Intranet Focus Ltd – the first fifteen years
Intranet Focus Ltd opened for business on 22 September 1999. My interest in intranets started in 1997 and in 1998 three colleagues at TFPL Ltd joined me in writing Intranet Management – a Guide to Best Practice, based on some consulting projects and a significant amount of research. The report stimulated considerable interest but not a great deal of work. By late 1998 I was corresponding with Howard McQueen, who was creating what turned out to be the first major intranet conference, scheduled for San Francisco in February 1999. Since 1999 was also our 25th Wedding Anniversary Cynthia and I decided to spend it in San Francisco and take in the conference at the same time. By the end of the conference I was hooked on intranets. TFPL were not keen to move into a more technical consulting area from their work in knowledge management (at the time the right decision) and so I left the company and started up on my own. The first challenge was to find a company name that also had .com and co.uk web addresses available. It was Simon, one of our sons, who came up with Intranet Focus.
I’d have to say that the first couple of years were scary. I worked on some projects but none of any size. Then in 2001 I won a contract to redevelop the intranet at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, starting work the day before 9/11. It turned out to be a challenging project in many ways but the team I built up for the project delivered on time and to budget despite the after-effects of 9/11. That was the turning point for the business as the IMF was the definitive ‘reference client’. Just as important I learned a huge amount about intranets and the management of intranet projects.
Over the last 15 years I’ve worked on projects on a dozen countries and enjoyed myself enormously. Working inside an organisation is a fascinating experience, be it a major pharmaceutical company, a Gulf State conglomerate, a convent or a global law firm. I’ve worked with some very talented and generous colleagues, including (amongst many others) Jane McConnell, James Robertson, Howard McQueen, Paul Corney, David Gilroy, Gerry McGovern, Michael Sampson and Jed Cawthorne. Janus Boye, Kurt Kragh Sorensen, Kristian Norling and the Information Today teams in the USA and in the UK have all been very supportive and given me many opportunities to run workshops and speak at conferences. I would also like to acknowledge three clients who were an especial pleasure to work with – Christiane Wolff at Boehringer Ingelheim, Kristin Dom at Atlas Copco and Stavri Nikolov at the European Commission. Helen Carley at Facet Publishing and Simon St. Laurent at O’Reilly Media guided my work on four books, each of which has been an invaluable calling card. However none of what I hope I have achieved would have been possible without the support of Cynthia and our sons Nick and Simon.
Most of the ‘best practice’ guidance in the TFPL 1998 report is still applicable. This is not because my colleagues and I were especially insightful in 1998 but because we all had a background in information and knowledge management consultancy, and in publishing. We brought best practice from those disciplines into an intranet framework that has stood the test of time. Rarely do I now come across an intranet manager who is unaware of best practice. However intranet managers (and search managers) remain lonely people with very limited resources, recognition and career opportunities. My role is not to teach them but to work with them in gaining the support of the senior managers of their organisations, very few of whom seem to understand the value of information in achieving business objectives, the role of an intranet in managing information and the need for effective search.
Shortly before I announced my departure from TFPL an experienced senior business manager I knew advised me not to move into intranet consulting as people would quickly work out how to make use of the technology. Fortunately for me, and for the only time in his distinguished career, he was wrong. One of my favourite quotes comes from US President Lyndon Johnson. He remarked that the fire of progress is lit by inspiration, fuelled by information and sustained by hope and hard work. All I can do is provide the information. The inspiration, hope and hard work is down to my clients.