Intranet Now 2019 Summer Edition

There was a tearful moment midway towards the end of the morning session of the first of two Intranet Now events for 2019. It may have come as a surprise to the many first-time attendees, but I hope it was understandable to them.

Giving the Intranet Diamond award posthumously to our friend Rupert Bowater was always going to be difficult, and organisers Lisa Riemers and Wedge Black took turns to choke-up while making the announcement. It was an emotional decision, and absolutely the right thing to do.

Wedge Black and Lisa Reimers introducing the winner of the event’s Intranet Diamond award as Rupert Bowater – © Intranet Now

In some respects, Rupert seems an odd choice. He wasn’t a big name in intranets, he didn’t win awards or become a big-name speaker, but Rupert was more than a familiar face. He was kind, gentle, generous and a keen supporter to many of us. He was a real pillar of the community, and that was a point that Wedge (successfully, I believe) made. While it is a business, Intranet Now remains a community event, and the relationships formed in the last five years have contributed to supporting people in their work, their thinking, and as friends.

Slide drawing the distinction between “Employee voice” and “Employees with a voice”Jamie Garrett – Working together to give 90,000 employees a voice

Sponsors Invotra talked about some of the lessons learned at one of their biggest customers, a government department, and about changing the emphasis from merely “employee voice” to “employees with a voice”.

Most striking was that the fourth most popular group was employee support for menopause. Social tools in the workplace are genuinely giving people a voice, and I truly hope are making difficult circumstances a little bit easier.

Ayesha Graves – Transforming the field sales Intranet…

The Federation of Small Businesses is supported by a network of field sales membership advisors. To engage this essential part of the organisation, Ayesha simplified the interface they would see in MyFSB and made it more visual. This was simple and effective, and has contributed to changes within the broader intranet. A perfect case study for the short-form format of Intranet Now presentations.

Elizabeth Marsh in front a quadrant diagram

Elizabeth Marsh – Digital Workforce 101

Elizabeth is bringing experience, a passion for learning, and academic rigour to the subject of digital literacy. She gave a tour of her digital workplace skills framework and made very clear arguments why we need to be doing more, and thinking more deeply about what learning and skills mean in the workplace.

Jesper Bylund – The Intranet Governance Game

By day, Jesper leads the intranet for Sweden’s Region Skåne, and by night he spends a lot of time thinking about how to do intranets better. Aside from his blog, an essential viewpoint from an intranet practitioner, he has now produced his Intranet Governance Game featuring more than 100 cards to help organisations understand their priorities. Later, at the table discussion sessions, attendees were surprised at how many challenges they shared.

Jesper Bylund presenting his Intranet Governance Game

Anne-Marie Kieran – Enterprise Social Network, Friend or Foe?

Describing a pro-active approach to the ESN at Kellogg’s, Anne-Marie shared some familiar approaches, but also made some important points that are often missed. I will smile for some time at at the thought of vlogging lessons for staff, but hope to think a lot more about the idea of not promoting the tool, but instead promoting what the tool facilitates culturally.

Mark Tittle/Dominic Shillingford – Unifying the digital workplace

Dominic, from sponsors LumApps, joined Mark from Just Eat to describe what strikes me as a simple but coherent vision of the digital workplace, with Google Apps appearing there on a page that combines news flow, a hierarchy of information, and social collaboration.

Sam Marshall – Sticking your digital workplace together

Sam described two types of glue, of search and of signals, that can help stick together the parts of a digital workplace. It was a timely raising of the subject of microservices to simplify an employee’s experience of online services.

Marion MacKay – First impressions count

I was left wanting to see more of the work done by the Scottish Government to simplify their intranet Saltire, as well as their onboarding tool that Marion discussed. For a large organisation, the customisation by agency must be complex. If indeed, 86% of starters say they’d completed mandatory training because of Saltire Tour, then that will be making a significant contribution to the culture.

Larraine Solomon/Dave Fletcher – Monster’s M-Space

Larraine has been talking about her task at recruitment firm Monster for some time, and her collaboration with sponsors Beezy is really showing the benefit. The platform is allowing a broad range of business information, and complementing it with social tools promoted both top-down and bottom-up.

Adrienna May – Going Mobile

Halfords, like many retailers, has the challenge of reaching employees where they’re working, especially since so few have access to computers. Nevertheless, with their mobile app and registration using personal emails and links, they’ve brought a useful tool to the business.

Nick Allport – Using data to target content appropriately

With 10,000 users and hundreds of tools and applications, South Wales Police have a significant challenge getting the right information in front of the right employees. Having identified 400 logical groupings in the HR system, and with the ability to update in near realtime, it appears to be a significant success.


Wedge and Lisa tried out a new approach of introducing more voices, and embraced the “this is a statement and not a question” attitude that tries the patience of conference attendees, and turned it around. Attendees could raise an issue, raise an issue, or even ask a question. In spite of it being discussed before, the audience was a little uncertain (I spoke first, thoroughly unprepared, because I didn’t see any hands being raised), but by the second SNAQ session people volunteered more readily. I’d really like to see this continue in future events, but with greater opportunity to include other voices.

Debate: What’s the best way to create an intranet?

The event concluded with a debate that really worked well. Christian Sutter had the most challenging position, that a business is best off building its own intranet from scratch. Sharon O’Dea had a lot of fun arguing the opposite, that the only way forward is by buying in the tool. Lastly, Allan Tanner took a mid-point in that pic’n’mix is best. Not only were the introductions fun and interesting, but the discussion that followed was rich.

