Skills acquisition for intranet and digital workplace management

by | Oct 3, 2016 | Digital workplace, Intranets

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Gartner Digital Workplace Summit, which focused on highlighting the opportunities for IT departments to lead the digital workplace revolution. There have also been recent reports on the development of digital workplaces by McKinsey and Forbes.  The title of the McKinsey report is “The New Tech Talent You Will Need To Succeed In Digital” and to me creates the impression that IT alone can manage the transformation of organisations into the next generation of digital workplaces. There is no reference at all to the role of business departments or to the need to find and train employees across the organisation to provide the business input into IT development and then to support implementation. The only reference in the Forbes/IBM report on training is “Training for both users and the system is time intensive and requires a level of expertise in natural language processing and machine learning.”  It makes no suggestions as to where people with these skills are going to be found.

There is already a serious problem with finding people with the skills for intranet management, especially at a more senior level. There are no structured training courses which could lead to some form of professional certification and no opportunities that I am aware of for continuing professional development.  In the UK the Institute of Internal Communication makes no reference to intranets in its material on professional development despite the crucial role that intranets play in internal communications. I have spent the last decade trying (without visible success) to persuade CILIP to recognise intranet managers as information managers. As for AIIM, its Certificate for Information Professionals makes no reference at all to intranets in the scope of the Certificate, which is quite incomprehensible.

In 1996 David Strom, writing in Forbes, noted that “If you are about to begin your first Intranet project, you need to gather together people of diverse skills: computer geeks, artists, diplomats, and negotiators. It seems like a motley crew, but you’ll need these diverse talents, along with some careful choices in hardware and software, if you will be successful”  That is as true today as it was perceptive in 1996. If these skills are needed for intranet management then that is even more the case for digital workplaces, and yet no one seems to be addressing the challenges. I’m tired of seeing an endless succession of schematics about the development of digital workplaces and of collaborative working with no attention being paid at all to the skills and related resources needed to achieve the promised nirvana of fully digital working. There is a very good analysis by Willis Towers Watson on the issues that insurance companies face in staffing for a digital revolution which has many lessons for all other industry sectors. I would also note in passing that the issues of multiple languages are also not being taken into consideration nor (prompted by an excellent presentation by Paul Zimmerman, COO of Invotra, at Intranet Now 2016) the complex issues of accessibility in a digital workplace.

At Intranet Now 2016 it was interesting to learn that Hanna Karppi, formerly Group Internal Communications Manager at Skanska, is now Head of Digital Workplace. This is the direction that all intranet managers should be seeking to develop their careers, but many will need to enhance their skills to gain a broader understanding of the issues, challenges and opportunities. I have a concern that the availability of training courses and opportunities for professional development are not going to be equal to the demand. We could end up with a substantial amount of technological sophistication but with no impact on organisation performance because of a lack of support for definition, implementation and adoption.

Martin White