How to build an intranet 2.0 ?

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Web 2.0 brought enterprise 2.0 which is powered by its own web, the intranet. So it’s logical that the intranet had to become 2.0 too. Problems come when someone curious or missioned by his hierachy comes and ask the fatal questions : ” How to make my intranet become 2.0″.  Seing plenty of hope in his interlocutor’s eyes, the “specialist” puts on an embarassed attitude and mumbles something like “humm…that’s not that simple” which he knows being very deceptive. Or he starts a long monologue to show his expertise, forgetting to try to understand what’s the meaning of the question.

Let’s try to make things clearer.

What’s an intranet ?

Better start from the beginning. Notice : there is no right answer to this question. There will only be what your interlocutor will ask you (but you’ll have to digg beyond what is often an awkwardly expressed need). Depending on people, the intranet is the place where the company publishes information for its employees, for others, it’s the place where employees can access business applications, for others it’s a place for employees to organize themselves and get things done out of the traditional business applications. Whether your interlocutor comes from the Internal communication deparment, the HR dept, the IT dept, is a business manager, you can be sure you’ll have has many different visions of what the intranet is and should be. And all these vision are not often compatible the one with another.

What’s about the 2.0 side ?

What your interlocutor means by “2.0” partly depends on the above question. We are likely to believe than it’s always about brining a social layer to the intrant, with User Generated Content, employees owned and managed spaces, a social network. And we’re seldom right.

How many requests for an intranet 2.0 are, in fact, a request for an improved ECM, highly structured but more nice looking than the current one, and where the simple idea that people may publish feedbacks or improve the documents by themselves is not acceptable ? How many times is it admited that people may have a bottom-up feedbback channel  provided the company is sure each voice will remain isolated and inaudible from anyone ?

So an intranet 2.0 is a mix between the vision one can have of its purpose and what’s acceptable in the company. I won’t tell anything here about the fact it has also to be acceptable by the IT dept, something that has to be checked very early if you don’t want a promising projet to be shoot down because you started to play behind the keepers of the flame’s back.

Depending on these factors, the intranet 2.0 can be

– an intranet 1.0 with some AJAX to make it nicer.

– a walled feeback space from employees to the top management

– a richer employees directory.

– the ability to access business apps through a browser

– a facebook-like for business purpose

Whatever the choice is, you’ll have to embed moderation and control processes that will depend on the local culture and the business areas that are concerned.

So, it the first question is forgotten, there are many chances your answer will be off the point.

One day, the convergence…

It’s obvious that one day the intranet will be all of that at the same time. It will not be the display case of corporate functions anymore but the real extension of people’s activities on the only place where they can all gather regardless to space and time considerations. This day, we’ll wonder if the word “intranet” is still relevant,  “intra” being less and less the right word to describe something that is more and more connected with the outside. Maybe corporate web or corporate internet will be better choices.

But, to go back to our point, even if some enterprises are already working on that convergence, presuming that someone who asks for an intranet 2.0 is ready for such things is counter-productive. In many cases it may scare people, and sometimes they can’t even imagine such a disruption. In fact, it’s often out of touch with the way they see their need and what’s acceptable.

So, the intranet 2.0 has to be explained according to the need and what’s acceptable at a given moment. Maybe the project will be a good way to introduce, step by step, more disruptive things in order to build something more powerful in the future, but being too ambitious when the ground has nothing fertile may be very dangerous. Try to talk about social networks to someone who only wants to share pdfs and powerpoints in a friendly interface and see their reaction..

Conclusion : it’s about the output

Except for some speacilists, the intranet 2.0 does not exist. It has different forms in every people’s mind, depending on their own purpose. So, to avoid misunderstanding means  that :

– no company should ask for an intranet 2.0 but must, force, have a clear vision of their needs. Then, and only then, it will be time to see if a social dimension may help or not.

– that any provider, vendor or consultant involved in the project must focus on the needed outputs and bring the best answer according to the state of the art, not according to what they can do at best.

The final solution may deserve the 2.0 label or not, depending on each one’s criterias. But, first of all, a need is a need and there’s no place for versioning in it.