In conclusion…

All in all, Lisa and Wedge achieved a good balance that met their promise of a fresher, more summery Intranet Now. It was less hectic, and gave more time for conversation and even a hint of reflection. I look forward to seeing the autumn Intranet Now taking shape.

Find out more about Intranet Now at

IntraTeam 2019 in summary

PLEASE NOTE: I am currently adding extra links and presentations where I find them publicly available. This page may change over the next few days.

After three days of workshops and conference at the IntraTeam Event 2019 at the Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel in Copenhagen, I was exhausted, unable to take any more information in, several kilos heavier but, and thankfully, more energised and inspired by the potential of intranets than I’d felt in a long time.

With three tracks running in parallel, almost everyone experienced their own version of the conference, and I wonder what I’d be saying had I made different choices.

For slides and related links from my presentation please see Lessons from Learning – IntraTeam 2019.

Workshop day

With half a mind worrying about my presentation the next day, I chose workshops that would help keep me up to date with changes in SharePoint and Microsoft 365.

Christian Buckley makes three hours pass very quickly. I didn’t get any  revelations about his subject Extending your IA to Microsoft Teams, but huge amounts of practical details and confirmation of themes that would recur across the three days: engage the people around you, focus on business needs, and grow based on testing and iteration.

Benjamin Niaulin is another engaging speaker who can talk SharePoint for more hours than there are in a day. He guided us through what is possible with search in Office 365. I found a lot of this to be a valuable refresher, with useful clarifications coming up time and time again. I’ve been a long-time fan of what’s possible using SharePoint’s search to build content, and Benjamin gave some useful examples, and also clarified some of the challenges between using SharePoint’s Classic and Modern pages.

Benjamin also covered a learning intranet tool he’d previously developed. This showed some of the potential for search-based tool to present learning materials “at the right time and at the right place based on who you are and what you’re doing“. This allowed the dynamic display of resources to people depending on their role and other profile details.

Wednesday Conference

After the usual introduction from Kurt Kragh Sørensen, the actual conference got off to an outstanding start.

We talk about the importance of meeting real user needs, but rarely do we see such commitment or such benefits. Neil Barnett explained how the Heathrow intranet project put half of their resources into user research. I wasn’t convinced when Neil showed the personas created, and how they fell into six clear categories (Heathrow Express, Airside Operations, Baggage, Compass Centre, Security, and Engineering) but the more I think about this particular operation, it was absolutely the right way to approach things – live status updates for operations personnel are clearly essential. I will definitely consider using two of Heathrow’s user research exercises: mapping an individual’s day onto a clock helped reveal activities and pain points, while “Design your own employee app” yielded more insights into people and the way they saw the organisation.

Neil Barnett presenting a slide entitled "What is the digital workplace?"

Heathrow not only built tools. Their change programme included 130 digital mentors, 15 business representatives, and an impressive 45 content authors. This content would primarily be designed for mobile use which is very heavy on brand engagement. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the staff discounts section is the most popular page. Aside from the communications and support, every employee received a new laptop plus an hour’s one-to-one training with an IT engineer to get them up to speed.

I opted to see Richard Harbridge in the next session Intranets in the Cloud: What you need to know and this was another good choice. Like Benjamin and Christian on Tuesday, Richard whizzed through some of the opportunities and challenges of Microsoft 365 intranets. He was very clear that this option is a lot more cost-effective than managing your own SharePoint and servers, but could have gone deeper into the potential performance issues. He shared some advice on planning and analytics, and qualified some of the benefits to improved navigation – I particularly liked the search-based navigation.

I was speaking in the following session with Lessons from Learning and had lunchtime to recover before switching back into attendee mode.

Liberty Mutual’s digital assistant was a fine winner of Step Two’s IDW Platinum Award in 2018, and the company has spun-out Workgrid to sell their technology to other organisations. Gillian McCann spoke on the potential of AI to take us From Digital Workplace to Intelligent Workplace. For me, this was really about bringing the right information  to people from numerous sources when they need it, and I think that’s exciting. I remain to be convinced by some of the promises of conversational agents for complex working processes.

Gillian McCann presenting on Workgrid and chatbots

Patrik Bergman has been a trailblazer and proponent of learning in the digital workplace world for some time, and his writings have introduced me to a significant number of experts in learning and development.  Knowledge Management in Office 365 – some concrete examples was entertaining and imbued with learning and philosophy. There was also practical advice: encourage ESN users to tag important queries with #ineedhelp is profoundly simple and valuable.

Patrik Bergman in front of a slide about the everyday challenge of teams as a community of practice

The final session was the presentation for the 2019 Danish IntraTeam Prize. I wasn’t as wowed as by last year’s winner (the Danish Police intranet PolIntra), but reflecting on my notes it’s clear that Kræftens Bekæmpelse (Danish Cancer Society) is another worthy winner. Confronted with an unrealistic timeline, the team responded with a more realistic 8 months and set about simplifying, engaging, and building the foundations for a solid and practical intranet.

We regularly hear suggestions for prioritising content, and the team got a laugh from the audience when they revealed that of all the content classified Red, Yellow or Green, only the green content got published. There is a determination to ensure that materials are kept up to date (or archived, and then removed), while departments are given leeway to control their own content and designs.

