The Intranet Management Handbook – Part 1. Foundations

I wrote a few days ago that Martin White has a new book out, called The Intranet Management Handbook. For me, this is great timing due to a couple of client projects I’m working on at the moment, and so in between following the devastation that’s happening with the Christchurch earthquake of February 22, I have been reading Martin’s book.

The book is divided into four parts:
– 1. Foundations
– 2. Technology
– 3. Operational Planning
– 4. Governance and Strategy

Here are my comments on Part 1 – Foundations.

1. The premise of the book is that “every intranet needs a manager, even if managing the intranet is only one of their roles” (p.XV in the Preface). Given the lack of material available to Intranet Managers to help them in their work, Martin wrote this book. As he says later in the preface, “ … I have tried to set out in each chapter a competency that I feel an intranet manager should possess.”

2. Chapter 1 is entitled “Managing intranets: opportunities and challenges.” I think about it as the chapter that asks and answers this question: What’s happening with Intranets today, and is that good enough? Martin reviews what’s happening – intranets evolve in an ad hoc way, no one is managing them, they risk becoming a dumping ground for everything that doesn’t belong somewhere else – and provides some pointers and frameworks for thinking about doing intranets differently. It’s good to see Jane McConnell’s work quoted, on how the intranet adds value to an organization (eg., see five megatrends are re-shaping the intranet and impacting how people work on Jane’s site). Martin also talks about some of the challenges facing the Intranet Manager, and what he or she could do to overcome these. Facet Publishing, Martin’s publisher, has chapter 1 available as a PDF.

3. Chapter 2 is called “Defining user requirements,” and provides a set of techniques and tools for enabling the Intranet Manager to find out what the Intranet could be for the organization. He debunks the myth of personalization as the answer to all problems, and then systematically works through four specific techniques and tools: Microsoft Product Description Cards, Personas, User Interviews, and Focus Groups. For me, Martin confirmed my thinking on the use of some of these techniques (eg., on user interviews, “Avoid asking what informatino the interviewee uses in the role” but instead “focus on the decisions they have to make” on page 20), and challenged my thinking on others. His comments on Focus Groups are priceless, and argues that unless specific conditions are in place, focus groups will “almost always end up being a waste of time and effort” (page 23).

4. Chapter 3 is called “Making a business case,” which in my thinking focuses on how to justify the Intranet to the people with the money. He talks about two positive approaches to take, and one non-approach to avoid, and then shifts focus to the surrounding factors that need to be in place – such as a sponsor (from p.34). In Box 3.1 on p.37, I really liked his points 4 and 5, which focus on understanding areas of future opportunity and how to quantify these.

5. Chapter 4, “Developing a content strategy,” includes a long list of things the Intranet Manager needs to take into consideration, and if nothing else, shows how complex the role of the Intranet Manager is, and why someone needs to have the role. There is a lot to understand and coordinate, and doing it part time (or not doing it all) is a recipe for bad stuff to happen. Martin takes a hard line approach on content ownership – “all content should be owned by a specific individual, not a department” – and argues that pre-publication content approval is less effective than post-publication peer review. The chapter is filled with practical advice on making intranets work. There’s a lot in this chapter, and the sections on blogs and social content, and on the social intranet, shows that Martin sees the Intranet as much more than just a content publication platform. In other words, the book isn’t just about intranets as content repositiories (in my words, “where information goes to die”), but about intranets as many things including collaboration (in my words, “where information comes to life”). The chapter finishes with a warning about extranets.

6. Chapter 5 called “Enhancing collaboration” is the final chapter in Part 1. I think the reason it is in the Fundamentals part is because collaboration is so widely touted as a purpose of the Intranet, but it’s a new idea for many Intranet managers who grew up through the content publishing days. Martin pulls together some good material – from Morten Hanssen, from Logan & Stokes, from others – and gives a quick primer on the value, opportunity, and processes of collaboration. The chapter is 13 pages in length, four of which quote directly from my book on User Adoption, so it’s not intended as the final word. But it serves its purpose of giving Intranet managers some ideas to start working with, and where the intranet can have a role to play. For me, I always enjoy reading what other people say about collaboration, because it helps me understand my area from different perspectives. I have a number of projects/tasks as a result of reading Chapter 5.

So that’s the first part of Martin’s book – I hope to keep reading and review the next three. But in the meantime, if you are in any way involved in managing an intranet, or manage someone who does, place your order today.

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