IT sees the world a little bit differently than corporate communications; communications sees the world a little differently than HR; no one understands marketing's world, except marketing.
How then are all these groups supposed to come together and agree on a joint intranet or portal? They simply cannot without proper mediation, controls and structure – they're just too different.
you don’t have structure, you’re going to constantly run into
politics,” said Terry Lister, Partner and Leader of IBM Canada’s
Business Consulting Services at Intranets for Corporate
Communications conference in Toronto. “Without a governance
structure with standards different silos try to do something in
parallel (their own thing) and it costs more… and will lessen the user
500+ intranet managers by Melcrum Research of London, England, found
that amongst the top issues / challenges facing intranet managers were
those of politics:
- 74% identified ‘content management’ – the creation,
publishing and management of content on the intranet - as the top
intranet management issue.
- Insufficient control and ownership’ of the
intranet was cited by 46% of managers
- 43% of respondents cite politics as the top issue
Inexorably intertwined, ownership and politics together rank number one
on the list.
Much of the problem lies in the immaturity of this nascent
intranet technology. With the rational consolidation of intranet sites
and services under a central site or portal, disparate departments and
stakeholders such as corporate communications, human resources, IT and
varying business units now must cooperate under a lone umbrella with a
single intranet home page. Along with this ‘forced’ cooperation comes
the predictable politics and competition for ownership of the
The problem lies with the traditional growth and evolution of the
intranet. Initially, when intranets first came online in the early to
mid-1990s, they were nothing more than a web brochure (a.k.a.
‘brochureware’) that sat on a small server under the desk of a Web
developer who served as designer, writer and Webmaster.
As the technology grew-up alongside its richer and more popular
Internet brethren, corporate intranets began to evolve to include human
resource and purchasing applications, collaboration tools, business
intelligence and real-time reporting tools. Soon every department in
the company had an intranet of its own, thus giving birth to
Dozens if not hundreds or even thousands of intranets in the
largest corporations (at one time IBM had 9,000 intranet sites)
proliferated on the corporate network.
Some CIOs and other corporate bean-counters understandably took notice and began wondering why they were wasting so much
time, money and resources operating a host of disparate intranets
servicing the same employees. And so began the rationalization of
intranet sites and resources that led to the likes of IT, Human
Resources, Corporate Communications and other departments and business
units having to cooperate and cohabitate together under a single
“It’s ironic,” adds Lister, “we wouldn’t have these difficulties
in a building where you have different groups existing together in the
same space. But partly because of the way the intranet grew up, we
didn’t create a corporate view and you have to struggle to pull the
intranet back and find something better.”
Centralized vs. Decentralized
The need to resolve political and ownership issues has driven the
demand for a defined governance model, a structure outlining the
ownership and decision-making process. Three governance models in
particular stand out: decentralized, centralized and collaborative or
Centralized, more common in early stage intranets or smaller
companies, is characterized by single ownership consolidated in a
single department, often IT, HR or corporate communications.
Centralized intranets are highly controlled, regulated and bureaucratic
with one department acting as the lone sheriff and boss of all
publishing and design. While process rules the day and there exists
more consistency across the intranet, a centralized intranet is not as
responsive to the needs of stakeholders and content owners and highly
restricts creative freedom and ingenuity.
The ‘wild west’ or ‘intranet sprawl’ approach to development and
management is often the end result of decentralized intranet ownership,
which is more common in larger organizations.
“Everybody had their own server or intranet site – hundreds or
thousands – that allowed many intranet ‘flowers’ to blossom,” says
Lister. “The problem was that a lot of the flowers went stale and
withered but stayed on the vine, and it became increasingly difficult
to find the right information through all the stale clutter. And I
don’t think we helped a lot of employees through this approach.”
Ultimately, the decentralized model has no one owner and promotes
maximum freedom for content owners and publishers, but promotes a
sprawling mish-mash of sites with little or no standards and an
increasing amount of resources to create and maintain many separate and
disparate intranet sites.
The emerging next generation model of intranet governance is a
collaborative or federated model most often taking the form of a
cross-representative steering committee representing the major
functional stakeholders in communications, human resources, operations,
IT and business units. This model is most successful when the committee
is championed by one or two key executives, often the CIO, the head of
communications or human resources. Instead of no owner, or one single
owner, a collaborative team governs the intranet through the
application of policies, standards and templates.
Toby Ward, a former journalist and a regular e-business
columnist and speaker, is the President and Founder of Prescient Digital Media. For more information on
Prescient’s CMS Blueprint service, or for a free copy of the white
paper “Finding ROI”,
please contact us.