Thursday Conference

I’m not sure if it’s intentional, or whether having the Twitter name @digitalsanity has taken Elizabeth Marsh down this particular route. On Wednesday, while I was speaking, Elizabeth’s session was about mindfulness, while on Thursday she spoke on digital literacy, an area she’s been studying for some time. In So you’re transforming the digital workplace – but are your people ready? Elizabeth raised a number of statistics showing how important it is for organisations to develop employees’ digital skills but emphasised how it is a shared responsibility for staff too. What struck me most looking at Elizabeth’s Digital Skills Framework for the first time since last autumn is how much it is really about developing the learning flexibility to develop new skills as much as it is about teaching digital literacy.

For Thursday, IntraTeam organised a specific track dedicated to intranet search, and this is where I spent much of the day. In Searching for people is no. 1Kristian Norling from Region Västra Götaland in Sweden described some of the efforts possible to make people search useful to users. This brought together results from 15 sources and more than a million documents. Kristian advised us to think about needs and not, just, about hierarchy. One tiny detail that caught my eye was the ability to save a search that you do regularly, and access from an option beside the search box. Another neat detail was to allow different addresses (postal, visiting, and internal) to be displayed on user profiles.

Referring to Martin White.s

Of all the speakers, I’ve probably seen Martin White speak most often, and Eight ways to improve Search Satisfaction saw Martin at his best. He advised us of the trade-offs central to designing good search tools, that one size doesn’t fit all, and to understand the science of information retrieval. It’s hard not to like his assertion that a search team needs to have the visibility of a lighthouse.

Steve Sale from AstraZeneca drew upon some of Martin and Kristian’s themes in Using Search to break the silos, find experts & provide 360 views of your organisations data. He described some of the effort required to combine large amounts of potentially useful data into a resource that helps find people and expertise, and touched upon the risks of over-enthusiastically associating potential search terms with people.

Another highlight came from Jesper Bylund from Region Skåne in Sweden. His talk Top tasks, information architecture and search changed the way I think about Gerry McGovern’s Top Tasks methodology, and quite possibly personas and personalisation of content. By slicing the top tasks, Jesper has been able to design flexible page designs that meet the needs of particular groups while working. I’m also intrigued by the decision to move navigation to a fat footer, with a smaller hyperlink triggering a scroll to the bottom of the page.

Slide by Jesper Bylund showing two potential page designs for distinct types of users

My final session saw Christian Buckley at his storytelling best, if not necessarily at his most to-the-point. No-one will forget Christian’s story of embarrassing his son while at high school, a blunt tale illustrating behaviour change. His third and final story will be familiar but of long-term value: the use of a whiteboard superficially as a project management tool, but ultimately as a communication and stakeholder training tool.

You as digital workplace champion: Transparent, consistent, collaborative, iterative

Final thoughts

This year’s IntraTeam was excellent, and there wasn’t a session where I didn’t feel torn between two or more different talks – it feels harsh that my biggest complaint is that I had to make some tough decisions. I don’t feel the roundtable format at lunchtime were as useful as I’d like, and it would have been nice to have a few spots for discussions with larger groups. I was saddened not to have seen Laura Rogers or Stacy Wilson speaking.

I was most excited to see personas in a more practical and less dogmatic way, and what’s possible with when applied to Top Tasks analysis sliced by groups. Secondly, provision of materials to mobile users has become normal now, but it was good to see a deeper understanding that mobile users need more than reformatted desktop content. Also, we’re seeing a much greater effort being put into getting content right for time, place and need, and the importance of making that content findable by search.

So thank you to Kurt and his team, and to all the people who made IntraTeam 2019 such a friendly and inspiring event.

Lessons from Learning – IntraTeam 2019

Further links, reference materials, and slides will appear here.


Jane Hart’s Seamless Working and Learning

Josh Bersin: The Hybrid Jobs Revolution

Please see Intranet Now 2018: Lessons from Learning for further references used in this presentation.

IntraTeam Event Copenhagen 2019

Banner for IntraTeam Event Copenhagen 2019 with photo and title of Simon Thompson

I’m delighted to have been invited to present at the IntraTeam conference in Copenhagen, 26-28 February 2019. I will be building upon my Lessons from Learning presentation to further explore the potential in integrating learning and intranets.

IntraTeam this year was my first international intranet conference, and I found it an outstanding three days of well-curated workshops and talks, topped-off by great conversations with experts from around the world.

Get a 25% discount using the code ExperienceApplied25 at

Intranet Now 2018 in review

Last Friday saw the fifth Intranet Now conference, and the first after co-founder Brian Lamb stepped down. Lisa Riemers joined the remaining founder Wedge Black to introduce a series of lightning talks and mini-workshops. I was attending as a speaker and volunteer.

Billy Clackers: Keeping people engaged in a gig economy

Billy joined Invotra as an apprentice an absurdly short time ago, and now he is opening the UK’s most important intranet conference. He introduced an increasingly familiar world of gig working, and made an important point that often gig workers are kept at arms length, and are disengaged, from company intranets. This was a talk that was both practical and insightful, and it also introduced a new area for intranet people to consider.

Emma Morrison and Usman Hasan: Putting employees at the centre of your intranet redesign

Talking about recent work at the Hyde Housing Group, Emma and Usman Hasan shared an entertaining presentation that covered a lot of familiar ground. Nevertheless, it was succinctly put, and will be of value to a lot of attendees.

Janet White: User research on a shoestring

Janet has been working on a very limited basis with the Fairtrade Foundation, but appears to have achieved some very practical results in the time available. She illustrated the value of user research and that it is possible, even in difficult circumstances.

