Forty years of feast, famine, and fun

by | Jan 27, 2019 | Information Management, Intranets, Search

This year I celebrate two anniversaries. I started my career in consulting in 1979 with the New Product Management Group in London. This was not quite as grand as the name sounds, located as it was in the basement of 5 Stone Buildings in Lincoln’s Inn, London. The vision was fascinating as Eric Parker (the MD) wanted to transform the patent agency he ran into a full-service consulting company. My task was to make a profit from information (the title of my first book) by selling research services to companies that were already clients of the firm, mainly in competitive intelligence. It turned out to be easier to sell it to non-clients!  One of these was the Rank Organisation, which made very good use of the market and competitor research we offered using services such as Dialog and ESA, as well as the NYT Information Bank for which we acted as the UK agency. We were one of the pioneers in what was then called information broking.

Twenty years later I set up Intranet Focus Ltd, though I had been undertaking intranet consulting projects since early 1998. Working for TFPL a team of four of us wrote Intranet Management – A TFPL Guide to Best Practice. As I look at it now there have been very few changes to the fundamentals of intranet management. It was not that we had any special insight. The Big Year in intranets was 1996 and we had a very good network of people in the USA that we called upon in writing the report. Paradoxically the Chairman of TFPL wanted me to stay, saying that there would be no business in improving intranets as we had set out a definitive statement on good practice.

I was fortunate in setting up Intranet Focus Ltd after two decades of consultancy in everything from e-publishing through to ADSL networks. Even in a corporate environment, consultants are constantly balancing the need to win work and having the time to deliver it, and in addition coping with times when the work is just overwhelming in volume to periods when there was no work on the horizon at all. You have no idea how much cold-selling consulting services is a thankless task. One decision I did make when I set up Intranet Focus Ltd is not to bid for a competitive tender. In these situations, no-one wins, least of all the consultant who has spend many hours writing flawless proposals that are then rejected on a ‘value for money’ basis. I’ve broken that decision only twice. Once with spectacular success and once with total failure after a ‘I just need to get my manager to sign off on it’ response.

Even in the early days of Intranet Focus Ltd. search was an important element of my work, with a project for Expedia in 2003 giving me the opportunity to learn as I went along. In fact, virtually every intranet project since 2001 has involved some consideration of search functionality and every search project usually involves making the intranet search experience just a little bit less frustrating.

For many years I have been in the position to accept only ‘interesting’ projects, defined as those which will take me into areas where I will learn about a new business sector or where the solutions are far from obvious at the outset. I like a challenge! I dabble in intranets, search, collaboration and digital workplaces and am very grateful that my potential career as a chemist was cut short by a truly appalling performance in my exams. Life as an information scientist has been immensely rewarding in so many ways. I’ve had just so much fun over the last four decades as well as the opportunity of  working with (and learning from) some amazing and inspiring people in over forty countries. 

Martin White