Intranet Now 2017: Key takeaways and lessons learnt
I love conferences as a chance to remind me of things that have slipped to the back of my brain and learn new things. Sometimes that’s a chat during a coffee break, or a phrase in someone’s presentation. So what did I learn this time?
Search was a key theme – often mentioned as a reason for refreshing an old intranet “we can’t find anything” or “search doesn’t work” Martyn White was authoritative, informative and entertaining as usual – including some ribbon waving magic and some number crunching to keep us on our toes.
But the theme that stood out for me, was less is more. It had been a strong message from the Intranet Design Awards the previous day – Scottish Government’s radical cull of both content and editors (500,000 pages and 500 editors down to 5,000 pages and 4 editors) was breath taking and inspiring. This was reinforced by Virgin Trains app based solution – a minimal number of apps each with a single focus, that replace a more traditional intranet site.
With the rise of good content management systems and a trend for devolving content management to the team members who understand the content, it seemed like the intranet manager wouldn’t have to write so much content – how could they ever understand the content that Finance was trying to put out? But that can lead to obese pages, sprawling content. Content owners are specialists in their subject, not specialist content writers. Even with good training and advice, they may struggle to produce pithy quality content – more often than not they will write more and more to address a perceived problem.
No wonder no one can find anything and search becomes the most important function to get right. Imagine a house so stuffed with belongings that each drawer and cupboard is crammed and over spilling. Even if each one of those possessions is beautiful or useful, the sheer task of getting to the right one at the right time is going to be difficult.
A central task becomes gate keeping – the decision about what goes in and what is kept out is – intranet teams showing that they can make effective cases for keeping things simple. Sarah Moffat’s ‘Line managers portal’ is an excellent, simple example that could be replicated by every intranet manager. Laura Jones advised us to stay close to the business, having her team of content authors visit the ‘shop floor’ regularly to hear what is important to them.
For me the power of Intranet Now is in the voices of the Intranet managers themselves. Not always the most confident or polished speakers, their intranets shone through for them – real solutions working for real companies, often with the failures shown up to guide them to the success. Allan Tanner showed us his new but rejected intranet and how they remodelled it, and gave us all a simple repeatable idiom to explain why labeling has to be simplified. His talk ‘Peanut butter in the jam aisle’ was one of my favourite of the day.
Thanks to Wedge and Brian for organising and giving my first opportunity to speak to that many people at once.