The importance of asking yourself why!?

Why does an organisation need an intranet? That's the question Samuel Driessen suggests we ask ourselves on a regular basis in a blog post which summarises a recent presentation he delivered.

Called "The importance of why for intranets"  the blog post suggests that being open to the "why" do we have an intranet question will help us understand the importance of intranets within our organisations.

In the blog post Samuel looks closely at some of the specific goals you can set for your intranet, as Samuel suggests it's important to set specific goals rather than just say "we should have an intranet because it will help us communicate better". Samuel suggests that intranet goals should always be;

  • Specific and measurable
  • Inspirational
  • Focus on both the now and then
  • Relate to the business goals and an employees work

Significantly intranet goals shouldn't be created in isolation, the discussion around what goals the intranet has should be done in full consultation with the business, either through 1:1 consultations or through focus groups. Doing so will ensure that the intranet goal relates to the business goals of the organisation and an employees work.

The blog post finishes with a summary of the presentation and reaffirms that we should be asking ourselves "why" more often.

You can read the full blog post on the Intranatverk 2015 website the full presentation is also embedded below.

Intranet resources - January 2015

One of my resolutions for 2015 was to blog more and definitely more about intranets. This is an area
of rapid change and it's important for intranet managers to be aware of the changes and the developments which affect intranet design and usability.

My main way of keeping up-to-date with trends is to use Feedly to monitor blog posts from intranet related blogs and websites. So what follows is a round up of some of the intranet resources I have seen in December and January which I've found interesting.

Published in late November, the "Do's and Dont's of intranet design" from the intranet connections blog takes a look at some of the ways in which you can make your intranet "beautiful". The main thrust of the article is to ensure you use colours across your intranet, but it also include some other tips you can use to avoid "design decay"

A major design issue for companies can be around search. So it was great to read an article on the Step Two Blog which looked at "Search box design" Whilst all intranets should have a search box, there are many different variations on where the search box sits and what it looks like. This article looks at how organisations can optimise the design of the search box for intranets.

There are many ways in which intranets can be used, but an increasingly important use is to faciliate the onboarding of new employees. This is the topic that is discussed in Steve Bynghall's blog post on the Two Hives blog called "Using the intranet for employee onboarding" There are many reasons why you might choose to use an intranet for the onboarding of new employees and Steve's article takes a look at some of these in more detail.

Finally, if you're anything like me at this time of year you're planning how you can burn off all the excess calories you consumed over Christmas. In a similar manner you might be thinking about how you can "Exercise your intranet muscles" this article from Sam Marshall on the CMS Wire blog looks at how you accurately map your intranet strategy so that you get the best "performance" out of your intranet.

So four articles published in the last few months, which are well worth reading if you have an interest in intranets.

Unravelling Federated search

Some sort of knitting image!
Martin White, who is well known for being an expert in the fields of search, information management and intranets has written a short but very useful piece on federated search.

For anyone not familiar with the concept, Federated search is a technology that allows the simultaneous searching of multiple resources. So a user will enter a single query request into a search engine, this is then sent to the search engines which are part of the federated search. Finally the federated search then aggregates the results that are received from the search engines.

Federated search has been used for many years by law firms and other professional services firms as like most organisations they will have multiple information resources (databases) that users need to access, but don't want to have to search these resources individually. This is one of the main reasons Federated search has proved popular, although Federate search is not without its own issues.

In Martin's article which have been published to the CMS Wire site he looks at some of the challenges associated with Federated search and how to approach them. So the major issue with Federated search, at least in my opinion, is how you present a significant number of results to users in a away that will make sense to them. Martin outlines two ways in which this can be achieved, which are as follows:

  • The first option is to crawl and index a number of individual search engines within a single application. This is often the easiest way to faciliate Federated search, but it does mean as Martin says that users are often presented with very long lists of results, which may make no sense to them.
  • The second option outlined by Martin is to use a search application to manage the query entered by the user. This sends the query out to other search applications and results are then either integrated, or presented in a number of different sections on the results page. However this option requires the use of connector, which conver queries into a readable format for earch of the search applications and returns the results. This is the more complex approach to Federated search.

Martin then looks at some of the challenges of managing Federate search using the two options outlined in his article, as well as a 3rd option, which is to not use Federated search at all, but to improve the search tools that exist within the organisation. This is a very interesting article, which if you're looking at Federated search is well worth reading to give you an ideas as to some of the challenges you're likely to face.

I have also previously written about Enterprise search in a blog post called "Choosing and using an enterprise search tool" and "A short introduction to Enterprise search"

Transforming your intranet into a digital workplace!

Mark Morrell has written a very interesting article, which I would urge intranet managers in any organisation to read. In the article called "Is this your once in an intranet career opportunity"

In it Mark describes how many organisation are looking at taking very tentative first steps towards "transforming their online content and apps into something better coordinated"

This as Mark suggest presents a great opportunity for intranet managers to re-design the tools that their users are using to make them more effective. However it places a huge amount of responsibility and pressure on the intranet manager to develop the tools in the right way.

To do this effectively Mark suggests that intranet managers need to think about 5 steps, which are:

  • Vision
  • Direction
  • Requirements
  • Plan
  • Measure

Mark puts some more detail around these points and in my mind what he has written makes a lot of sense and if you are in the enviable position of planning a digital workplace, then it's well worth reading this article.

