What every intranet manager should know

October 25, 2009

IntranetI get email updates from an intranet group and recently they’ve added a jobs section. So I’ve been having a quick dip in to see what the jobs are like in the intranet world of today. This led me to do a little lunchtime research on intranet  jobs on some of the web jobs sites such as Trovit and Monster. What I found was quite depressing.

Some of the skills and knowledge that these senior intranet positions required included coding, CSS, SQL and some acronyms that were beyond me including some arcane CMS systems.  This reminded me of James Robertson’s excellent article ‘Intranet Managers must be Managers’. In the article James states what a good intranet manager should be doing and this is what he says an intranet manager shouldn’t be doing with which I fully agree –

  • ‘Writing HTML or publishing web pages
  • Reviewing or rewriting content
  • Conducting development (coding) activities
  • Designing site appearance or structure’

The message doesn’t seem to be getting through.

What they don’t mention

The two things I’ve rarely seen mentioned in these job adverts is anything at all around the user and content. Yet isn’t that what intranets are supposed to be all about? Connecting users with relevant content is surely all intranets should be doing. OK you might want to do it in such a way that keeps the major stakeholders happy but basically its as simple as that. And yet these job descriptions depressingly still stress the need for technical qualifications and IT experience which, in my opinion, is sowing the seeds of failure for those intranets even before they have gotten off the ground.

I hope I am not going to offend anyone but putting basically IT people in charge of an intranet is one reason why intranets have gotten such a bad reputation in many organisations. The success of any intranet will have far less to do with how wonderful the CMS is and how all the pretty plug-ins work than a fundamental understanding of how users interact with content and ensuring that systems are in place for maintaining content and content structures.

Putting IT people in charge of intranets is like asking the people who build the roads to run the traffic management systems. There would be chaos on the roads in no time as building roads requires a completely different set of skills, approaches and culture to those required to make our traffic flow effectively.

I think that this is a good analogy for intranets. The IT or infrastructural part of the intranet is important but it is not as important as user considerations, quality content and a good structure. Let’s Illustrate this.

Two examples

Case 1 – An intranet is put together with the emphasis on the IT infrastructure. It has a wonderful shiny CMS, it’s fast and it has all the latest features. You can blog, there’s a wiki and all the latest  ‘intranet 2.0′ social stuff.  However, as the focus of activities has been the technical side of things, there has been little regard paid to the user who finds the intranet illogical. Also little thought has been given to structuring and managing content and the intranet is now starting to fill up with obsolete content, undermining users’ trust in the intranet as a whole.

Case 2 – Someone puts together a series of linked Word or PDF documents on a shared drive. The structure of the links is logical reflecting how users in that organization look for content. The content is good quality and a system for maintaining content is in place so no obsolete content can be accessed by the users.

Which of the above cases would really help users to do their jobs more effectively? To a certain extent I wonder if many organizations are throwing their money away on fancy IT stuff when something simpler might prove more effective for their users.

However I did come across one ad which gave some hope. They wanted an intranet manager but they stressed that content management and usability were basic requirements whereas only a general knowledge of HTML and CSS were required. This makes me think that there is at least one enlightened organization out there.

I haven’t put a link in this post for the job advert. I might want to apply myself!

(Apologies to James for paraphrasing his book title!)

7 Responses to “What every intranet manager should know”

  1. ScottK Says:

    Trovit and Monster are nearly useless for Intranet postings that you mentioned. There are some more enlightened orgs and hiring managers out there. Depends on your region, too. The ads you mention sound fairly dreadful.

    • patrick c walsh Says:

      Thanks for your comment. Yes some of the ads were pretty dreadful. I did look at quite a few other sites, including some ‘executive’ job sites, and it was more or less the same story, perhaps I just looked on the wrong day.
      As I say at the end of the post I think that there are some enlightened organizations out there but possible not as many as there should be.

      • skaufman24 Says:

        Hi Patrick,
        I neglected to mention you have a great blog here and the crux of this post is right on. Yes, too many organisations don’t understand nor have the necessary ingredients for a decent (i.e. useful, worthwhile), no less, world class, Intranet.

        Re Intranet jobs, many (most
        ?) good ones are not listed on the big boards directly and ‘executive’ sites (whichever those are – theladders.com, for example, are even worse than Monster).

        Here are some interesting Intranet jobs I have seen lately:

        Disney (Hollywood CA US)

        UBS (London UK)

        Neither exclude the 4 activities you list from Robertson. I think it’s a nice straw man and discussion starter, but unrealistic for Intranet Managers not to do some of the work listed. .

        A distinction needs to be made between technical administration and content process management. Often these need to need well-defined and separate roles. The technical pieces are often easier to scope and justify, causing content to get short-thrift.


      • patrick c walsh Says:

        I think that you are spot on when you say that there needs to be a distiction between technical admin and content. I think that the role of intranet manager should be the content role. That is what is important to users. The Intranet Infrastructure Manager role, basically all of the technical stuff, is also important but it should serve the content. Otherwise it’s the tail wagging the dog again and, as you say above, content gets short shrift

        All the best

  2. Vivek Says:

    Apart from my inability to code or program any computer language,..I am totally delighted to read this article as these were always my thoughts when I go through those job ads that dont make any sense.

    I totally agree with you that, ‘Techies’ are not necessarily/always good communicators or to that matter even good managers.
    Also, I always notice this divide between knowing how to code and understanding technology and its applications which have relevance to the business. Both need different set of experience and capabilities. Organisations should learn how to differentiate these to be successful in their respective businesses.

    • patrick c walsh Says:

      Thanks for your comment.
      I absolutely agree. If you look at James’s list of the things Intranet Managers need to do a lot of it is around interacting with people – users, managers, stakeholders. Intranets generally don’t fail because their CMS isn’t up to scratch but because these aspects have not been handled well or sometimes at all.
      I honestly think that asking up front for technical qualifications and experience often rules out many of the people who could really make an intranet work. People who are good managers and good with people and who can also see the big organizational picture.


  3. Padman Says:

    Really a useful blog for everyone. But Job trend has changed nowadays as most of them are looking for high paying jobs. There are lots of jobs in Bangalore since many companies are in need of smart employers with adequate knowledge

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