Two from Step Two!

Two excellent posts here from the team at Step Two Designs, from their blog "Column Two" The first "How is a digital workplace team different from an intranet team?" looks at how with the increased use of new technologies within organisations what was traditionally called an intranet team is now shifting towards being called a digital workplace team.

Whilst you might think the tools could be managed in the same way there are some differences in the technologies which mean organisations may need to rethink who manages their digital strategy.

The post begins by looking at the composition and roles of intranet and digital workplace teams. You wont be surprised to learn that the main role of an intranet team is to manage the intranet. This will usually consist of:

  • "A strong skill set relating to content publishing and management.
  • A responsibility for corporate news (particularly when the intranet team sits within internal comms).
  • Involvement in collaboration and social tools
  • Very limited focus on projects, business solutions, and technology in general"

Whilst there are some similarities between intranet and digital teams, they're also very different as they're trying to achieve different things.

To start with the digital workplace is the world of “intranet plus” so that might be“intranet plus collaboration” or “intranet plus mobile”, “intranet plus BI”. This is a much larger scope and vision, beyond just a traditional content-centric intranet.

As a result digital workplace teams will need a different set of skills:

  • "Very strong skills in projects and business solutions, including full-time BAs and project managers
  • Sufficient levels of tech savvy to help guide technology projects, with a very close working relationship with IT project teams and the CIO
  • A “centre of excellence” for UX
  • Owner of the intranet and collaboration platforms"

 So some quite significant differences for existing intranet managers and for organisations that are looking to develop their digital workplaces. The second post from the Step Two blog is called "SharePoint best practice 7/25: what roles in a SharePoint intranet dream team?" In the post James Robertson looks at a SharePoint dream team. When I first saw the list of potential team members I was struck by how many they are, that's certainly something to bear in mind if you're thinking about implementing SharePoint.

As James says in the post "For the most successful results from your implementation you will need to ensure that the various roles detailed in the diagram above are covered to some degree" James also talks about two vital but sometimes undervalued roles, they are; The Project Manager and Content Champions.

Whilst the Project Manager could be played in some part by an existing intranet manager, the content champion roles are harder to fill but perhaps even more important. "Involving content champions is an opportunity to engage with different parts of the business and receive invaluable feedback. Having an effective dialogue with these individuals will help to create a group who continue to support the intranet after the project has launched, and will champion it inside their own business division"

These are excellent posts from the Step Two blog, which if you haven't already read I would encourage you to do.

Help! I need an intranet but IT want SharePoint!

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to be sent a link to an Interact Intranet webinar recording about SharePoint as an intranet.

The webinar was designed to be for communication specialists who are faced with an increasing "problem" within organisations. They would like an intranet but IT want to develop SharePoint. Whilst SharePoint can be an excellent tool.SharePoint isn't necessarily the best solution to meet all business objectives.

The first thing the webinar presenters said (and this is something I agree with very strongly) is that it's important to have a strong and productive relationship with your IT department. They're likely to be involved in any intranet project you undertake so it's good to keep them on-side and whilst they are important at the end of the day "there role is to keep the lights on" rather then understand what the requirements of an intranet project are. Which is why the presenters described SharePoint as an IT Project and intranets as communications projects, which are run by internal communications teams, Marketing teams, HR or Knowledge teams.

The presenters then explained briefly the three challenges that many organisations are looking to resolve when rolling out an intranet, they are:

  • To shorten communication channels
  • To foster collaboration between teams
  • To provide rapid access to content

The presenters then outlined some of the key problems for organisations thinking about using SharePoint as there intranet. They are;

Branding & Design issues - this is really important given that a positive initial experience is important for adoption. Whilst SharePoint can look amazing if you have tons of money for the average organisation SharePoint out of the box leaves users wanting more. In addition to this SharePoint doesn't provide the tools to modify the user interface out of the box. Users can change the look and feel of a SharePoint site via pallettes, for most organisations this isn't going to cut it. Another issue with the most recent version of SharePoint (SharePoint 2013) is that the SharePoint designer now doesn't allow you to create apps on the fly. This essentially scales down extensibility.

The next issue discussed by the presenters was around usability and for this they asked a guest speaker from Cross Country Trains to talk about their experiences with SharePoint. These were mostly negative with the speaker explaining that most people weren't trained, there was poor navigation and there was very little interest or engagement with the intranet. They also explained that there was no user manual so when it came to training it had to be delivered by expensive external organisations. This was followed up with their requirements for their next intranet, these included being interactive and collaborative, a two way communication tool and a tool that people want to use rather then tool of last resort.

The next issue the presenters looked at was the long release cycle associated with SharePoint. Whilst there have been a huge number of social media tools released since 2009, there has only been one release of SharePoint and this release didn't include much in the way of collaborative or social features. SharePoint 2013 is being lauded as the version of SharePoint that is really collaborative, especially with their recent acquisition of Yammer, but I guess we'll have to wait an see on this front.

