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Large organisations aren’t becoming any simpler when it comes to managing information, communicating news or collaborating between staff.
Recent technology advances have brought new tools and platforms into organisations, but at the cost of increased complexity. Intranets are growing in scope, but in large organisations, there may be multiple sites, with overlapping roles.
Large, multinational organisations are faced with perhaps the most complex situations. In these businesses, the use of multiple tools is compounded by activities and behaviours that vary greatly between countries and major business units. Language and regulatory differences add to the potential confusion.
Large organisations are starting to recognise that the current ad hoc approach is no longer sustainable, and are starting to assemble teams and projects to deliver more strategic outcomes.
These teams are confronted by many questions, including:
- What tools should be used across the organisation?
- How to balance global (corporate) needs with local (operational) requirements?
- What approach should be taken to establishing and rolling out new solutions?
- Who should manage and govern all the various elements?
Perhaps the most important question to be addressed at the outset of any project is this: what role will the central team play? This article explores the options.
Global intranet teams must be clear on their role
Strategy meets responsibility
Global teams are increasingly being given the job of improving intranets and collaboration across the organisation as a whole. New teams are also being assembled with the specific responsibility to address these needs.
This reflects the growing understanding among senior management that content, communication and collaboration must be better addressed at a strategic level.
This is a hugely positive step, and teams often have the opportunity to improve or influence many aspects, including:
- global intranet strategy, design, management and governance
- organisation-wide collaboration platforms, including team-based collaboration and conversationally-oriented solutions
- unified communication, including presence awareness, virtual meetings and online conferencing
- strategic mobile platforms, including new ‘mobile front doors’ for enterprise solutions
Within complex modern organisations, however, there is no straight path to designing and delivering these solutions.
Differing needs abound across organisations, and internal politics runs up against IT priorities and constraints. Even when substantial resources are provided (which is rare), it can be hard to determine an overall strategy and roadmap.
In practice, a strategy can only be developed with a clear understanding of the role and responsibilities of the global team. This influences what to focus on, how to deliver it, and what the ongoing governance and management will be.
Untangling a complex global non-profit
This article draws on the work conducted in September 2013 with a global non-profit. As in many such organisations, each country is a separate legal entity. The international office, funded by the countries, plays a supporting rather than leadership role.
With each country having its own set of current and legacy solutions, delivering global solutions is necessarily complex.
The challenge that we helped with was gaining a clear view of the current state, and helping the highly skilled central team to find a way of ‘untangling’ a project to deliver better global approaches.
One element of this was determining what role the global team would play in the overall scheme of things, and the ‘five hats’ approach outlined below was a key element of this.
The global team typically ‘owns’ only a fraction of the whole
Five hats for global intranet teams
A global intranet team can only have a direct impact within the scope of their mandate and responsibilities. Outside of this, the team can influence or guide, but cannot force.
This understanding hugely shapes the overall strategy, what the team focuses on, and what will be delivered by the initial projects.
To help the global team understand their role in the wider organisation, it is useful to consider five ‘hats’ or roles:
In practice, teams will play a mix of roles across different platforms, technologies and areas of the business.
Each of the five hats is explored in the sections below.
Hat #1: Owner
A global intranet team will typically own a small proportion of the entire intranet (and collaboration) landscape.
This could consist of:
- the design and structure of the top-level corporate intranet (but not the content that it contains, beyond a few core landing and navigation pages)
- more narrowly, just the corporate news channel and the intranet homepage.
- the mobile ‘front door’ that all staff use to access mobile-enabled systems and sites
As the owner, the global team is empowered (and expected) to design, deliver and manage the sites or services. The funding for these elements would also typically be provided by the global team.
Central tools or templates can be offered as a service
Hat #2: Provider
In many cases, the global team may act as a service provider to the wider organisation. This may involve providing technologies, professional services or designs, such as:
- a standard content management system (CMS) that is configured to easily publish intranet sites
- a set of collaboration tools for use across the organisation, where they meet local needs
- a standard intranet design template, with built-in compliance with corporate branding, accessibility, and mobility
By acting as a service provider, the global team encourages consistency in practice across the organisation. Pooling resources into a single, centrally provided solution should also reduce up-front and ongoing costs.
Note that as a service provider, the global team cannot force or mandate use. Instead, the aim is provide a desirable solution that will be seen as better than local alternatives.
Like any service provider, the global team would be expected to provide a clear outline of what is being offered, along with a service level agreement (SLAs).
Hat #3: Facilitator
Staff (and organisations as a whole) will rarely prosper with content and collaboration tools without some help.
As a facilitator, the global team provides expertise, support and knowledge. This could take many forms:
- training or online support material to foster use and adoption of new tools
- providing a ‘centre of excellence’ that uncovers and shares good practice
- hands-on help or mentoring for key staff (such as assisting decentralised intranet authors or site owners)
- playing a community management role in collaboration spaces or communities of practice
The facilitator role often goes hand-in-hand with being a service provider, although not in all cases. (For example: IT may be the provider for a collaboration platform, but the global intranet team facilitates its success.)