Janet White presenting at Intranet Now

Baxter Willis: How our digital workplace changed the vodka bottle

From consultants WM Reply, Baxter shared an entertaining tale from their work at Diageo that shows the benefits of both knowing the organisation in depth, and exploring a company’s history.

Tanya Burak: Do we still need an all-in-one intranet?

Tanya, from the property company Savills, introduced an fairy tale from an apparently happy kingdom suddenly threatened by visitors bringing new social tools, that would be familiar to anyone worried by the rise of shadow IT. Her pragmatic solution, I believe, is at an early stage and I look forward to hearing more about it.

Kelly Freeman: Intranet No-nos

My favourite of the vendor talks this year, Kelly shared the benefit of her experience working with Interact, and filled her 9 minutes with solid advice. If “don’t wait for it to be perfect” and “treat it like a process, not an event” were all attendees took home, Intranet Now would have been valuable conference.

Simon Thompson: Lessons from learning

My perspective, as I saw this from the lectern, might not be the best. Please find my notes on this page, Lessons from learning. I hope attendees started to think about how their intranets can become better points of access to learning tools and resources, and the potential effects this may have on culture and the way the organisation works.

Howard Thain: Driving User Adoption

As I returned to normality, it was good to hear Howard talking about taking an intranet towards becoming a digital workplace. He introduced the ADKAR model for change management and shared some adoption advice from years of implementing intranets with CompanyNet.

Ellen Van Aken: The Usual Suspects

Ellen was the deserved recipient of the Intranet Now Diamond Award last year, and shared some of her experience at Azkonobel and touched on a number of familiar points about adoption. I’d love to hear more from Ellen at a more leisurely pace.

Sukh Ryatt: How to kick ass as an engagement ninja

Sukh, representing Oak Intranet, was delighted to present the company’s status as the originators of intranets as dubbed by Martin White two years ago. He also worked Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey into his discussion on engagement.

Dana Leeson: The £££ digital workplace investment

In another of my favourite talks, Dana discussed the massive investment in the digital workplace in order to support organisation growth. She described the importance of building a compelling business case, and how understanding users’ pain points could contribute to this.

Ralf Larsson: How we refocus to regain trust

Ralf, from Electrolux, shared the day’s most frank presentation. He discussed some of the failings in their latest intranet and the approaches they’re making to improve. I love their content idea of the “Grand Factory Tour” as a way to spread knowledge of the making part of the organisation.

Jeremy Stewart: If you can’t beat ’em…

This year, intranet software firm Sorce did the unthinkable and embraced SharePoint with a new product. His message-on-a-t-shirt said it best “technology is just an enabler” although I may not forgive him for his endless SharePoint “Working on it…” animation.

James Robertson: The power of digital employee experience

James was more than up to the challenge of the after-lunch slot, rapidly telling the audience “I’m not afraid of the i-word” even if he would then focus on digital workplaces and the importance of DEX or Digital Employee Experience. In his “Superpowers of DEX” approach, James has found a strong way to preach beyond the intranet converted with a vision that is powerful and communicable.

Adam Pope: Building a knowledge system for digital tools

Adam was highlighting some of the connected thinking at engineering firm Arup. In particular, their Global Tools Register which makes it much easier for staff to find the right tools, reduce duplication of effort, and helps Arup know what Arup’s people know.

Alex Scott: Scotty

Scotty, named for Scottish Water, not Alex, is the utility’s new intranet, and an impressive Step Two award winner. Alex shared some of the employee-centric thinking that led to its launch and ongoing improvements.

Suzie Robinson: Lessons and learnings from inheriting a new intranet

For the final intranet-related presentation, Suzie shared what she’d learned having taken up ownership of caterer WSH’s intranet a year before, and it’s exactly what a intranet manager needs to hear. Yes, things hadn’t been going as planned. No, the intranet had had no user research. But, with effort to reassure colleagues and management, by making simple but visible improvements, and focus on real needs, Suzie is is getting the intranet back on track.

Donna Noble: How to give yourself more time

In a brilliant change of tone, yoga guru Donna Noble took the audience through a simple breathing exercise. The single minute felt like ten, much to the surprise of me and many others.

The rest of the afternoon

A series of workshops hosted by sponsors appears to have been well received, and I must credit each of Invotra, Oak, WM Reply and Sorce for the effort they put in. Running alongside this were a number of table panels, and I enjoyed the discussions.

The day closed with the Intranet Diamond Award, naturally going to Intranet Now’s co-founder Brian Lamb, and a final panel session. Drinks were provided by the Digital Workplace Group.

Closing thoughts

As an attendee, I think the 9 minute talk format is about right. As a speaker, it’s really hard to condense what you want to say into that time. The day felt better paced than before, but I’d have liked some of the table discussions to have allowed more in-depth follow-ups. The sponsors made their presentations far more practical than before, and I appreciated that.

I’d wanted to speak at Intranet Now since the first event in 2014, but this was the first year that I really felt I had something worth sharing. That said, I didn’t count on how much effort it would take me to find a format, make the content work, design the slides, and then cut and cut again so I’d be confident I wouldn’t rush the talk. Waking on the Friday morning, I was surprised to feel a general sense of ease.

My thanks need to go to Lisa and to Wedge their belief and support, and to Ian Fenn who confidently told me a year ago that I should go for it. Also, I’m grateful to Scott McArthur, a confident and able speaker who, at IntraTeam in Copenhagen this March, made me feel that I really could take that step forward.