The continuing evolution of SharePoint

CMS wire is a great source for articles about information management and the tools that are being used within organisations to support a social business.

They often write about SharePoint and one of their most recent articles is a great insight into the potential future of SharePoint. Called "A look back at the continuing evolution of SharePoint" the article looks at what developments have taken place with SharePoint over the last year and what might happen in the future.

One of the first items the article reports on is the emphasis Microsoft are placing on making SharePoint and other products available within the cloud. This is affirmed by the following quote in the article:
While there hasn’t been much of a consensus about what kind of functionality is needed in SharePoint, it is generally accepted that the future is in the cloud and that Microsoft is trying to coax existing customers in that direction
The other significant functionality the article reports on is Collaboration and OneDrive. Whilst SharePoint has traditionally been accused of being complicated to use, especially in relation to collaboration. OneDrive is now a standalone product, which makes it an attractive alternative for those organisations that want the functionality of Dropbox, but with the security and control options that come with Office 365.

The article also looks at the influence Yammer and Delve will have on the development of SharePoint, with the article noting that Yammer is "going to play a big role" and is no longer seen as "just add content kind of enterprise solution". This article seems to echo some of the points made in the "What's the future of SharePoint" webinar I blogged about recently.

If you're interested in reading about the future for SharePoint then I would heartily recommend this article as well as future articles about SharePoint that CMS wire might write.

Brett Ashford 1/2 Marathon 2014

The proof is in the medal!
Its been a while since I've written anything about my running, and this is actually an overdue post/report on my first 1/2 marathon race in as long as I can remember. This was the Brett Ashford 1/2 Marathon, which took place on the 30 November 2014.

Significantly this was also Gravesend Road Runners 1/2 Marathon championship race, this meant anyone taking part could potentially win the 1/2 Marathon championship cup, in the interests of fairness it was a handicap race, so everyone had an equal chance of winning. As it happens I came last out of five Gravesend Road Runners when taking the handicap into account, but I wasn't looking to win, just to complete my first 1/2 Marathon for some time.

Now to the race itself, the first thing to say is that this is a two lap 1/2 Marathon race which starts and finishes at the Julie Rose Stadium in Ashford. This is quite nice as you get some crowds, both when you start and naturally when you finish. You also pass through the stadium at the beginning of your second lap. Now on to the not so good, the course is two laps which means anything you didn't like about the first lap you get to experience all over again and unfortunately there was much not to like about the first lap. This was because the majority of the lap was spent sploshing through a serious amount of mud.

Now I have nothing against running through mud, but this wasn't supposed to be a Tough Mudder or Grim Reaper type of course, but it felt like it and as a result I was delighted not to have stacked it at least once on the first or second laps when trying to traverse the mud. There was some however some great support on the course and plenty of food and drink to keep the runners going!

So what about my time? Well this was the first 1/2 Marathon I'd run wearing a Garmin, which I think definitely helped, although looking at my splits below you'll see how much the mud affected me!

Mile 1 - 7:46
Mile 2 - 15:46
Mile 3 - 23:21
Mile 4 - 31:16
Mile 5 - 38:57
Mile 6 - 46:23
Mile 7 - 54:41
Mile 8 - 1:03:14
Mile 9 - 1:11:30
Mile 10 - 1:19:14
Mile 11 - 1:28:28
Mile 12 - 1:36:40
Mile 13 - 1:45:20

Final finishing time 1:46:36

So not too bad and I'm ALWAYS happy with a sub 1:50 1/2 Marathon, but the mud definitely took its toll in the second 1/2 of the race!

Overall this was a great race, but if it rains in the weeks before the race, then you should prepare yourself for a mud-fest!

It's time for some (more) predictions!

A little bit of Crystal ball gazing*
The New Year is typically the time for individuals and organisations to make resolutions and predictions for
the forthcoming year, fortunately I wont subject you to mine. Instead I will refer you to the predictions I have seen so far, which have resonated with me!

The first of these is from the Business 2 Community blog and their post "10 predictions for enterprise collaboration in 2015" In the post the author looks at how emerging social business trends will shape the way employees, customers and partners connect, work and collaborate with each other.

The second and perhaps more relevant set of predictions (at least for me) is Steven Bynghall's blog post "What can we expect from intranets and digital workplaces in 2015" The good news is that in general intranets are in a good place and it looks like 2015 will be great year for them. I definitely agree with Steve's last prediction that intranets and in particular intranet homepages will become more lightweight. This is no small part due to the influence of mobile design on intranets and the expectation from users that more applications will be available on their mobile devices. As Steve says homepages have become increasingly crowded in recent years, but this is a trend he (and I) expect to see reversed! Steve has also linked to three other prediction blog posts, which are well worth looking at. I have re-linked these below:

Steve has also written a follow up blog post called "7 signs that intranets are in good shape for 2015" this is well worth taking a look and is just the second of five blog post Steve is planning on writing about the state of intranets in 2015.

There are also a number of other blog post that have been published which list predictions for intranet and digital workplaces, only time will tell how many of these predictions will be realised :-)

*Captured in Crystal by Garry Knight on Flickr