Money down the drain

Money down the drain

By Christine Gill

Why people are undermining intranet investments. By Christine Gill

Large and mid-range companies are spending a significant amount of money on implementing content management and intranet environments only to find that their investment returns are being undermined by people - and not technology.

That is the key finding of a survey of online content deployment in Australia, conducted by Information Solutions managing director, Derek Jardine.

As a former documentation design and development manager at Insurance Australia Group (IAG), Jardine has over 15 years experience in designing and project-managing online knowledge environments. In 2002, he founded Information Solutions, an online information design consultancy based in Sydney. Common to both these positions, is Jardine's dedication to providing knowledge workers with the context they need to access and utilise the information assets within their organisation.

Jardine believes that the information in records, document and content management systems (and other sources) needs to be presented to the user in the context of business strategy and processes; for example, when identifying customer and segment needs as part of the product development process, information is sourced from a variety of market research documents, product brochures, external databases, customer surveys, and reports generated from various applications.

Aligning all relevant information to specific business activities improves its value and usefulness. Jardine refers to this as "context management."

Overcoming cultural challenges

While many enterprises are seeking to gain business advantage by utilising technology to communicate to their staff, suppliers and customers, they are finding that cultural issues such as ongoing senior management sponsorship are providing the major challenges to successful implementation: "Companies that have successfully implemented the technology environment are now struggling with the people and process issues that will provide ongoing business benefit. This is particularly the case where a decentralised content authoring model is used. Within this model the content owner is responsible for ensuring the quality, consistency and currency of information."

The Information Solutions survey also found that once the formal, funded project was completed there was a vacuum. The financial support and executive sponsorship that existed during the project phase had disappeared, which meant that intranet managers were left holding the content ball: "The initial enthusiastic publication of online content is replaced by the reluctance of business managers to allocate the necessary resources to update and maintain their content."

While some content managers may have difficulty in convincing business managers to use technology, the real problem lies with the analysis of what goes in to that technology space as content: "If the value chain is clearly manifested in a way that the online information space is designed then we are successfully managing the context. And, the technology is there to do that. But what's happening is that the detailed analysis work is really not being done in a targeted and disciplined manner, so that's one of the issues."

Communicating the value of information is another issue. Jardine says that if the online information becomes stale and content owners do not have the incentive to go back and update it, it's typically because they don't understand the value others may gain from that piece of information: "They need to be able to clearly see that by updating their content in to this space it's supporting a particular strategy or activity within the organisation. This is where senior management can play an important sponsorship role."

It appears that intranet managers, left with dwindling budgets and diffused sponsorship, are now required to implement initiatives to improve the quality, relevance and currency of online information. Many of the pitfalls of these projects could be avoided by undertaking a few key steps during the planning stages.

"And the point is, it is never too late to undertake these activities."

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