Intranet Now 2018: Lessons from Learning

Lessons form Learning: How to make an intranet more useful

Thank you talk all of the attendees to Intranet Now 2018 for your contribution to the event.

Here are my slides from the event, on the subject of how the integration of learning can make an intranet more useful.


I would value your questions and comments as I plan to continue studying and writing about the intersection between intranets and learning. I hope to find out what best practice looks like.

Here are a few links to people and articles that helped me prepare for this talk.


Josh Bersin

A New Paradigm For Corporate Training: Learning In The Flow of Work is an interesting description of the learning technology market, and how it’s changing.

The Learning Experience Platform (LXP) Market Expands covers the rise of tools that replace or supplement LMSes that better reflect the way people learn, and the needs they have for recording their learning.

Top Tools for Learning

Jane Hart’s annual list of the most used tools for learning. It might be a surprise to see YouTube and Powerpoint as the number ones in Personal and Professional Learning (PPL)  and Workplace Learning (WPL)  respectively, but perhaps it shouldn’t be.

Lee Bryant: Bridging the Digital Skills Gap in the Digital Workplace

In-depth article on digital skills in the workplace. Lee’s writing is recommended.

Also, from PostShift, Caroline Boyd wrote Designing Scalable Learning for the Digital Age

Elizabeth Marsh: The Digital Workplace Skills Framework

A Digital Europe needs Digital Skills

Best practices from around the EU


A short blog post with some good quotes, and a brief overview of the burgeoning workplace training industry.

The future of work is scalable learning

Interview with John Hagel of the Deloitte Center for the Edge

Personal Knowledge Mastery

Harold Jarche writes broadly on learning, and PKM is the technique he has developed. I have found some value in this, but others speak very highly of it.

Anders Pink: How to curate content for learning

Also look out for the e-book “Content curation for learning”

Louise Downe: 15 principles of good service design

Technically nothing to do with learning, but everything to do with making a service useful and usable.

Learning Technologies 2018

Retro televisions on the GoodPractice stand at Learning Technologies 2018

In 2015, I attended the Learning Technologies show at Olympia, London, to try to better understand what was happening in an area adjacent my world of intranets, and what could be learned to improve the already award-winning Barclays Global Curriculum project. What I found was less adjacent, and more parallel. It felt like I was in a strange parallel universe where intranets didn’t really exist.

In spite of this, I learned a lot and was pleased to make it back to the exhibition after a gap of three years. Learning Technologies has moved on in that time.

It is notably bigger, and there is clearly more money involved than before. There is a lot of focus on types of training, and the trendy areas are video, animation and VR, but I can’t say I noticed any mention of augmented reality. One provider I spoke to discussed putting training into a song (they’ve even used company choirs in the past), and an escape room in VR. Naturally, there are also businesses building blended training programmes.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that there is a lot of potential demand for training tools and services via mobile devices, and a lot of businesses are trying to fill it. One challenge is how to manage corporate training on personal phones and tablets. For all of the exhibitors talking about mobile, I saw nothing to suggest that there is an easy solution.

I would suggest there were more Learning Management Systems, and they don’t appear to be focusing on the trends of three years ago, of social tools and gamification. A couple of people I spoke to were pleased to see the passing of the frenzy for badges with everything. I only noticed one company talking about another former buzzword, xAPI (aka Tin Can API), which appears to be successfully helping businesses track the success of training, for example, in retail stores.

In 2015, I only noticed a handful of mentions of SharePoint or Office 365. By 2018, there were even fewer. I find it uncanny that a vast number of knowledge workers make use of SharePoint, but training isn’t being delivered to them on that platform.

One I did find, was a company whose LMS tightly integrates with 365. This sent my mind racing around the potential and ease of setting up Teams for different learning cohorts, with associated file storage and such – this substantially raises the potential for team-based learning. It was also good to see the potential of SharePoint’s search and card-type previews actually in use. They’re also using a chatbot interface to speed access to courses – instead of hundred of courses with leadership somewhere in the description, they list the top 10 leadership courses. I’m told that younger employees are unlikely to search, but will query a bot.

This challenge of finding the right training materials is central to the success of any service. At least one supplier of ebooks and other resources has tried to simplify that with integrations can be completed in as little as 15 minutes. Shorter, to-the-point, training materials can contribute a lot too, but perhaps you lose out on the big names.

While I find it strange that the Learning Technologies exhibition has such a blind spot to intranets and SharePoint, I feel it is perfectly understandable. The primary customers are in HR or even in their own domain. There’s also a loose, but natural, affiliation between the the providers of training, and the systems that make it possible. To take things further into the realm of the digital workplace requires a lot more time, effort, and thought.

A few more reflections on learning

There is no doubt in my mind that training tools and materials should be available from the front page of an intranet and throughout it. A commitment to learning is also good for communications and culture, it seems obvious that showing pride in the training materials can contribute to better employee attitudes and overall morale.

However, even with the best materials and company leadership, an employee needs supportive management. For someone without a desk or a laptop, finding a quiet space and/or device may be a challenge in its own right. This may be too disruptive for management who only regard face-to-face training as “real training”. Conversely, managers may dislike the hassle of losing staff time to away-days with an uncertain gain.

