by C.G. Lynch

Can Crappy Intranets Be Saved By Web 2.0 and Social Software?

Oct 09, 20083 mins
Enterprise Applications

During the past year, many IT departments came to a grim conclusion: corporate intranets had become irrelevant and useless. In an attempt to depart from boring phone directories and web-pages that only IT could update, we saw an uptick in the corporate adoption of web-based social software such as wikis, blogs and social networking profiles, all brought in to make intranets better by empowering employees to contribute user generated content.

Here are a few case studies that come to mind:

We saw a communications firm, which had 60 separate offices, use social networking technologies from Microsoft SharePoint and Newsgator (which provides RSS) to build an internal social network where users shared links and connected with others in the company who shared their same expertise.

We examined a marketing firm that had previously done a bunch of its client management over e-mail, sending out messy attachments to one another. After implementing a wiki from Socialtext, a Web 2.0 company that sells social software to small businesses and large enterprises, most of that work went into one searchable place that users could edit on demand and (most importantly) with no help from IT.

One of my favorites occurred at a very large enterprise, Bell Canada, where the head of IT told used blogs to streamline project management.

But it’s clear some hurdles remain. While building a useful corporate intranet starts with  wiki technology and other social software, all these IT leaders were emphatic in their interviews with CIO that just buying social software and Web 2.0 won’t necessarily translate into success. They say you must be very adept at feeding information in there automatically rather than waiting for users to do it themselves.

As Jason Harrison, the CIO of the global communications firm, Universal McCann told me about his successful implemenation of social networking sites using SharePoint, merely copying Facebook won’t do the job.

“We needed something self-perpetuating that fed relevant [corporate] information in,” Harrison says. “We weren’t going to try to recreate Facebook internally.”

As a result, he said social software and Web 2.0 technologies must integrate with exisiting systems to give you a baseline of useful information. You don’t only want to feed in basic biographical information about employees like their contact info; you also need relevant documents and pieces of content to give the intranet some life and give employees something to discuss.

What’s great about all these case studies is that, though IT may have had to do a little work up front, they essentially liberated users to populate the corporate intranet with relevant information while freeing IT to work on more “mission critical” projects. In that case, a harmonious balance between the realities of an IT project list (they always have too much to do) and immediate needs of users can be achieved.

At least, in theory.