Intranets, or what some call enterprise communities, are getting the short end of the social media stick. While they offer all the value and benefits of public facing social media offerings, they often remain overlooked as strategic social offering. A success corporate intranet is, in many ways, as remarkable as a successful customer community. But the media tends to focuses more on publicly available online communities and social networks, leaving its internal counterpart with few accolades and little financial / organizational support to help them succeed.
Many of us (of a certain age) can remember the 1990’s push for organizational repositories or “knowledge management systems.” These were clunky content management tools that staffs were required to upload documents into in order to fulfill their MBOs. We all remember the drill; at the end of the month, the KM manager would issue an all-staff warning email reminding people to make their intranet contributions. So, we would all scramble late afternoon on the last Friday to dust off a document or three to submit to The System. Phew. Done. Move on. No way to collaborate or connect with peers, no way to determine what was useful or valuable information. No need to return to The System until the end of the next month, only to upload again.
But times and tools have changed! Thanks to the new breed of social platforms, many vanguard organizations now have a chance to leverage social sharing as an important part of the organizational strategy. Looking for an expert in a obscure topic or key client? An intranet could be there to serve you. Seeking to work more efficiently as a remote service team – an internet, if well designed, could be the place to be. Need to gather competitive information to serve sales better? Imagine if every sales person put one spec of competitive information into the system – whoa! The sum could be greater than the parts. These are the stuff successful intranets are made of.
The difficulty, however, lies in the creating effective processes to help the intranet succeed. First, they must be well designed. No longer are ugly, technical WIKIs or content repositories acceptable to the typical staff user. They have been exposed to the social web and have modern useful tools at their fingertips. Therefore the bar has been set high for what usability means. It must be easy to use, intuitive and must leverage the social ways of working that we all have become accustomed to. Enterprise communities need to pass the Millennial stiff-test in order to insure adoption.
Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the enterprise community needs to be designed in a way that helps the users solve every day work problems. What are the business processes that present a challenge for the staff? Too much email? Collaborative document commenting creating a version-control problem? Too many pockets of information that create work redundancies? Once you identify 3 key organizational issues that get in the way of productivity, that can become the center-piece for the design for how the social knowledge system should work. Design for problem resolution and you will be off to a great start.
Next, on-boarding processes must be well developed. Due, in part, to the intranet’s shady past, the build-it-and-they-will come mantra isn’t sufficient. Instead, an effective intranet but we well-integrated into the organizational strategy for success. Do key stakeholders support and have the skills and drive to use the enterprise community? Do decision-makers understand the business values for the intranet? Does the organization have the skills and staff to mine the data from the intranet so that it can be used strategically throughout the organization – from sales to customer service to innovation?
Commitment to an intranet is longstanding. Success doesn’t take place overnight and there is deep value in ascribing to the crawl-walk-run idea because at the end of the day, intranets offer a new way of collaborating with peers and this introduces an element of organizational change. Organizations need to create meaningful (solution-oriented) pilot programs to ensure that the outcomes of the internal community design are aligned with the expectations. Find 2-5 groups internally who have a collaboration conundrum they wish to fix. Then explore their issues in depth, and design programs in support of their working groups. Groups with home-based employees or geographically distributed staff make for excellent pilot groups.
And, don’t forget to set real business objectives for the intranet. Enterprise communities are not just nice-to-haves. They can deliver real business value to the organization; Cutting costs, preventing errors, increasing competitive advantage, speeding up innovation cycles, yielding better customer information for account teams.
A well-designed enterprise community can serve your organization well. Wholesale banking is one example where enterprise communities are thriving. What a better way to service an top client or account but through a coordinated account team approach? Another industry that benefits greatly from enterprise communities are high tech companies where there is a great team of team based product innovation required for the company to succeed in meeting customer needs through new products and services. And, my final example is within legal teams where counsel need to collaborate on different matters of law to service their company and, in the case of private practice, their various clients. Now there is an industry where tight document and knowledge-based collaboration is paramount!
A successful intranet is the demarcation of a company that is well poised to succeed strategically long-term. In the end,it is beneficial for organizations to start applying the best practices of social business to their internal processes, to help staff connect, find inter-company experts, collaborate more efficiently and ultimately serve the clients and customer better with a streamlined, social process in hand.
- Last year, Nielson Norman wrote a brilliant report that explores best practices in internal communities called Enterprise 2.0: Social Software on Intranets which explores the state of the state of Intranets. I was interviewed for this report, as were many other experts and it offer great case studies about internal communities. The report is not free, but for those looking to explore the topic in depth it is worth the download.
- An interesting blog article from CMSWire that take a look at the Intranet Trends for 2010: How far we have and have not come.
Thank you for reading Building Online Communities for Business by Leader Networks. We are a research and strategy consulting company that helps organizations succeed in social business and B2B online community building.
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