The next issue discussed was around the difficult upgrade path. This as the presenters explained is a complicated workflow that needs to be undertaken for each instance (SharePoint site). The presenters also reported on the results of some research undertaken recently, which showed that 78% of organisations using SharePoint would wait at least 12 months before upgrading to SharePoint 2013.

The penultimate area of discussion was around the use of 3rd Party tools within SharePoint. There are a significant number of 3rd party tools used within SharePoint to support functionality that isn't available within SharePoint. 3rd party applications include those provided by Yammer, Socialcast, Newsgator, Bamboo and FAST. These tools are often used as social layers as up until the most recent version of SharePoint, collaborative features have been somewhat lacking. The last area was discussed was the hidden cost associated with SharePoint, these include using external consultants, the costs associated with updates and migration, design costs, user training costs and the cost associated with maintenance and adminstration.

To conclude the webinar the authors then outlined what SharePoint is and isn't.

SharePoint is:

  • A platform
  • Powerful
  • Flexible
  • Good at document management
  • Extendable

SharePoint is not:

  • An intranet
  • Easy to configure
  • Easy to update
  • Social (yet)
  • An out of the box product

This was an excellent webinar from the team at Interact and has certainly highlighted some areas of concern around SharePoint.

10 ways to completely ruin your intranet

Whilst you might not deliberate set about to create a rubbish intranet, sometimes it just happens. So a blog post on the blog made me giggle with some suggestions on how you could completely ruin your intranet!

So how can you ruin your intranet - well these are the suggestions from the team at

  1. Make it content heavy. Text, text, text it all needs to be about text and no photos, especially of anybody important like employees
  2. Make it impossible to use. Instead of making the site intuitive to use, via the use of a content management tool instead rely on complicated code or having to ask a supplier or IT to update a page.
  3. Build it internally. People might disagree with this one, instead of buying a custom solution from a supplier ask your IT department to create it internally at great expense.
  4. Dismiss it. If you really want to destroy your intranet complain to anyone who will listen that your intranet is just “one more tool that gets in the way of productivity.” Tell others that like a fax machine, the intranet is just a phase.
  5. Make navigation frustrating. Break the back button or provide a zillion ways for people to navigate to pages, that's sure to confuse them.
  6. Never update it. An obvious one here, it's always great to see Christmas photos in April to remind you that Christmas is coming around soon.
  7. Continue to use outdated tools. Why refer people to the intranet when there is a great resource, somewhere that hasn't been updated in a zillion years
  8. Excluding employees. People who don't have a PC or an email address wont need to access the intranet right...wrong - Build the intranet for ALL employees!
  9. Making it TOO social. Is it possible to be TOO social. It is if that means employees saying how much they despise colleagues*
  10. Don't tell anyone it's there. Want to really ruin your intranet, just don't acknowledge its existence by making sure all communications go out via email with no links to the intranet.

*I think this can be managed so for me it's impossible to be TOO social.

Ark Group Conference: Managing Your Law Firm Library

On the 29 of November I was delighted to attend the Managing Your Law Firm Library conference organised by the ARK Group. I'd been invited to talk on a panel with the very lovely Laura Woods and Loyita Worley and as such was able to attend the entire conference, despite not working in a Library setting anymore!

The Conference itself was organised into several themes the first of these was Resource Management and the first of the speakers was Sarah Brittan from Baker & McKenzie. Sarah talked in great detail about the review the Library & Information Services team at Baker & McKenzie had been part of and the outcome of that review. As a result of the review the structure of the service was re-organised and Information Specialists are now embedded within practice groups rather then sitting within a central library. It's interesting to see that more Library & Information Services are looking at embedding staff. When I worked in my previous firm I undertook two stints within practice groups. Both of which were immensely useful as I was there to answer any questions they had relating to resources or research. Within my current firm the Information Officers are all embedded within practice groups, which seems to work really well.

The second speaker within the Resource management section was Fiona Fodgen. Fiona provided attendees with some useful tips on how to manage a Library budget using excel and whilst I don't currently have and budget responsibility I will be keeping the tips handy in case I should do in future.

However of most interest to me during the first part of the conference was Chrissy Street's presentation on "Demonstrating value through the use of a business case". Whilst I do prepare business cases, what I was most interested in was Chrissy' use of Confluence as a tool for creating business case templates.Whilst Chrissy and her team had been creating business cases for subscriptions and renewals for some time, they had found that gathering feedback when using email was difficult and proving inefficient. So Chrissy and her team created a template within Confluence (wikis) that would let them populate the template with information about the subscription/online database and then ask fee-earners for their feedback.

