I’m a bit concerned about the ‘buzz’ around the social enterprise at the moment. Whilst I’m a champion of social platforms within organisations and I’m firmly in the camp of more collaborative and social workplace, I’m a little concerned that one of the primary goals of intranet resources is starting to get overlooked: That of Search.
The current thought leaders in the field (Don Tapscott, Charlene Li et al) are right in saying the increased socialization and networking capabilities are fundamental to the success of an organisation. The movement back towards collaborative working principles, which are further enabled by these capabilities, also show no abating with success stories popping up everywhere about how teams/individuals collaborated successfully on projects. This is great and is where we should be going but we must remember that a large percentage of everyday users of internal platforms probably just want to be able to search for information in an effective and logical manner.
That is to say the most fundamental thing an intranet has to do is to offer the quickest way for an employee to find information. Failing that it should provide (through socialization) the quickest way to find another employee who holds the key to that information. In my eyes this is what intranets should be judged on. Collaboration on projects should exist as a way of working and can be built into platforms in form of Wikis etc, but fundamentally any intranet architecture should prioritise the quickest and most user friendly way to get from a question to an answer – be it on a data library or through immediate responses from colleagues.
This is where the socialization of intranets gets interesting. If you are searching for an answer in a contemporary platform you have two choices: 1) get your answer from a qualified and approved source, be it a directory or learning resource or 2) get your answer from your colleague. The trouble with this is the information you receive from your colleague may not be the correct information and it is unquantifiable in some cases. I have my own thoughts on how to deal with this and how to foster internal ‘Maverns’ (not my words) but that is for a future post.
Back to the importance of putting search at the heart of every decision made concerning the intranet. The workforce online behaviour doesn’t change as soon as they step through their office doors, so why are so many intranets treated differently to external platforms? If people are used to opening up a page with a single search field on Google then I’d be tempted to examine whether this would work internally. Yes it would involve tagging the data and a more conscious approach to meta handling and categorization, but it would pay off in the long term.
The counter argument is that the workforce wants a dashboard and needs to be served information and anayltics on their desktops. This is a bit passe now if you measured message recall and engagement on this type of content delivery against ‘involved’ content delivery I’m pretty sure I’d know which one will come out higher. The increased mobilization of the workforce will put pay to the cascading of information onto desktops in a few years anyway.
So what am I saying? Treat an intranet like Google – its primary focus should be delivering information based on a pre-defined algorithm. Like Google, add social and collaborative functions to enable new process, new design and new idea generation. Choose other channels to deliver information; Email (Email is not dead, the new priority inbox features on gmail is a fantastic shift in email control), Internal social networks, town halls and the other traditional offline ways.
If an organisation develops their intranet to be more like the Google offering, I predict an increase in the level of cluster knowledge internally i.e. groups developing deeper knowledge about certain parts of the organisation or about the organisation. This ‘deeper knowledge’ will then create the specialists and specialist groups enabling the human search process and the validation of ‘human’ search results to be more effective.