Intra, Intra: Read All About It


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Corporate communication—oxymoron? Appropriately, the word oxymoron is itself oxymoronic (or at least self-descriptive) because it is formed from two Greek roots of opposite meaning, oxys "sharp, keen," and moros "dull/foolish." And that about sums up what I see as the prevailing state of corporate communication. Cynical, you might say. True. A measure of cynicism serves a journalist well, both in critically evaluating what might be passed off as news but also, one hopes, in adding an edge of wit to insight.

It's hard to crack wise, however, when it is your own company crippled by kinks in its communications infrastructure. I've been through a couple of acquisitions in the past six years (one at EContent, one with another publisher) and the merging process does not lend itself to the fostering of open forums. That said, once these mergers occur, it seems that kick-starting discourse would be pretty high on the integration priority list. Not so. Mergers usually entail the "elimination of redundancy" (layoffs that leave remaining staffers with a case of survivor guilt along with more work than they can possibly do well). Mergers also result in inevitable culture clashes (Our human resources person used to do that…Do I call the marketing or PR department for that…Who do I call for anything?) that are nothing if not discourse killers.

So, with mergers and acquisitions abounding in all industries (recent econtent notables including Interwoven/iManage, Business Objects/Crystal Decisions, Yahoo!/Overture, and Fast/AltaVista), I wonder if we are headed for even less effective communication than ever before. One would think that, given the widespread fact of email in businesses along with the potential that the digital medium provides for company or organization-wide information-sharing, we'd find ourselves at the dawn of a new enlightened era. But perhaps because of so much butt-covering, competitor-gobbling, and downsizing, companies actually find themselves with less resources and inclination to communicate than ever before. Instead, the focus is on closed-door meetings and bottom-line Band-Aids.  

Thus, with limited resources and more people to manage, department heads face a dire need to get their message across, foster collaboration, and maximize human resources and intellectual capital. And email is swell for happy blast announcements to the whole company, like "Sally had a baby girl!" But post-merger, these are likely to be met with, at best, "Who's Sally?" and at worst, "Who cares?"

Enter the intranet. Heralded as an inward-facing portal to the people and information that will keep the company humming along smoothly, their real impact has proven far less stunning. In fact, the major problem companies encounter with intranet implementations seems to be how to get people to use them at all. We have an intranet here at ITI (EContent's publisher) and it suffers the same fate as most. I find it handy for finding the contact information of individuals I've not yet gotten into my Outlook address book. Company contacts are nice, especially when searchable and cross-referenced by division or publication…but in terms of human resources, it seems like I ought to be able to use the intranet for a lot more. Wouldn't it be amazing to put in a term like "German" and get a list of all of the company employees that speak the language? And language skills represent only a wee part of what comprises the combined intellectual-capital spending power of ITI, much less Fortune 500 companies.

Enter the intranet. Heralded as an inward-facing portal to the people and information that will keep the company humming along smoothly, their real impact has proven far less stunning. In fact, the major problem companies encounter with intranet implementations seems to be how to get people to use them at all. We have an intranet here at ITI (EContent's publisher) and it suffers the same fate as most. I find it handy for finding the contact information of individuals I've not yet gotten into my Outlook address book. Company contacts are nice, especially when searchable and cross-referenced by division or publication…but in terms of human resources, it seems like I ought to be able to use the intranet for a lot more. Wouldn't it be amazing to put in a term like "German" and get a list of all of the company employees that speak the language? And language skills represent only a wee part of what comprises the combined intellectual-capital spending power of ITI, much less Fortune 500 companies.

Yet, it is often the cobbler's kids who go barefoot, right? At least we've cobbled together our first pair of flip-flops. And while I have a number of theories on how to make our own intranet more enticing (like posting information we're dying to know but won't ask—like what happened to summer hours this year), I realize that with- out a true shepherd, our intranet will likely continue to limp ahead.

The good news is, we'll be breaking into a run soon enough. As of January, I will have the pleasure of re-launching one of ITI's publications, Intranet Professional: Managing Knowledge Ecosystems as Intranets: Enterprise Solutions & Strategies. As my readers know, EContent covers intranets as part of its overall reportage on the digital content industry. Many of you may also know that the magazine originated 25 years ago as Database. Both Database and Intranet Professional flourished during an era when companies had both the wisdom and resources to hire library and information professionals to hold the reigns of knowledge management initiatives like intranets. But times have changed and now these types of activities are scattered throughout organizations among already overworked department heads, VPs, and the occasional harried Info Pro or CIO. Thus, we look to reach out to the breadth and depth of this audience with the hopes of providing the kinds of insight, tools, and guidance that will help make the most of what they've got.

And the need has never been greater for effective management of knowledge, human, and intellectual resources, and, of course, information. With less of these resources to go around and the rippling-pain effect of mergers, acquisitions, and downsizing, companies need to find and leverage effective means of developing a unified corporate culture that makes the most of what it does have in order to build and maintain success.