Consider the explosion in businesses offering video for use online. I’ve come to the view that we will see a similar demand and, therefore, provision of digital training. It will be up to HR and digital workplace professionals to ensure these materials are managed and curated in ways that lead to a better experience. If you’ve worked in a large organisation, you’re likely to have seen it drowning in courses, videos, ebooks and more.

It doesn’t surprise me that training and other learning materials are poorly represented in the digital workplace: it’s not easy to do this well. That’s why it’s such an opportunity.

Intranet Now 2016

Audience at Intranet Now wearing black sleep masks

Photo courtesy of Intranet Now

Two weeks after the intranet heavyweights Gerry McGovern and James Robertson headlined Interact’s Interaction conference, Wedge Black and Brian Lamb took a different approach with Intranet Now. The event zipped along with shorter-form talks between 7 and 22 minutes, and the only opportunities for questions during the afternoon World Café and workshops sessions.

Details may have been lost along the way, but big ideas and useful hints were in abundance, although I’d have liked a little more time for reflection and consolidation. I would also have valued more time in the World Café sessions rather than the too-short workshops. Those remain quibbles, Intranet Now is fantastic value for any UK-based intranet practitioner, and I’d recommend future events without reservation.

What in the business would you fix?
John Scott, of Content Formula, spun a fabulous story on the theme of “faster horses”, but shifted into practical advice on getting to know your users. This included seeking out detractors, honing detail, and John’s magic wand question “what in the business would you fix?” While I might not agree with John on everything, for example treasure hunts have been seen to work well as a way of getting people to explore an intranet, his advice to remember “you have done the research” in the face of the HiPPO is sound.

A breathtakingly short history of the intranet
Martin White combines world-weariness, cynicism, enthusiasm, knowledge and experience and is never less than interesting. Here, he rattled through a history of intranets and the digital workplace, and gave the audience pause to consider how much, or perhaps how little, has really changed.

It’s not about techniques but about mindset
Consultant James Dellow continued this theme while making the case for agile intranets, “we’re already good at building intranets” he said as he explored reasons for considering an agile approach. Evoking Willy Wonka, James told us to think like a product owner, before perhaps stretching metaphors too far with Olivia Newton John and The A-Team. He assured us that you can be agile with SharePoint, before planting an important question for all of us seeking to improve intranets “what can I give you today that will help you achieve an outcome?”

It’s all stuff you can build yourself
Keri Harrowven was the first day-to-day intranet manager to speak at Intranet Now 2016. Now at Ian Williams, a rapidly expanding housing services company, Keri explained how the intranet is an essential part of helping staff support the business. She also showed how a business process diagram in Visio could be made available in SharePoint Online – a simple solution to a profoundly complex problem.

Reluctant but fiercely competitive
Kevin Cody, achieving the treble of speaking at Intranet Now conferences, discussed Designing for engagement, and continued the theme of research. He told the valuable story how it was assumed that NHS staff needed mobile intranet access, whereas it was found to be a low priority. He then discussed the introduction of social tools and gamification to the “reluctant but fiercely competitive” sales staff at Heineken.

Using what you know’
Calum Haswell of White & Case showed how even a risk-averse law firm can deliver business value using personalisation. Combining the organisational structure and users’ experience of social media models meant that better information was put in front of the right users.

Communicating the roadmap
One of the stand-out talks of the event, despite the subject of “Intranet Governance – after the go live”. Neil Morgan of Richemont International discussed the processes behind rolling out “Maisons” for each of Richemont’s luxury brands. He explained the importance of consistency and showing how other brands are working, but this seems to me to be about thinking of the intranet as a product, and that the product roadmap is a valuable tool for keeping stakeholders interested and engaged in the process.

What was wrong with the old one?
Hanna Karppi is the Head of Digital Workplace at Skanska, conducted 100 user interviews around the world as part of the research in building the new OneSkanska intranet. In another excellent talk, Hanna shared how the resulting intranet was greeted with responses including “what was wrong with the old one? This is even worse” and “I think I will get used to it, but then you will change it.” In face, the launch went really well with high adoption levels.

The real reason staff hate your intranet
Andrew Hesselden spoke on How to Resuscitate your Intranet, showing how even small changes can lead to significant improvements. His wise advice included to draw inspiration from external trends and to show authors what good looks like.

Integration + culture + content + management
Julian Morency of sponsors Twine Intranet told the story of the business and how it developed into Software as a Service, but one that can be significantly customise. What was striking, though, was the sum “Integration + culture + content + management” which I’m sure I took out of context, but is an interesting way of considering what we all do.

What is the value of collaboration
Jenni Field discussed her time at SSP, explaining how quickly approval of the intranet turned into questions about money. She highlighted important questions of risk, especially over inappropriate use of file storage services, but also raised the value of including external stakeholders.

Please don’t call it an intranet
Alex Skinner of Pixl8’s story of building an intranet service for a global fashion house felt something of a cautionary tale, but fit a lot into 7 minutes.

The internal auditors are coming
This stark warning from Phil Mennie of PwC, I wonder, might be an opportunity as much as something to fear. From ROI to data protection (and the day’s only mention of GDPR) businesses may have to consider the effect of intranets.

Making Yammer a success
This task, faced by Kevin Austin of Shell, demonstrated how social enterprise network success can improve the bottom line. Yammer became a core strategic tool in pushing sales staff towards higher-profit premium products including the sharing of best practices as well as great stories from the front lines. Importantly, the use of videos helped change the core strategy and the creation of a network of brand influencers and ambassadors.

