A Case for Formal Intranet Leadership

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Visitors to the U.K. from the U.S. are usually struck by the number and range of national newspapers on sale each weekday, both tabloid and broadsheet. The extent to which this situation is a result of our poor public transport infrastructure, and the need to occupy the time on a train, subway, or bus, I cannot comment with any authority. However, the number of papers does not significantly diminish at the weekend. The Financial Times publishes a four-section paper with a magazine on Saturday, and Sunday is Appointments section day. All the major broadsheet papers, in particular the Sunday Telegraph and the Sunday Times, have one or even two sections of display recruitment advertising, and any aspiring executive will spend some time each Sunday to review the adverts. Apart from the hope of finding the perfect job, the task is also useful in identifying trends in new job titles and positions.

This is a long but important preamble to an event that took place on January 28, 2001. This was the day that the Appointments section of the Sunday Times contained for the first time an advertisement for an intranet communications manager. The cost of a display advertisement is so high that usually only senior executive positions are included—or jobs where standard recruitment procedures have failed. The main role of the position advertised was to create a sustainable intranet strategy in conjunction with the U.S. and Asian operations of a large—and anonymous—banking group. Previous intranet experience was called for, as well as first class communication skills, but otherwise no technical skills were specified.

It was not until April 8 that a similar position was again advertised in the Sunday Times. This time it was for an intranet Webmaster for a multinational company in the healthcare industry. Among the requirements were a degree in a technical subject and a post graduate qualification in computer science or information technology. In common with the earlier post, first class communication skills were called for.

Trying to establish the number of intranets in existence in any given country is not at all easy, but, for the sake of argument, let me assume that there are at least 100,000 intranets in the U.K., and perhaps ten times this number in the U.S. But who's managing these intranets? At a recent conference in London, I was addressing an audience of perhaps 200 delegates with intranet responsibilities, but on a show of hands only a few had the word "intranet" in their job titles. A substantial number did not even have their intranet responsibilities reflected in their job specifications.

The Loneliness of the Intranet Manager
Managers with intranet responsibilities are lonely people. Often, these responsibilities have been thrust upon them, especially if they are librarians or information managers. Their opposite numbers managing the corporate Web site have a budget, a team working with them, IT support, and the capability to view every Web site in the world to gain ideas. Intranet managers rarely have a budget—often because they're told that the "company already has a server you can use"—and the chances of them seeing more than a handful of other intranet sites are remote.

Over the last few years, as intranet deployment has increased quite dramatically, the number of Web sites providing advice on intranet issues has decreased. Fortunately, Intranet Design Magazine still maintains a high standard, but one of the best intranet resources in the early days of intranet deployment, the CIO Intranet Forum, is only a shadow of its former self. In the U.K., the Corporate Intranet Forum has vanished.

The result is that, at least in my experience, intranets tend to be built on the basis of small elements of knowledge gleaned at conferences devoted to other topics, and cherished by the recipients as one small section of a map to the Holy Grail of intranet perfection.

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