Intranets: grasping the nettle

A new study reveals companies are failing to use intranets as strategic
knowledge management tools. HR can make the difference, says its author Chris
Stamp

Less than a quarter of companies consider their intranet to be a key
knowledge management tool and IT still dominates the management of intranets
within organisations, according to a survey by Prism Communications &
Knowledge Management.

Despite the fact that 90 per cent of companies that responded said they
support knowledge management as a strategy, in many companies it seems that
intranets are largely seen as devices for sharing and managing information,
rather than a central strategic tool.

Called Intranets are more than ITÉ and sponsored by interactive consultancy
Emperor Design, the survey was conducted to identify how businesses operating
from a large number of sites, or through a highly distributed workforce, use
and manage intranets.

Of the 72 Stock Exchange-listed companies which responded, 57 (79 per cent)
had intranets, and six of the remaining 15 said they intended to establish one.
Only four companies said they had no definite plans to do so.

Left on the shelf?

"The survey’s findings call into question the idea that intranets are
key knowledge management tools for corporations," says Chris Stamp, the
report’s author. He is also director of Prism, which advises companies on how
to address their corporate organisational and cultural issues through internal
communications and knowledge management.

"Too often intranets enjoy much initial board-level support, but then
after being implemented, crucial management and cultural factors are
forgotten," he says.

HR to take the lead

The research shows that IT dominates the management of intranets, with 52
out of 63 respondents saying IT was the functional area of the most senior
person responsible for the intranet in their organisation. HR scored a lowly
eight out of 63 by comparison but is second to IT when it comes to being
responsible for intranet content. However, Stamp believes that HR should be far
more proactive in forging the link between intranets and the company’s
organisational capability and be more than just responsible for putting up
policy and procedure documents and internal job postings.

Anti-knowledge management

Some companies also target their intranets towards a narrower audience as
opposed to the entire employee population and the majority of respondents
report access levels below 50 per cent.

"In some cases, this could be seen as being anti-knowledge
management," says Stamp, who cites major corporates BP and Shell with
consultancies such as KPMG and Cap Gemini Ernst & Young as good examples of
those who exploit the power of an intranet.

"They’ve had to embrace knowledge sharing to maintain their unique
selling point and capability. Here we see far more people-oriented activities
going on, such as communities of practice."

A clear trend emerging from the report is that a great deal more emphasis is
placed on establishing an intranet in the first place than the ongoing
management of it. This is largely because once in place, intranet technology
requires relatively little effort to maintain, whereas intranet content and
usage require much more effort.

Stamp acknowledges that some companies have been disillusioned with the
promise of technology in areas such as e-HR. "Too often companies don’t
think about the context of it. They don’t ask questions like: ‘who do we expect
to use the intranet?’

He adds: "It is up to departments like HR and marketing to remove the
bad press and take time and effort to demonstrate what an intranet can
do."

Intranets are more than IT… can be ordered free from the Prism website www.prism.gb.net

Intranet checklist

– Institute proactive management by a dedicated intranet
manager who can focus on the sustainability and continuous improvement of the
intranet

– Give responsibility for the intranet to various departments
across the company rather than just IT or HR, to ensure it is relevant for all
roles within the company

– Allow access to the intranet to as many employees as
possible; promote the intranet so that employees are aware of it, and measure
intranet usage

– Be clear on how the intranet will support knowledge
management aims rather than merely act as a medium for transferring information

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