by Toby Ward — Site sprawl undermines the very promise of an intranet—making it easier to store and find information. Downsizing the number of sites is a complex project.
There’s been a lot of attention paid to intranets lately, which
can only be encouraging news for those of us who believe in the power
of an effective internal website.
Intranets are natural drivers of employee productivity,
communications, collaboration and supporting overall corporate
effectiveness. While it’s not the most scientific data point, a good
example of the increased awareness is that the number of
intranet-related inquiries Prescient receives through our website and
blog is up significantly.
The buck stops with the users who are
tired of the frustrating experience
that the intranet has become
Given the evolution and adoption rates of intranets, it should
come as no surprise that none of the inquiries concern how to start an
intranet. Everyone wants to know how to redesign the intranet and
reduce the number of sites existing in their organization.
It’s a critical goal: site sprawl undermines the very promise of
an intranet—making it easier to store and find information. Downsizing
the number of sites is a complex project that must involve such tasks
as a thorough audit of the content that exists on all sites, the
development of an effective Information Architecture and the
implementation of a content management plan.
But whatever you call it, rationalization, cooperation or
adoption, the path to success will be fraught with politics. Intranets
are political footballs and politics will almost always be an intranet
manager’s top challenge. This is a natural outcome of the many
divergent groups with different minds and ways of looking at the world
forced to work together in a cooperative environment and a common
Communications sees the world far differently than IT. Marketing
approaches business far differently than HR. So friction is natural.
Hence the need for a strong champion, a cohesive steering committee,
and an armful of policies (legislation) to support the process.
“I've had the opportunity to work closely with both developers and
end-users during these system adoptions and have always noticed a
subtle but very real threat to the outcome,” writes intranet writer
Paul Chin in a recent column,
Lil' Orphan Intranet: Adopting an Ownerless System
. “It isn't a
technical threat, it’s a social threat. IT may feel some animosity,
justified or not, toward renegade developers... Users, however, should
never have to bear the brunt of this frustration.”
There’s the rub. The intranet must serve the audience: the users,
your employees. Measured ROI and cash saved is important. Without the
support and use by employees, however, that ROI will never be realized.
The buck stops with the users who are tired of the frustrating
experience that the intranet has become. A rationalization program will
save money, but it will also save the sanity of frustrated users who
are tired of complaining, “I can never find anything!”
Whenever contemplating a daunting task, it’s always helpful to
learn from an inspirational example. When it comes to downsizing
intranet sites, there is no better story than IBM. At one time, in the
late 1990s, the computer giant had over 10,000 intranet sites,
representing millions of pages. Through a dedicated campaign, the
company rationalized more than 6,000 intranet sites and saved $9
IBM’s approach to bringing these sites under control provides a
good example of how to manage the politics of downsizing sites.
Most intranet owners cooperated willingly. And why wouldn’t they?
If the corporation provides a central platform, an easy-to-use
publishing tool, indexing from the central search engine and technical
hosting, why wouldn’t renegade site owners jump at the opportunity to
close their intranet site? They would; they did. Some of course were
reluctant and a less subtle form of persuasion was needed in the
“Driving the consolidation of sites was difficult,” said IBM’s
Liam Cleaver, a key manager of IBM’s intranet portal W3, in our recent
Intranet World Tour with IBM
. “We owned little and controlled less.
But we [the portal team] do own the URL w3.ibm.com and groups want to
have that root in their URL. To be part of that they have to adhere to
standards and we have the authority to shoot down sites. We don’t like
to play cop but prefer a carrot and stick approach that sells the
How to rationalize
Well, easier said then done, but combined with a lot of hard work,
here are the ingredients needed to cook up a site rationalization
A set of enforceable intranet standards and polices (development
policy, editorial policy, etc.) that spell out the rules, roles and
responsibilities of all.
It sounds pretty easy. Start small and seek out friends for some
easy wins. Rationalize a few sites. Talk about the program benefits and
success for the content owners and the publishers. Sell, sell, sell.
Once the carrot looses its shine and ceases being effective, then pull
out the big stick.
Of course, anything involving politics is not easy. It requires
deft judgment and strong communication skills backed by solid knowledge
of the task required. But in most political arenas, things get easier
if you can rally people around a common cause. I don’t know any
organization that wouldn’t rally for increasing employee productivity
and supporting overall corporate effectiveness.