KM World 2012 Notes: From Intranets to the Digital Workplace

I am pleased to be at the 2012 KM World. Here are my notes for 2011 and 2010. James Robertson of Step Two Designs led a session, From Intranets to the Digital Workplace.

I have heard him speak before and enjoyed it so I was pleased to attend this session.  He was filling in at the last minute for someone who could not attend so there is no session description.

James said that the concepts of intranets are changing with collaboration, social, mobile and most importantly, new ways of working in a networked way.  There is more pressure for organizations to be more nimble and productive and this gets reflected in intranets.

James said that there cannot be an effective strategy unless there is a goal. The goal cannot be just SharePoint 2013 but a business goal. Intranets have traditionally been a collecting place. James asked if the term, intranet, the term too old? Some people are using the term “digital workplace.” James calls this space the set of digital tools that allow people to do their work. He then told us some stories to both illustrate possibilities and to offer stories as a way to elicit and obtain agreement on requirements.

The first story covered Sarah’s first day in new job. She has been unemployed for 18 months. She is happy to have a job but not looking forward to the learning curve.  On her first day she is pleased to see that the security guard knows her. She meets her new boss. She is pleased to find a computer on her desk with a login, email, phone, etc. This was set up through established processes. The intranet, Morris, has a getting started button. There are videos from people like the CEO, as well as videos on how to practical things like use the photocopier.

There is also a to-do list on on-boarding tasks and she begins them. She can add some of her own, like finding the local gym. There is a connecting and collaborating section. There are suggested groups to join based on her role. There are new tools. She likes the section, product chat, where she can see the latest issues related to products.

James said there is no company that has all of this but many have bits of this. I asked about the obstacles that prevent one company from having all of this, as it does seem very feasible and useful. James turned my question around. What can we do to make this happen? This is fair. He first went to the next scenario.

Sarah is going to her first big meeting. She looks at all the products her new companies sells. She can find all the related information on the product. She sees a new competitor has a cheaper and smaller product. There is a lot of discussion recorded about this challenge. She can also review the call center records on this product to see the issues.

Sarah was also able to make all her travel arrangements through the intranet, as well as see the local news for where she is going. There is useful material on restaurants, public transit, and where to jog.  After she booked the travel, Morris sent an email to sign her up for travel insurance, saying he noticed it was her first trip for the company.  So Sarah felt confident in doing her first trip.

James said a story telling approach for intranet requirements can spark new ideas. When he does this, people will offer needs specific to their organization.

James was asked if these stories are science fiction. In response he provided some examples of much of these ideas happening. IDEO has an intranet where people are the center of everything.  Seven different applications are tied together to pull this off. Another was Stockland that has SharePoint and NewsGator where everything is purpose driven.  Arup is another example where everything is delivered at point of need through mobile.

Framestore is an animation company that did Avatar and other movies. They had a complex tool to support their efforts that was hard to use. Rather that changing tools, they changed the interface after talking with their project teams.  Animation is a complex process but the new interface simplified it. At the top center of the page are the top outstanding tasks for the specific user.

CRS Australia is an example of an organization with many policies and they change frequently. Email was used often to update people or it was done through a news story on the front page. However, this is usually ignored and then lost. Then it was not available when needed. So they implemented online forms. When someone goes to a form, any updates are noted and a link to the change is presented.  So the new information is presented at the point of need when it will get noticed.

So some organizations did these things. What can you do to overcome the obstacles? James said first tell your own stories.  Start with the user experience or designing form the “glass backwards.” Create your own designs and future scenarios independent of IT. Get business leaders excited and select what they want.  Then see what IT can do and not do and why.  Simplify the system and join the dots.

Then focus on the next project. Ask four questions.

  1. Can we make it simpler – this is usually possible
  2. Does it make the best use of available technology? – we often underuse technology capabilities
  3. Does it meet the needs of staff? – spend time with them
  4. Is it beautifully designed?  – people do not like ugly – pretty makes a big difference

This was a very useful set of ideas. I have used the method of asking people to describe their ideal system and this is a bit more concrete as it allows people to  see possibilities, respond to specifics and then offer any needed adjustments.

Blog post by Bill Ives of the Merced Group and AppFusions, and who also blogs at Portals and KM.

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