We needed to become the enablers
In another success story of video helping open up the business, Anne-Marie Peacock of Dialog Semiconductor, told Intranet Now of the secretive, engineer-centric culture, and they “they were the experts…we needed to become the enablers.”

The aptly named Café Dialog videos gave everyone the opportunity to learn more about people and their motivations. Anne-Marie’s approach “they were the teachers, I was the pupil” led to healthy competition between locations, and even improved CEO videos by making them much more personable.

How many words does it take to hear a page?
Sponsor Invotra has made a considerable effort to make its intranet product accessible. Paul Zimmerman, whose talk last year was one of the most forward-thinking, made a wholly different, but equally thought-provoking presentation. Accessibility is a broad subject and hard to get into, but Paul did a good job and gave us the most memorable moment of the event, where we all put on sleep masks to hear a screen reader describing a web page at high speed.

Slide of advice: what else can you do?
I also received a namecheck from Invotra – thank you Paul and Lisa!

No News on the front page
The conference resumed after lunch with another engaging talk, this time from Ernst Decsey of UNICEF and how the Private Fundraising and Partnerships Intranet was rebuilt over four years.

Starting from the fine assertions that they didn’t want the old intranet on the new platform, that the IA should move from organisation to user focussed, to shift the mindset from silos to shared resources, and to prioritise content over interaction. Ernst shared some of the planning and research focussed around the theme of Lego blocks.

Many attendees will have taken three things away from this talk. First, the decision to demote news from the front page, and to replace it with campaigns and emergency content. I like this because it puts the reason for the organisation right at the heart of the intranet, in effect it massively raises the bar for front page news. Secondly, as Ernst said “reassure the audience…this is your intranet,” every page shows ownership and encourages feedback. Finally, the team has created a shopping cart so users can add any useful material as they use the intranet and can easily find again later.

Learn one task well
Andrew Gilleran shared “Why poor training is killing your intranet” and raised the subject of author training and that we’re often training our authors badly with 3 day training marathons, when short, focused training can achieve more.

Progress through communication, productivity and collaboration
Nicole Carter and Dave Hall from the Scottish Government say they’re midway through “productivity” on the journey to a fully collaborative intranet. Having worked with Gerry McGovern’s Customer Carewords, they’ve worked to build a more user and task-focused intranet. They’ve reduced the prominence of news in favour of productivity tools, and content has been cut back and simplified in order to make finding content easier.

Don’t be afraid of stepping into the unknown
Sasha de Speville of sponsors EasySharepoint started with cats, in particular the cat posters that recently replaced advertisements at Clapham Common station. Sasha picked up on the organisers’ desire to create energy and carry it into whatever might come next. Talking about why “internal communications is business critical,” and how it has a role in crossing cultures, and that the best intranet projects are led by people who are unafraid of stepping into the unknown.

Kate's Whiteboard Roadmap slide

Look out for interested cynics
I fear I will permanently connect Kate Cardenas with the image of a whiteboard roadmap, but it’s such a good tool for planning, thinking and communicating that I (and many others) will consider it on future projects. Kate said “you’ll never learn anything if you don’t talk to people” giving advice to “leave space for value to emerge” and “look out for interested cynics.”

Proving impact internally
Mossy O’Mahony of sponsors Newsweaver discussed some of the issues behind intranet metrics and, more importantly, understanding the business impact. In spite of the talk in business about measurement, there’s not a lot of action, especially when it comes to internal communications.

Blending everything into one is a terrible idea
Sam Marshall gave us a shorter version of his Hubs, Hives and Hangouts talk, an exploration of different working styles in the workplace and their online equivalents. Sam calls these places huddles, hives, hubs, hangouts, hermits and harbours. To illustrate that we can’t just blend these together, Sam’s analogy (and unwarranted attack) on the poor defenceless spork that will live in our memories.

I’m sorry but I am too busy to use People Finder
Diane Murgatroyd and Bettina Hasan from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) discussed the launch and embedding of their social intranet. It started with some familiar tactics, but also some more interesting. Staff were encouraged to post photos of #myjourneytowork, leading to a collection from all over the world. Special interest tags like #chinawatchers or #uswatchers allowed those with professional or personal interests in a place to keep informed.

Later initiatives included measurement, introduction of videos, revising etiquette, and a blog called “I’m sorry but I am too busy to use People Finder” by a senior user. Diane and Bettina listed some of the things they felt worked, these included recognition of contribution, champions, storytelling, and (most interestingly) combined effort.

De-mystify what you’re doing
The final talk was by Rachel Miller and Ed Garcez highlighting lessons from working across three London councils (Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith) to build three intranets into one platform that was “consistent, but individual.” Their recipe for better relationships between CIOs and Comms was simple: put users at the heart, be visible, be approachable, and de-mystify what you’re doing.

Workshops and World Café
With the conference section at an end, we moved into a format with concurrent workshops and World Café discussions. I feel the workshops were too short to possibly be of real value, while the round-table discussions hosted by the conference speakers were potentially wonderful but unfortunately hurried. The café format is the kind of thing I want from an event like this and I would like to see it extended.

Intranet Diamonds
The day ended with thank-yous and a prize giving. James Robertson had already hauled his enormous glass trophy back to Australia, but there was a surprise second (but presumably equal) prize for the blogging team Intranetizen (Sharon O’Dea, Dana Leeson, Luke Mepham, and Jonathan Phillips). The award was thoroughly deserved, and I feel significant as three of the four remain intranet practitioners rather than consultants.

