Intranets don't self-organize. Without planned, centralized information architectures and clearly defined published processes, they become unproductive.

Intranets often have applications that don't work properly, are too difficult to learn, or have no clear business benefit. Applications, like content, must be able to establish a clear return on investment.

IBM used to have some 7,000 intranets.

Annually, IBM surveys staff to find out where they get the information they need to do their jobs. Historically, the number-one source has been colleagues. When the intranet arrived in the mid-90s, it went to the bottom of the list of sources for information.

When IBM had 7,000 intranets, it was hard to find anything. And lots of content was out of date.

Then IBM went to a single intranet architecture and introduced much more formal publishing control. The following year's survey found staff rating the intranet as employees' number-one source.

What is the intranet's killer app? It's the staff directory. And what is the number-one problem with the staff directory? It's out of date. What's the point of having a staff directory application if its content is wrong?

We need to get away from data management thinking. We need to start thinking like publishers. Publishers are focused on getting the right content to the right person at the right time at the right cost. Publishers keep staff directories up to date.

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image of Gerry McGovern
Gerry McGovern ( is a content management consultant and author. His latest book is The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, which teaches unique techniques for identifying and measuring the performance of customers' top tasks.