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 And lots of content was out of date.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 It's out of date.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.

Be very wary of personalization. I know it would be a really exciting thing to implement. But how about making sure that your staff directory, as well as all your other content, is correct first.

Take a “crawl, walk, run” approach.

While many intranets have indeed improved over the last five years, there is still one area where very little progress has been made: measurement of the return on investment (ROI). According to a study published in November 2003 by Prescient Digital, intranet ROI remains guesswork at most organizations.

In a report titled “Ten best intranets of 2003,” Jakob Nielsen writes, “There continues to be a paucity of detailed usability metrics for intranets. Most teams focus on doing a good job, not on justifying their existence.”

There is an old saying in management: If you can't measure it, you can't manage it. The average intranet is not being measured. Therefore, it is not being professionally managed. Some people don't know how many pages they have on their intranet. Some don't even know how many intranets they have.

This ad hoc approach to intranet management is not acceptable. As more and more senior managers do get engaged, they start asking tougher questions about the value of the intranet. If you're managing an intranet today, you need to develop ROI models.

Ask yourself this question: If your intranet were shut down tomorrow, would your organization become less productive, or would it become more productive?

Achieving best practice will be a slow process. That's okay. It will require a five-year plan, not a series of 3-6 month tactical initiatives. The intranet changes how an organization communicates. That's a big change.

As Tetra Pak and others have found (see Part 3), successful intranet management begins with successful people management.

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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.