Final thoughts
As ever, Intranet Now 2016 was an exhilarating rush through a broad range of intranet subjects. The short presentation format works well, but it can feel hurried and opportunities for insight may be missed. On the other hand, the constant flow of information means there’s still a high hit rate. I don’t want to sound ungrateful to the sponsors whose contribution keeps ticket prices affordable, but some of their talks would be a lot better if they shared more of their considerable experience rather than talking up their products.

Once again, Brian and Wedge need to be commended for their efforts, and I do hope Intranet Now is financially bouyant enough for them to keep going. I am as certain as I can that I’ll be back for 2017.

GOV.UK’s Design Principles are big news for intranets

Screenshot of the GDS Design Principles web page This week, the UK’s Government Digital Service unveiled a list of ten Design Principles. These are intended for for people building digital services under the GOV.UK domain, but I hope they will prove significant for absolutely anyone creating websites, intranets or other digital services, especially for those of us in-house.

The principles are:

  1. Start with needs (user needs, not Government needs) 
  2. Do less 
  3. Design with data 
  4. Do the hard work to make it simple
  5. Iterate. Then iterate again. 
  6. Build for inclusion 
  7. Understand context 
  8. Build digital services, not websites 
  9. Be consistent, not uniform 
  10. Make things open: it makes things better

For a moment, while reading this, I found myself actually shaking with happiness. It felt so good to see so much of what I believe to be true, put so clearly, in attractive way, by an organisation that needs little introduction.

In the next few days, I can see myself, and I hope many thousands of others pointing it out to any passing chief executive, IT director or communications director, and saying “look, the UK Government says start with user needs.”

That might be an attention-grabber, but I’d argue it is an important one.

The design process must start with identifying and thinking about real user needs. We should design around those – not around the way the ‘official process’ is at the moment
– 1. Start with needs 

Too many intranet projects ignore user needs in favour of organisation needs, and can only succeed by bending employees behaviour to fit the tool (or being very lucky). By starting with the user, you can help people do what they need to do. This gives you something to build on.

Users are already using our services . This means we can learn from real world behaviour … [we should] continue this into the build and development process – prototyping and testing with real users
3. Design with data 

Release Minimum Viable Products early, test them with real users, move from Alpha to Beta to Launch adding features and refinements based on feedback from real users.
5. Iterate. Then iterate again 

Don’t just use logs and other evidence to create your next set of designs, take a leaf out of The Lean Startup and test your theories in the next generation of prototypes. And repeat.

We should build a product that’s as inclusive, legible and readable as possible…We’re designing for the whole country – not just the ones who are used to using the web.
6. Build for inclusion 

It is so tempting to only consider the most likely users. After all, your project needs their participation to even stand a chance of being a success, but they’re not the whole organisation. Often, the people you can help the most are the ones who’re being helped the least.

We’re not designing for a screen, we’re designing for people. We need to think hard about the context in which they’re using our services. Are they in a library? Are they on a phone? Are they only really familiar with Facebook? Have they never used the web before?
7. Understand context 

Context of use is so important, and has been badly neglected through the computer-browser era. We’re beginning to appreciate the benefits of responsive design (btw. try resizing the Design Principles page) and what that can mean for people using anything other than a computer, but there’s something more. Perhaps your user is in a library on a phone? From this point, things are only going to get more complicated – the era of everyone accessing your intranet from Internet Explorer is over.

Our service doesn’t begin and end at our website. It might start with a search engine and end at the post office.
8. Build digital services, not websites 

For most businesses, an intranet that only exists for what happens online is meeting only a fraction of its potential. If we start thinking of intranets as being the first part of a digital service, we can start to unlock that potential.


Book Review: Designing Intranets by James Robertson

I’ve just posted this review onto Amazon (permalink) and it makes sense to publish it here too.

Book cover of Designing Intranets

A great value distillation of years spent designing and understanding intranets, James Robertson has packed his book with real-world intranet screenshots and experiences.

It’s the kind of book that’s handy to have prominently displayed on your desk or within reach when someone insists their approach is best. The first 50 pages may help correct so many dangerous assumptions, that the book could pay for itself in minutes. That manager over your shoulder might like to ponder why the chapter Developing Page Designs appears almost exactly halfway through the book, and home page design is even further on.

Having helped the reader establish the priorities for the intranet, Robertson introduces a well-tested framework rooted in understanding staff needs. After establishing a brand and strategy, he introduces a user-centred design methodology going through a content inventory, card sorting to “understand how users think”, developing (and then testing) an information architecture, before finally getting onto creating page designs (and then testing them). This is a fleeting introduction to these techniques but, for those readers who require more, Robertson is generous with his recommendations.

Some may be disappointed there is not a universal intranet design that will just work, but here they will find something that genuinely adds value. Experienced designers will find details that illuminate their problems or examples to challenge their assumptions. My largest concern is the book focuses on more traditional intranets, concluding with a few short chapters touching on issues including personalisation/targeting, applications, search, large-scale intranet issues, collaboration and social. The advice remains sound, especially in the context of the book’s advocacy of user-centred design, but that might not be enough for some readers.

With that in mind, I have little hesitation in recommending Designing Intranets. There is something useful to be found on almost any page—whether a principle of good practice, an insight, or one of the many screenshots—to provide great deal of help and context for intranet designers whatever their level of experience.

Step Two Designs: Designing Intranets

[Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from James Robertson]