Some years back, Thomas L. Friedman argued in his best-selling book that the world is flat when it comes to commerce. The central argument is that globalisation now means that companies are operating (and competing) on a level playing field, regardless of location.
When it comes to global intranets, the idea is an attractive one. For teams sitting in head office, it suggests that the user base is becoming increasingly homogeneous, allowing a single global intranet to be confidently rolled out to the whole organisation.
In practice, reality is more complex.
A current research project we’re conducting for a global company provides many concrete examples. The brief was a simple one: find out what’s happening outside of head office.
We’ve spent time in Asia and across Europe, conducting face-to-face interviews. We’ve also conducted several days of phone interviews with North American staff.
While we’re only at the start of the analysis process, there are hundreds of small but important examples that have surfaced that show the differences between locations.
- Technology use and sophistication varies greatly between locations and business units.
- Some locations are using SharePoint heavily, to deliver a range of local solutions (including workflow-driven business solutions), while others are storing everything on share drives, or in folders full of paper.
- Many local intranets exist, supporting the highly targeted needs of individual business units, offices or teams.
- The business structure varies hugely between countries, with some selling products direct to customers, while others work entirely through third-parties.
- Products are local to each country, with the corresponding IT systems, policies and procedures.
- Every location has it’s own unique history, as the organisation has grown organically through countless acquisitions over the last 100 years. This leaves its mark on culture, working practices and systems.
- Language is hugely important in locations such as Canada (English and French, with near universal translation), while in other locations (including some of the ones in Asia) English is the sole operational language.
- The global culture program is reaching all staff, but local variations have a huge impact on what it means for staff.
These are just a few of the variations, and the question could be asked: is there a valid role for a global intranet (and a matching global team)?
The answer is certainly yes, but any successful approach must be guided by the nuances and practicalities of local variations. (Our next step in this particular project will be determining a valid strategy.)
Above all, it reinforces what we’ve been saying for almost a decade now: you can’t deliver successful solutions to staff you haven’t personally met.
This means that if you’ve a 10,000+ strong organisation with offices around the globe, any major project must start with field research conducted face-to-face in a range of locations. While it’s hard work, the global intranet will fail to deliver promised benefits without the insight this research provides.