Intranet implementations – Ask the expert

Interview with Senior Project Manager, Lennart Jensen, specialized in intranet projects

Intranets still play an important role in facilitating efficient internal communication in large organizations – but only if they are built with a clear purpose and are implemented successfully and used as intended in the company.

In this interview, senior IT project manager Lennart Jensen shares insights from his numerous intranet implementation projects, and how modern intranets can contribute to more efficient and streamlined internal communication flows in the organization. We have asked Lennart questions that focus on both the practical aspects of planning and implementing an intranet, the pitfalls to avoid and his thoughts about the future of the intranet.

Lennart Jensen has over two decades of experience in the field of IT in which his core work areas are knowledge management, collaboration, and intranets. Lennart has worked primarily as an external project manager for large international companies, where he has helped various organizations with the necessary advice and guidance to achieve greater efficiency across departments and levels of the organization.

Watch the video or read the written version below.

1.  Please present yourself

I’ve been working with IT for more than 20 years now and most of that time I’ve been working with knowledge management, collaboration, intranets and the aspects of that. I’ve always been working in large global organizations with the organization being distributed throughout the world. I also worked with teams that have been working around the world, like in Denmark, the US, Czech Republic, India, and also both having teams and employees working around the world but also working with outsourcing partners in both nearshore and offshore. My background is in IT and that’s what I love. But I’ve also taken a degree in the business side to understand both sides. It’s nice to be able to translate what the two parts are saying because that can be tricky sometimes.

2.  What do you consider as the largest business benefits when aiming for an intranet implementation?

There are three main benefit areas that intranets are buying into. The first one is communication by having a communication platform where you can reach the organization fast and efficiently and with whatever communication. It could be communication like organizational changes, strategic directions, responses to outside events where the organization needs to know how to react to this. And it’s also the smaller day-to-day communication, like new hires, and it could even be what’s at lunch in the canteen. And one of the really good things about intranets compared to mail is that you can get the two-way communication. So not only can you communicate the information, but you can also allow people to respond, ask questions, and get the dialogue going, and that’s a very strong point of intranets.

The second business value area I see is knowledge management collaboration. The intranet can be a platform to ensure collaboration across the organization and making a point to point collaboration and knowledge sharing wherever the competencies might be and also supporting that. Today more businesses are going away from being top driven. We are more being a network organization and then a collaborative intranet can really support this journey that people are directly connected to the ones who can help them do their job and can contribute with the competencies.

The third area I see is a more task-based intranet where you make all the tasks that people are doing, it could be time illustration, it could be approving documents, it could be improving invoices – whatever it is that you need to do on a regular basis. An intranet can be an enabler of that and that will, of course, help drive the efficiency and the speed of delivery in the organization.

And of course, most intranets have one focus but also covers other things and over time you can even in the intranet cover all areas.

“You need to have people with strong visual skills and usability skills
because you need to have an appealing intranet“

– Senior Project Manager, Lennart Jensen

3.  It seems like these benefits are more or less intangible; How do you handle having so many intangible benefits as part of the benefits from a business case perspective?

You are right that there are really many intangible benefits in an intranet project. In my experience, you should probably not try and create them because an intranet is connection infrastructure or information infrastructure. It enables a lot of things, but it doesn’t really do any bottom-line benefits on its own. You could say that if you do a task-based intranet then you get some efficiency and that could be a reduced number of hours in the organization. Unless you are willing to lay off people then it’s bottom line benefits anyway. So, my recommendation would be to try and justify the intranet project as an investment that enables and allows for other things. And that probably requires that you have a very good buy-in from a senior management level to do this.

4.  How does the need for a new intranet and its functions occur from within the organization?

Most intranets I’ve seen has been started by the corporate communications department because the CEO or the top management are saying, “We need a platform where we can communicate with the organization. It’s too hard, it’s too cumbersome to get our messages out to the organization. Please provide a platform where we can do this easily.” I’ve seen intranets being driven by corporate communications, but I also think HR plays a large role because this is really playing into the employee part of the organization. So, HR plays a key role and then, of course, IT because you need to have the IT platform up and running.

I think those three are normally the ones I’ve seen represented at steering committees and being the business drivers. But of course, it depends on what the vision is and what we are trying to do with the intranet.

