."
- November 2007 Issue, Posted Nov 06, 2007
As we get older (and in my case grayer), we have great difficulty in tracking the new entrants to our profession and business, and by the same account they would probably not be aware that we even exist and have networks that they could use.
- September 2007 Issue, Posted Aug 31, 2007
I have spent much of my career trying to foretell the future. I am no astrologer, but I have worked for high-tech market analysis companies that offer five-year market and technology forecasts to their clients. At the time of publication, the logic behind the forecasts always looks so convincing, but I have copies of reports that I was involved in writing in which the logic now looks totally irrational.
- July/August 2007 Issue, Posted Jul 27, 2007
As an intranet consultant, there are times when I am tempted to say that all my clients have the same problems; only the solutions differ. The best example of this is when I am asked which department should be responsible for intranet management. My task is then to quickly read between the lines of the question to judge whether the managers concerned want me to make the case for them to hand over the intranet to someone else, or to justify why they themselves should be the owners.
- May 2007 Issue, Posted May 01, 2007
All I know about sprockets is that they figure prominently in the work life of George Jetson. I really don't know a sprocket from a cog, although I hear that competition between the two products is fierce…and often quite personal. Nevertheless, when I plug the term "sprocket" into the vertical search engine at, I get something that I am sure would make Cosmo G. Spacely gush.
- April 2007 Issue, Posted Mar 27, 2007
I wanted to show some examples of good search implementations, but finding any was almost impossible. Even the search software vendors seem to have paid no attention to search usability. One particular problem when you are working in the intranet sector is being able to demonstrate intranets in action, so I have to use websites as a surrogate.
- March 2007 Issue, Posted Mar 01, 2007
As an intranet consultant, I certainly get to see the world— even if it means contending with severe security restrictions at Heathrow for a short four-day trip from London to Sydney. Luckily, the only major problem on that flight occurred at 25,000 feet and 100 miles out from Sydney, when it became clear that virtually no one on the 747 had a pen to complete the landing card. Whilst in Sydney, I had the chance to talk intranets with James Robertson, managing director of Step Two Designs. By about the third latte, we got around to intranet maturity.
- December 2006 Issue, Posted Nov 28, 2006
It was just over a year ago that I had the first meeting with “Gerry,” the intranet manager for a charity located just south of London. With a number of regional offices all around the U.K., the intranet was the main information platform but had run in to the usual problems of using FrontPage to generate static pages. Gerry had been to one of my Nielsen Norman workshops on CMS selection and had persuaded the charity that 2005 would be a good time to relaunch the intranet.
- October 2006 Issue, Posted Oct 10, 2006
Merrill Lynch may well have released the only investment analyst report that created an entire industry, in November 1998. Over the next few years, the number of portal vendors rose quite dramatically, and by 2001 there were perhaps more than 100 vendors in the market, none of them making any revenues worth counting. Which is why eight years later there are no more than around a dozen major players, and most of those are IT-industry giants like IBM and Oracle.
- July/August 2006 Issue, Posted Jul 25, 2006
A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to provide consulting support to a professional association here in the UK as they went out to tender for a CMS. The document provided a very clear analysis of the requirements of the association, but then I came across a disquieting statement to the effect that the association was going to purchase a CMS for its Web site (including the provision of a shopping basket for publications and the opportunity for members to update their personal information) and that, at some time in the near future, it planned to migrate its intranet into the Web CMS.
- May 2006 Issue, Posted May 05, 2006
Very few organizations can answer that question with anything more than an emphatic “It’s fine!” If the question is instead, “How good is your intranet compared to other organizations like yours?” then the answer involves usually a more sheepish “We have no idea.” Much of my work is helping organizations assess the quality of their intranet, but even with the number of intranets I have seen, the analysis I can provide is relatively subjective. In most cases it would be valuable to provide some form of quantitative analysis of the intranet so that there is a comparison with good practice. However, I have to admit that until recently, I was very skeptical about the value of formal benchmarking, but glimmers of hope have begun to appear.
- March 2006 Issue, Posted Mar 21, 2006
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of Alta Vista in December 1995 and more than 40 years since the first full-text search engine with Boolean operators became operational. Indeed, most of the features now commonplace on enterprise search engines had been developed and commercialized by the mid-1970s. So you would think that the use of enterprise search technology would be well-established and reliable by now.
- December 2005 Issue, Posted Nov 16, 2005
Awhile back, I wrote about personas and their value in developing information architectures. I am now finding that social network analysis is a way of helping organizations understand just how members of their staff collaborate (or don’t, as the case may be) so they can then develop applications that support these networks.
- October 2005 Issue, Posted Oct 17, 2005
If people bought cars the same way they bought a CMS application, they would go to a lot toting a thick pile of papers and ask for a car that has a V6 engine, an alternator on the left-hand side of the cylinder block, a speedometer that has a black needle on a white background, and a trunk capable of holding two sets of golf clubs. Of course that set of requirements cannot be met, but the salesperson might just have a nice little Peugeot with just such a speedometer, and the buyer would drive off a happy person . . . until they tried to pack for golf the following day. Other approaches might include buying a Pontiac because your neighbor told you last week how wonderful his is, or driving aimlessly around until a ride catches your eye.
