Beware of simplistic rules and strategies
When it comes to intranets (and information management in general), there is always a temptation to put in place simplistic rules, or to pursue simplistic strategies. Facing a complex situation? “Just do this.”
The problem is, not only do these simplistic approaches not work, they often make the situation worse. A few examples:
1. Let’s limit email inboxes to only 20meg
The problem: staff use their email programs as long-term storage mechanisms, clogging up servers with an immense amount of old email. The simplistic solution: limit email inboxes to a small size (say 20meg), and then delete any excess on a regular basis.
We’ve seen an organisation do this. The result was that staff saved all their old messages into Outlook “saved mail” (PST) files. When an audit was done of server space, it was discovered that 12 out of 20TB was being used by these files. They can’t be indexed, searched, or virus-checked. Chances are, they will never be opened again by the staff who saved them.
So the inboxes are beautifully small, but the overall space used is larger, and information management is worse.
2. Blow up shared network folders
The problem: there are an immense number of files stored on corporate file servers, across thousands of folders in hundreds of shared drives. The files are poorly named, hard to find, and often duplicated. The simplistic solution: install SharePoint (Lotus Notes, etc), turn off network folders, and force everyone to store their files online instead.
Faced by the prospect of files shares being turned off, staff invariably copy everything they’ve got directly into SharePoint document collections (etc). Files aren’t reviewed, documents aren’t renamed, and little old content is removed. Instead, a one-to-one copy of files simply replicates the same problems in a new space.
The result? A new technology, but the same content and information management problems. And in the process, search is broken, because every search term now returns hundreds of irrelevant files and duplicates.
3. Let’s fully centralised, or fully decentralise
The problem: intranet content is very inconsistent in its quality, currency, relevance and structure. This generates a huge amount of staff (and stakeholder) dissatisfaction. The simplistic solution: fully centralise intranet publishing, so all content is created by a central team with professional skills. Alternatively: fully decentralise, so all content is owned by the business, with no involvement from the central team (if one is left).
The difficulty is this: fully centralised is always a bottleneck; fully decentralised is always anarchy. Neither extreme will deliver a successful intranet, and a mix of strategies will be required, including both centralised and decentralised where appropriate.
4. Three clicks rule
The problem: staff can’t find information on the intranet. The simplistic solution: staff “don’t like to click”, so ensure that all pages are no more than three clicks away from the homepage.
The reality is that this simply doesn’t work, not just because you can’t fit an entire intranet into a structure three levels deep. The underlying assumption is also false: staff are perfectly happy to click as long as they are confident they’re heading in the right direction.
Beware excessive simplicity
I could share a dozen other examples of simplistic approaches, and why they don’t work. The only valid simple rule is this: “The simpler the principle, the more likely it is to be wrong” (hmm, I may be breaking my own principle there).
We should always strive to elegance and simplicity where we can find it, but not to the extent that simplistic approaches actually make the problem worse. At the end of the day, it’s our job as professionals to find strategies that work in our complex organisations, and to constantly adapt these to match changing circumstances.
What are the simplistic rules you’ve seen, and what problems did they cause?