The first place we go to look for a book is Amazon. Amazon.co.uk offers me over 2000 books, the first two of which are by James Robertson, Designing Intranets and What Every Intranet Team Should Know. The third is my own Intranet Management Handbook which Amazon indicates incorrectly is co-authored by James. After that you enter a world of SharePoint books which mention the word intranet somewhere in the description and then begin to find books written ten or more years ago. The first report I wrote on intranets was published in 1998 and since then there has been a steady development of intranet good practice even if in many organisations there is a poor correlation between the value of the intranet and the management support it receives. Throughout that time, be it in print, blog posts, workshops and conferences, James has been passionate about ensuring that intranets are closely integrated into the way that an organisation works.
This passion, blended with an immense about of practical experience, is immediately obvious in Essential Intranets – Inspiring Sites That Deliver Business Value. The 280 page book is divided into three sections; Establish the Fundamentals, Deliver Business Value and Making It Happen. Within each chapter, one feature or idea is outlined per double page, with a description on the left, and a screenshot on the right. Each chapter starts with the simplest approaches, and then continues to more advanced or ambitious ideas. A ‘where to start’ summary at the end of each chapter provides step-by-step options for tackling the business objective.
However the contents page gets nowhere close to presenting the innovative structure of this book. It is written in a way that readers can use it in five different ways, enabling them to
- Skim the book for a sense of the landscape
- Drill into areas of interest
- Respond to leadership requests
- Plan next steps for your intranet
- Demonstrate what can be done
The art of writing a great book is rather like developing a great intranet. It needs structure and it also needs only the information that will be valuable to the reader. James is very open about what is not included in the book, having clearly spent a great deal of time (supported by a superbly experienced advisory panel) working out how to make a difference to the business performance of the millions of organisations around the world that have made an investment in an intranet.
A great book also makes you feel that the author is writing directly to you as the reader. Throughout this book I can hear James in action in workshops and conferences around the world, encouraging, inspiring and cajoling in quick succession. The writing style is direct and authoritative, with effective use of a selection of screen shots to start each topic. In my view the best way to get value from this book is to read it with a marker pen in your hand. By the end you will have a wealth of ideas from simple tips to strategic directions that will make your intranet (and your role as intranet manager) even more essential to the future of your organisation.
James Robertson will be across in Europe in September. Do take the opportunity to hear him in action and get a signed copy of his book.