- July/August 2005 Issue, Posted Aug 10, 2005
The implementation of content management software has brought metadata to center stage, but there is not much of an audience out there. This is understandable because it takes someone with the presenting skills and wit of Gerry McGovern (a fellow expert) to make metadata not only interesting, but funny. Rarely am I able to have a sensible conversation with anyone outside of the library profession about the importance of metadata.
May 2005 Issue, Posted Apr 11, 2005
A feature of the very successful Intranets 2004 conference was the number of presentations that were given on portal application development. One of the best of these was given by Hewlett Packard’s director of knowledge and intranet management, Barbara Williams, who indicated that the HP HR portal was generating savings of around $50 million a year from the investment in the portal. That is a very encouraging ROI.
- March 2005 Issue, Posted Apr 04, 2005
Of the many trends on which I could comment, there are three areas that stand out: information architecture, personas, and CMS.
- December 2004 Issue, Posted Nov 29, 2004
I find that a whole lot of people fail to pay sufficient attention to content migration, but this can be a massive undertaking and some careful calculation must go into it from the outset of an intranet CMS implementation.
- November 2004 Issue, Posted Nov 15, 2004
Not for one minute do I think that knowledge is not important; I just don’t think it can be managed along the classical definition of the management of resources, and it certainly can’t be managed by throwing KM technology at the problem.
- October 2004 Issue, Posted Oct 20, 2004
I doubt that the growth in new intranets has been high, so I’ll say that 200,000 intranets is a solid conservative figure for the U.K. However, if finding out the installed base of intranets isn’t hard enough, try finding out the number of CMS licenses.
September 2004 Issue, Posted Sep 20, 2004
Undoubtedly, making content easier to find is an issue of increasing focus both in and outside the firewall, but it is important to recognize that enterprise search cannot be take out of context from other routes to information discovery.
- July/August 2004 Issue, Posted Aug 23, 2004
I am old and grey (and still peruse bookshops) and there will be readers of this column who have already hit the Amazon site to look for books on intranets. But like me, they probably didn’t find much out there.
June 2004 Issue, Posted Jun 15, 2004
Look at the homepage of an intranet. It is all a question of putting things in places that match the way we run our lives or do our jobs.
- May 2004 Issue, Posted May 17, 2004
I still find that far too many intranets are being built on the basis of putting as much information up as possible instead of around users’ needs.
- April 2004 Issue, Posted Apr 01, 2004
I took part in a conference on “Practical Strategies to Encourage the Frequent and Consistent Usage of the Intranet for Demonstrable ROI,” which led me to formulate some thoughts on how to do just that.
- March 2004 Issue, Posted Mar 18, 2004
I want to reflect on three presentations given at the 2003 KM World & Intranets Conference, and the issues they raised for intranet managers: usability, live intranet demos, and content integration.
It was with some regret that I was not able to attend Intracom 2003 in Montreal in October, as the previous two conferences have provided valuable insights into intranet issues. It was at the 2001 conference that I discovered Web logs (often called blogs).
- December 2003 Issue, Posted Dec 09, 2003
For reasons entirely unclear to me, there are not many books on the subjects of content management or intranets and portals, but there are some noteworthy newcomers.
- November 2003 Issue, Posted Nov 13, 2003
We are approaching the end of the first decade of intranet deployment. What lessons have been learned in that time? I am tempted to say, "Not many!"
- October 2003 Issue, Posted Oct 13, 2003
I have a problem with Knowledge Management as a discipline, and am much happier talking about knowledge exchange.
Attending the Eighth Infonortics Search Engine Meeting that took place in Boston in early April has prompted my return to the importance of effective search.
- July 2003 Issue, Posted Jul 13, 2003
Without careful attention paid, not only to setting standards, but also to making sure that they are complied with yet of pliable stuff that can be modified to suit changing requirements, intranets can soon become a morass of irrelevant documents.
- June 2003 Issue, Posted Jun 12, 2003
Recently, two surveys have been undertaken that look at the factors that influence CMS purchase and the issues that arise in implementation. The commonality between the outcomes of these surveys merits close attention.
- May 2003 Issue, Posted May 14, 2003
If some recent figures from the UK Department of Trade and Industry are to be believed, around 20% of UK companies have an extranet and I have seen a significant trend towards the deployment of extranets.
- April 2003 Issue, Posted Apr 21, 2003
At present, “content management” is very much the hot topic, with companies beginning to see the advantages of creating content repositories. However, the lack of attention on how to retrieve all these documents concerns me.
- March 2003 Issue, Posted Mar 01, 2003
One of the problems of intranet management is that it is difficult to establish reliable metrics for an intranet that enable its effectiveness and progress to be monitored, or for an intranet to be benchmarked against other intranets.
- February 2003 Issue, Posted Feb 01, 2003
EIP technology has some important attributes, but the end result is often a desktop with more panes than a Georgian Era window. Remember, all that glistens is not gold.
- January 2003 Issue, Posted Jan 01, 2003
I recently acted out the role of a prospective client, giving feedback to a very receptive group of CMS vendors about how well, and how badly, their message was getting across.
- December 2002 Issue, Posted Dec 01, 2002
This month we'll return to the topic of implementing a content management strategy and highlight three invaluable resources that will be of great assistance to you in achieving the best possible content management solution
- September 2002 Issue, Posted Sep 01, 2002