The next big thing with Intranets – Interview with Martin White

FLAG_intranets“Companies know how many red chairs they have but they do not know what kind of information they have,” says intranet guru Martin White.

Martin White is an intranet and information management strategy consultant. Although he has a degree in chemistry, he has been working as an information scientist for the last 40 years making sure that people use information in the best possible way. As he puts it himself: “I am fascinated about how people use information.”

Martin set up his company Intranet Focus Ltd. in 1999. The company focuses on consulting clients on intranet strategies.

I had a privilege to talk with him during the Intranätverk conference in Gothenburg, Sweden, this May.

Martin White

Martin, how would you evaluate the state of intranets today?

Well, my greatest concern on intranets today is finding information. Finding the correct content, the correct documents for your purposes.

The challenge is that information is usually stored in silos. How can you get yourself the big picture of what is currently happening at your company?

For example, for decision-making it is essential to find the correct content you can base your decision on. All the related information should be found, and the most recent, the most up-to-date versions of the documents.

Today, finding the content on intranet is not a journey – it is a museum of modern art!

Why do you think the situation is like that? Shouldn’t information be the most important asset for companies, especially those in the “knowledge work” business?

It sure should. The problem is that most companies do not appreciate information as an asset. They do not have anyone, any senior manager or any unit, responsible for information.

The other assets are all the responsibility of senior managers. For example, Finance looks after money, HR looks after personnel, and some infrastructure manager looks after the buildings. But there is no one there looking after information. IT might be saying they are, but in reality they are mostly interested on the technical issues, not the information itself.

What can we do about it? How can we change that?

We can begin with composing an overall information strategy for our company. Many companies have guidelines for ethical or equality issues but not for information. I find that quite concerning. The information strategy includes statements on how the company collects and manages information.

Any practical tips for intranet managers on how to avoid the silos or how to make it easier to find the correct information on intranets?

We can have different views to monitoring information on intranets. A list or an RSS feed of, for example, what was recently added, what is new, or what is modified.

I am currently working with many clients on search-based automated monitoring views. We can define queries with different search terms for different needs. For example, before a weekly meeting you may want to check what has happened in the past week in this and that issue. That can be a saved query.

You may have several queries saved on your personal profile. Or you might have created a “monitoring view” for your team to share.

Usage of this kind of automated queries is growing. I would say this is definitely the next big thing with intranets.

Still, we must remember that a search engine is only as good as the content.

In your book “The Intranet Management Handbook” you say intranet managers might be the loneliest people in the world. What would you like to say to our readers who are intranet managers? How would you encourage them?

I would encourage them to join other intranet managers who have similar problems. For example, Intrateam and J. Boye are organizing professional groups. Those professional groups are great places to discuss.

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