Sometimes you don’t have an intranet problem but a search problem

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Summary : there’s a common belief according to which the raise of user generated content will improve information sharing in the workplace. It’s obviously a part of the solution but not the whole one. In many cases, organizations are not able to find anything on their existing intranet and the expected multiplication of content will even make things worse. A shared information that can’t be found is not better that no shared information at all. Thinking the social layer of the intranet also means thinking about search that is a strategic tool to browse and is also key to bring content and people closer in a relevant and contextual way.

Most of today’s intranets, those that are beginning to look really outdated, are often being criticized by users because they don’t help them to access relevant information and resources. Hence the wish to move to a social intranet (or intranet 2.0), thinking that allowing more user generated content will fill the gap by a better sharing of “field” information.

If this value proposition of the next generation of intranets makes sense, the keen interest for “social things” may turn heads away from core issues. Anyone who observed intranets in “transition phase” these last months must have noticed one thing :  increasing information sharing from field people solves part of the problem but intranets don’t make things findable today with the current amount of content, there are few chances things will improve in the future.

Bottom line : before thinking of socializing intranets (or at the same time), it’s essential to think about search engines. Specialists will find I’m laboring the point but the fact is this point is often underestimated.

A good search engine, when used smartly, helps to do many things :

– first, it helps to find contents. Not necessarily because people know the exact title of what they’re looking for but because the engine can understand the meaning of things.

– then, it finds things inside documents. When an intranet is made of thousands of things to .doc or pdfs people needs to download it’s vital. Building the intranet of the future does not mean neglecting documents of the past : they have to be, finally, made findable.

– we can also rely on the engine to link different kind of contents. It can be used to suggest relevant communities, documents and people within any other tool (CRM, BI….). Vital when it comes to linking social and business.

– building an unified search. It’s not acceptable, today, to have as many search engines as there are tools. Is it a user-centric attitude ? Search may be global and users may be able to get, with a single request, “official” content, user generated content, user profiles etc… Legacy existing content should also be indexed (Notes bases, ECM, shared directories etc…) because life was existing before the new intranet.

Thinking the social part of the intranet means thinking the whole intranet. Thinking that tags and tool-specific search engines, as powerful as they can be, will solve all the problems is a mistake. Intranets need a global search strategy that is at least is important as the question of content organization that will never be perfect and is destined for failure as the mass of available data will be skyrocketing in a near future.