The Urban Legend of Corporate Intranets

Beyond the mythology: the real factors at play in building an effective corporate Intranet.

13,000 employees + social technology + content management = 13,000 collaborative and well-informed employees

Urban legends are usually stories that could be true (alligators in the sewer), or even things we wish to be true (Bill Gates giving away money to anyone who forwards a specific email). They spread like wildfire by email and word-of-mouth, spawning television shows like MythBusters and websites like Snopes.com, which reveal the fallacy.

Unfortunately, there are no truth-telling teams for Business Urban Legends (BUL). A particularly destructive BUL is the myth of the corporate Intranet: the tale of the corporate network whose problems are solved by the latest software or technology to come along.

Case studies that tout Facebook as a successful corporate Intranet are a variation on the Intranet BUL. In this version, the marketing and sales teams become best friends when both groups realize a common love of golf and baby animals. A bit older is the legend that a wiki will stop information hoarding, as everyone moves to swap secrets about key client relationships and brownie recipes. Or one of the original myths: an effective content management system will turn everyone into articulate and succinct writers.

The best way of debunking Intranet BULs is simply to define a realistic roadmap for success. Start by shedding the fanciful air of myth; instead focus on goals and feasibility – tangible aspects of an Intranet: what do we want it to do? Can it be done here?

GOALS: What do we want it to do? Start with tactical opportunities. Here are four simplified approaches to Intranets:

1. PUBLISHER

Forming a central repository of common organizational information lets people focus more on their work and less on bureaucracy. Information such as holiday schedules, health insurance forms, codes of conduct, and contact information, which is important only when needed, should be removed from those areas of the Intranet that offer more daily utility.

2. TOOL

Grouping common tools makes them easier to find, thereby increasing productivity. Tools such as time sheets, travel codes, expense reporting, sales and lead tracking, customer relationship management, etc. should be centralized for ease of access.

3. REPOSITORY

Careful archiving of process methodology and project collateral makes it easier for the next team to learn from the lessons of their predecessors. This content should be easily searchable for later generations of employees, so that the wealth of resources isn’t lost through attrition.

4. CONNECTION

Connecting teams separated by geography and business unit will encourage the spread of best practices, build a common understanding of business challenges, and foster a sense of camaraderie.

These are starter goals, to be combined and tweaked as tactical efforts demand. Once the basic goals are identified, the next challenge lies with feasibility.

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