While often seen as the ‘softest’ of the hats, effective facilitation is crucial for any sustainable platform or approach.
The global team may lead the way as an innovator
Hat #4: Innovator
When exploring new approaches or technologies, the global team can often play a valuable role as an innovator.
This would typically involve initiating a corporately-funded project that deploys and tests new ideas, generally as a pilot or ‘proof of concept’.
This could include:
- Designing and delivering enterprise mobile solutions, to explore and address security and infrastructure questions.
- Deploying knowledge management solutions to drive innovation within a particular area of the organisation.
- Testing new collaboration tools, to understand their potential role within the organisation as a whole.
In each case, when wearing the innovator hat, the results are handed to the business (or IT) at the conclusion of the project.
The global team may then have no ongoing connection with the solution, or could switch to taking the role of owner or provider.
Does the global team ‘rule’ anything?
Hat #5: Ruler
Finally, the global intranet team may wear the crown of a ruler, with full power to enforce or mandate actions across the organisation.
In practice, there are very few circumstances where the global team is the ruler, even when it comes to the intranet itself.
Instead, this may focus on a small number of items which are corporately important or compliance-related, such as:
- ensuring universal adoption of tools mandated as corporately critical, such as the staff directory
- compliance with industry regulation, such as banking rules or recordkeeping
Beware! The crown of a ruler can be an uncomfortable fit for global intranet teams. Even when senior management grants the team the power of a ruler, it can be difficult or impossible to impose this rule on the wider organisation.
The global team should therefore play the role of a ruler in only a handful of circumstances. Many teams aren’t the rulers of anything, instead focusing on being effective service providers.
Real-world example (details have been anonymised)
|Intranet||Collaboration||Staff directory||Unified communication|
|Global (corporate) intranet, including design and IA.|
(Excludes content owned and managed by business areas.)
|The overall collaboration platform (either one or a number of tools).||Global staff directory.||Catalogue of existing tools in use.|
Include in staff profiles (eg link to Skype handles of staff).
|Intranet content management system (CMS), plus standard design and templates.||‘Collaboration as a service’, including pre-developed templates, establishment wizards, etc.|
Support for integrating into intranet sites and other tools.
|‘Staff directory as a service’, allowing core people information to be used in other systems and platforms.||None, no plans to replace existing tools.|
|Online training materials for authors, plus global intranet community of practice.||End-user training and change management.|
‘Centre of excellence’ for collaboration use.
|Support to encourage adoption.||Foster ‘collaboration mindset’ in staff, including effective use of UC tools across geographic and linguistic boundaries.|
|Project-based initiatives to deliver new functionality.||Conduct initial projects to start collaboration with a bang.||Expand the scope of the staff directory to encompass richer information.||Trial new technologies, and explore business case for global set of tools.|
|None!||None!||Yes, mandate universal usage across the global organisation, backed by IT and senior management.||None!|
Map out your roles
As flagged at the outset of this article, the global intranet team may wear a variety of different hats, depending on the circumstance, technology platform, or area of the business.
Use the ‘five hats’ to clarify and document the team’s responsibilities and areas of influence, as one of the first steps in any strategic program of work.
(An real-world example is shown later in the article.)
By creating clarity about the team’s position in the wider landscape, it becomes possible to target and scope projects in effective and pragmatic ways.
Engage with stakeholders
By definition, the global intranet team doesn’t act in isolation from the rest of the business. When mapping which hats will be worn, there will be multiple stakeholders, including:
- senior managers, including the senior leadership team
- key project sponsors
- technology owners
- site and content owners
- other related teams
Bring these groups together to explore (and ultimately endorse) the roles and responsibilities of the global intranet team.
This will in turn help other teams to clarify which hats they’re wearing, and therefore the relationships (both formal and informal) between the various teams.
Be pragmatic, and don’t overreach
Modern organisations are complex, and consistently shifting. Global intranet teams should therefore examine their roles in a pragmatic and realistic way.
While being an owner or ruler may appear to be the most effective hats, they are also the most difficult to wear. Instead, global teams may have greater real-world impact by focusing on being valuable service providers and facilitators.
This allows the team to focus on doing a smaller number of things well, and reduces the impact of internal politics and cross-departmental debates.
What role do you play?
This article has drawn on practical experience with helping global intranet teams determine their role in the world.
Five ‘hats’ have been outlined: owner, provider, facilitator, innovator and ruler.
Before proceeding further, take some time to examine your team’s current hats, across the full range of technologies, platforms and sites.
Explore what future state is desired, and use these insights to guide pragmatic decisions on what projects to pursue, and what activities to deliver.
The clearer the global intranet team is on its own identity and responsibility, the more effectively it can engage with the organisation as a whole.