Intranets - the Most Valuable Management Tool?
In two short decades, many an intranet has morphed from a bulletin board into a corporate backbone. Now it is headed for the brain.
Although they get less air time than their more-famous cousin, the Internet, the influence of intranets on their surrounding organizations might, in the long run, be nearly as great. Like many things digital, intranets first caught on as a way to do business more efficiently, as a multiplier of work quantity. Now they are offering a way to do business differently, as a multiplier of work quality. This transition, if it happens, will definitely require some new technologies. More importantly, though, it will require some new ways of thinking and managing.
Whatever Happened To Webmasters?
Despite the title's allusions to Dungeons & Dragons or Harry Potter, webmasters – i.e. people from the IT department – ran the early intranets. They were the ones who knew how. (And come to think of it, only IT geeks would have coined the name 'webmaster'.) Around the millennium, as content-management software became fairly standard, their cloak was mostly passed to communications departments. In the past five or so years, explains Adam Wasserman of consultancy Prescient Digital Media, intranets have spread beyond communications into 'collaborative working'. Major functions of many companies now run on the intranet: project management, scheduling, purchasing, and especially administrative tasks such as expense reporting or employee benefits.
Get Smart – Get Bob
Another big job is to help users go through the haystacks of content to find their needed needles of information. Search engines are one method. Prescient is experimenting with an 'answer-bot', similar to Apple's Siri or Google Now, that acts as an (im)personal assistant. Called 'Bob' (obviously not named by IT geeks), the bot tells its 'master' such nuggets as: 'What is customer X's phone number? What's the deadline for project Y? How many months off do I get for maternity leave? Why did they name you Bob?'
Just kidding about the last one; the point is, the bot can save much time and effort. "We want our intranet," says Bargetzi, "to be the place where our people go to find what they need." It doesn't stop with search. Credit Suisse and others are working on personalized 'dashboards', from which employees can drive their work. They are getting ever more mobile, too, allowing access from home, from smart-phones and –tablets, without compromising confidentiality.
Black Bottom Line
Searching is getting better. Although bots and dashboards are not yet common, random testing of Credit Suisse employees shows them to be significantly faster at finding information than they were only five years ago. A good intranet really does increase efficiency. According to Prescient, the networking giant Cisco Systems, for example, has quantified its 'Return-on-Intranet' as: product time-to-market speeded by 12–18 months through engineering collaboration; 120,000 US dollars saved per major marketing-event through shared information and collaboration; 80% fewer emails within IT, and significant reductions in other departments; and 50% less time spent on requests for quotations.
Emperors, Buck Naked
So what are they talking about? Complaints are common. "Often the first participation by someone in a public forum," Wike notes, "is when they are feeling negative." This, notes Prescient's Wasserman, can generate positive results. Recently while shopping, a low-level employee discovered that his electronics-company employer was selling some shoddy Halloween lights. He tweeted his findings internally, the CEO caught wind of it, and the latter recalled the products.