I'm a big fan of wikis and especially Confluence so I can see how useful it would be to be able to send a link to a fee-earner and ask them to add their comments about the subscription/online database. One of the questions I did want to ask was whether the business cases were public, in other words could other practice groups see what was being renewed or what wasn't being renewed and potentially comment on it. Chrissy's answer to this was that it could potentially happen but hadn't so far. I think that's certainly something to consider if you're thinking about using Confluence to create business cases, as by default Confluence pages are "open" so anyone who has access to Confluence can view them. I was very impressed with what they were doing though and will certainly look to see if we can do something similar internally. If you're interested in reading more about these two sessions then Laura Woods has written an excellent summary on her blog.

The second part of the Conference included the panel session I was involved in. This went surprisingly well, although I was surprised (but perhaps shouldn't be) that so few people were using Twitter and other social media tools. There was a lot of discussion during this session including the use of Twitter, RSS, Pulse, Google+ and BYOD, we seemed to cover a lot in a short amount of time and thankfully people seemed to enjoy the chance to ask lots of different questions.

The final session of the day was the one I'd been looking forward to most as it was delivered by Nick Davies of the "Really great training company" Nick talked at length about how we can influence people more effectively through networking. Without writing too much about influencing as I'm no expert, there were several things which I thought were really useful.

So one of the first things Nick talked about was how you can "persuade" people to do stuff. That might be to invest in a new piece of technology or to give you some more money. Either way it's important to remember the acronym SPICE whenever you're trying to persuade someone to do something. SPICE is represented as follows:

  • S = Simplicity - don't over-complicate what you're trying to sell or people will switch off 
  • P = Perceived self - You need to think about why someone will want to do something. What is the value to a fee-earner or partner 
  • I = Incongruity - Not doing what people expect you to do, in other words sell your ideas in a creative way
  • C = Confidence - You need to be confident in your argument
  • E = Enthusiasm - You need to have this otherwise individuals wont believe what you're saying

Nick also talked about two essential elements when influencing other people. These were Credibility and Trust without these people wont take you seriously. Credibility generally comes from Qualifications and Experience, so if you're not currently displaying your degree certificate or other certificates you should be! Trust is more difficult and takes some time as Nick explained via a Trust triangle*

So the Trust triangle looks a bit like this:

  • Acknowledgement is at the bottom - this is that someone acknowledges you exist.
  • Understanding is next - So individuals are interested in what you do and want to find out more
  • Acceptance comes next - This is where individuals ask what other skills you might have
  • Respect follows acceptance - You've provided something and have garnered respect for it
  • Trust - You've become the go to person
  • Bond - After a year you might bond with them by sharing person details

As ever this was a really interesting session and was full of useful information. Right at the end of the session Nick had time for one question and was asked what he thought of social media for networking. Nick's answer was that social media is networking without talking, this made me giggle but I'd actually disagree with this to some extent. Whilst some social networking tools mean you don't have to talk to people ultimately social networking tools, in which I'd include Twitter can help people find common ground and interests and encourage them to meet in real life.

Overall this was a really interesting conference, which If you haven't attended before I would encourage you to do so, or maybe think about presenting!

*This could be a made up term!

Thanet 10

It was a bit chilly
Last Sunday I took part in the Thanet coastal 10, this was a 10 mile road race organised by Thanet Road Runners. The route was described as flat with PB potential (dependant on the weather). This would be my first race in a long time having concentrated on racking up miles rather the actually taking part in races. As a result I was unsure how I was going to perform but hoped to run sub 1:20 for 10 miles.

Enjoying the view
The first thing to say about the day itself was that it was glorious, as you'll see from the photos I took but very very very cold. When I got in the car to drive to Westgate-on-Sea the temperature was -1 when I parked up the near the start line it was 3 degrees, but with the wind chill it felt a lot colder. Despite that there were still runners wearing vests, shorts and no gloves! They must have had red hot blood, because everyone else was feeling the cold.

After a short walk to the start line in the freezing cold we were off and once I got going it was actually quite pleasant. The views from the route certainly helped motivate me, although smelling bacon and sausages being cooked in some of the cafes along the beach didn't.

That's not snow!
In terms of the race itself I ran a steady first mile and passed the mile marker at 8:19, which would put me over 1h20. The second mile felt a lot easier and I passed the mile marker at 15:46 which put me inside 1h20. The third mile seemed to fly by and I passed the mile marker at 22:22. Then something must have gone a bit awry as I didn't see the 4th or 5th mile marker, perhaps because I was slogging up a hill and then when we turned around I was being blown off my feet. So when I got to mile six I was at exactly 48 minutes so I knew I was going to have to pull something out in the last three miles. Thankfully the last three miles were the first three reversed and they were downhill slightly so I was able to make up some time and crossed the finish line in 1:19:36. I was delighted with this given the cold conditions, although I always like to run faster. I was even happier with my position, which was 97th out of 274 runners!

I was very happy with that!