Intranet Focus Ltd – the first twenty years

by | Oct 2, 2019 | Intranets

With a Third-Class degree in Chemistry the career options in 1970 were rather limited. However, a life-time interest in libraries, books and reading let me to a position as an Information Officer with the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association, at that time located in Euston Street, London. As it happened there could have been few better places to start a career as an information scientist because my colleagues were all well qualified and very willing to train me into the mysteries of abstracting, post-coordinated indexing and finding information when others have failed. Nothing like sitting on the end of the telephone help desk for a day to ensure you know enough to respond with intelligent questions to begin to define the query.

Between 1970 and starting Intranet Focus Ltd in 1999 I worked for the Zinc/Lead Development Association, New Product Management Group, Creative Strategies International, Reed Publishing, Link Resources, International Data Corporation, Logica, Intellidata, Romtec and TFPL. TFPL was a small KM-focused consultancy and it was whilst working on a project for Ove Arup in 1996 that I discovered intranets. I led a TFPL team in writing ‘Intranet Management – A TFPL Guide to Best Practice’ that was published in 1998 and I was keen to set up a small intranet team within TFPL. As it turned out the decision by TFPL not to do so ended up as an opportunity for me to set up Intranet Focus Ltd. I attended the first major conference on intranet management in San Francisco in April 1999. This enabled me to emerge as an intranet consultant in September 1999 with a very good network of colleagues in the USA.

The first couple of years were difficult but then out of the blue I was invited by the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC to bid for a project to rebuild the IMF intranet. The project started on the day before 9/11 and required several trans-Atlantic flights in near-empty aircraft over the next three months. The project was a success, I learned a great deal about intranets, and having the IMF as a client opened a great many doors over the next few years. It also led to a memorably close relationship with Howard McQueen and to major projects at both the United Nations and the World Bank. The IMF project also highlighted the importance of search within an intranet, and this insight was the basis for my preoccupation with enterprise search over the last ten years.

Looking back at the TFPL report the principles of intranet management have changed very little. For the record the lessons learned subheadings were

  • Intranets will change organisational culture
  • Staff resources to maintain an intranet will always exceed expectations
  • Intranets need different design and navigation policies to those of a web site
  • Intranets need to be owned
  • Intranets need to be demand-led
  • Intranets must support core business processes
  • Keep the initial intranet simple and even [in terms of IA] and don’t pay too much attention to case studies from other organisations
  • Do not promise anything that cannot be delivered
  • An extranet strategy cannot be added as an afterthought
  • An intranet will not make a poor company a better one, only a good performer a better one
  • An intranet cannot be built without good IT support

My major disappointment over the last two decades has been the lack of training and ‘certification’ for intranet managers and the fact that there is rarely any career progression options inside the organisation. To develop a career an intranet manager has to move out and hopefully upwards, though many find the challenge of bringing intranet good practice to another organisation reward enough.  Web managers can show off the outcomes of their skills to another organisation, an impossibility for an intranet manager.

This is why I am concerned about a lack of certification to define skills and achievements. I see huge potential for intranet managers to be the leaders in digital workplace development but to capitalize on this they will need to broaden their skills base. That is where the lack of available training is a significant barrier to progress, both for the intranet manager and for their organisation.

Martin White