New Roles for Intranet Managers

Over the years, the Harvard Business Review (HBR) and Fortune magazine have been essential reading for me. Both give me insights into the world of business that enable me to engage with senior executives and to understand the challenges they are facing. Over the last year or so there have been a number of surveys that have indicated how difficult it is to find information inside the average enterprise, but on their own they do not make a case for the value of information as an asset to the enterprise. The June 2008 issue of HBR (pp. 61–70) includes a paper by Gary L. Neilson, Karla L. Martin, and Elizabeth E. Powers (all at Booz & Co.) entitled "The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution." The core message is that there are four fundamental building blocks to ensure effective strategy execution, and the most powerful of these is effective information management.

The authors list 17 characteristics of organizational effectiveness. Out of the top 10, five are specifically about improving information flows, including ensuring that information flows across organizational boundaries (just the right message for intranet managers) and that field and line-managers have the information they need to understand the bottom-line impact of their day-to-day choices. The authors also point out that only three of the characteristics relate to structure, and none ranked higher than 13th, so all those clever reorganization plans to ensure that the organization is fit for purpose are little more than window dressing and have no impact on the chances of achieving strategic goals.

There is a challenge here for intranet managers. 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. This process is going to be accelerated by SharePoint 2007, which offers the vision of being able to manage everything in one integrated platform.

The theory may be wonderful and the technology powerful, but an organization is rarely in a position to decide how and when to move toward a fully integrated information environment. This is because of a lack of an information management strategy. I remain alarmed at the lack of intranet strategies. If the organization is not going to see the need for an intranet strategy, then what hope is there for an information management strategy—especially when there is no one senior executive willing to be the Information Champion.

In particular, getting the best out of SharePoint will require some serious strategic consideration. I see many organizations justifying SharePoint on the basis that it is "free" and that a fully formed portal will emerge out of the box. Neither is the case, as the excellent CMS Watch report on SharePoint emphasizes. One of the current business drivers for SharePoint is to be able to develop Intranet 2.0 applications as though there are no other options, which again is not the case. The barriers to the effective use of wikis, blogs, social bookmarking, and everything else 2.0 are not a technical issue so much as one of organizational culture. At a recent Melcrum conference on Intranets 2.0, a speaker from global logistics company TNT presented a fascinating account of how open and communicative the senior executives were, an approach which many in the audience felt would be impossible to emulate.

There is no better time than now for intranet managers to take responsibility for shaping an overall information management strategy for their organizations, whether by frontal or stealth attack. The HBR article (and an associated website at provides a critically important evidence base. In the current economic slowdown, effective decision making using the best available information is going to be at the heart of sustaining business performance. The evidence from the NetStrategy/JMC Global Intranet Trends survey is that increasingly the intranet is the way in which business is done. I dream that one day I will read a feature in Fortune in which a senior executive recognizes the role that the corporate intranet played in the success of the business.