“Justify the intranet project as an investment
that enables and allows for other things“

– Senior Project Manager, Lennart Jensen

5.  Based on your experience, what are the largest risks that you normally see in the projects?

I think we’ve just touched upon one of them because not having a tangible benefit is a risk. Can you even get the project justified without that? That depends on, of course, the organization. I think it’s also a risk that you can do a lot of things with an intranet – communication, collaboration, knowledge management, task-driven, and so on. And if you try to do everything then you normally end up with a poorly executed intranet. So, it is definitely at risk in these kinds of projects. We need to focus and you need to know what you want to do, and you need to stick to that. If possible, develop a roadmap which clearly illustrates what you’re doing, and then you will not do anything else in the first project.

Then I also see a risk in well-functioning intranets. With those, some people think they are a one-off project, but it’s not. It’s a long journey and I’ve seen cases where very nice projects have been set up, very nice intranets have been built, but the funding, the governance, and the competencies in the organization were not there for the continuous involvement of the intranet, and then it dies. I think having this in place very early on in the funding is crucial for the long-term evolution of the intranet. The competencies in the organization must also be in place early on, otherwise, that’s a big risk.

“I think intranets will enable and further extend the availability and make people able to always follow what’s going on in the organization

– Senior Project Manager, Lennart Jensen

6.  Within the organizations you have seen, where is the funding allocated? Is it initially part of the budget for corporate communication?

Normally, funding comes from two parts. One is the implementation project and that’s normally funded by IT. And then there is the content side of it because you also need to have resources to build the content. You need to have all those structures up and running and that is normally funded by corporate communications, or by the business owning the intranet project. And if you don’t have both sides in place then you don’t succeed because the platform is basically just an empty shell. If you don’t have resources funding to provide the content, then the value is low. It’s probably not there at all. This is also a risk that you should be aware of that often you get the funding from the IT-side and then everything is good but then you realize later on that we don’t have enough funding on the business side. That has to be in place. The funding on both sides has to be done at the same time basically – without the business funding, don’t spend the IT money.

7.  Are there other key points in terms of mitigating the key risks that you consider as crucial?

I think also ensuring the alignment across the business and IT is also a key part. There’s a significant risk if there’s no alignment between the possible IT platforms and the business needs. You risk that you have a nice platform that doesn’t support the business needs, or you have an IT platform that the business doesn’t understand how to utilize to its full extent. Getting a good alignment across the IT in the business is very important both at the project team level and getting people to work together and have a shared understanding.

Communication people and IT people often come with very different mindsets and different skill sets and you need to get them to understand each other and work together both at the project level but also at the management level. I would definitely recommend that the steering committee consists both of the business owners and also of IT. Normally, it’s corporate communication, HR, and IT who is in the steering committee. Sometimes you might have the RD department and the marketing department depending on what it is that you’re doing but with the intranet.

Talking about the organization, I’ve seen intranets where you’ve formed the team only in the corporate headquarters. The people sitting at the headquarter will do the intranet and they’ll go out and into the world and say look what we’ve done. You don’t get people on board by doing that. You need to have representatives from the global organization included in the intranet. If they’re sitting all around the world it’s hard to do every day. But maybe you can do a reference group and invite them to regular courses, but make sure that you know you have an organization who was built to also listen to the needs – the everyday needs of the organization around the world.

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8.  What do you consider being the right mix of resources for making a successful intranet implementation?

There are three main types of competencies you need to have. One is you need to have people with strong visual skills and usability skills because you need to have an appealing intranet. First impressions do matter here. And you also need to have somebody who can make sure that you get the right navigation structure that it’s organized and designed in a very user-friendly way.

You need to have people who understand content and how content is structured – how do we create news that is appealing and interesting to read because that’s a science in itself. Then, of course, you need to have people who have the technical skills and who can set up the platform. It’s important to know that you need people who are strong in these areas, but you don’t want people who have a hard time looking across another thing.

We often talk about the T-profile so that you have a deep knowledge of something but you also have some understanding of other areas and you want these kinds of people to be part of the project because you need people who can and will understand and empathize with not only their own area but also the other areas. In that way, you get a good mix considering the technical part, the content part, and the end user part.

9.  Having mentioned working with a global team; what are for you the key experiences in making global teamwork successfully in order to implement an intranet?

The key thing is ownership and empowerment because you have a virtual team, so you need to make sure that everybody feels that they are part of owning the project and that it also belongs to them. And you need to make them feel empowered so they can also influence how the projects run and the outcome of the intranet that you deliver in the end.

In my experience to do that, first of all, you need to get people together early on in the project and spend some time putting up the playing fields, so to speak, and then you need to make sure that you throughout the project continually work with a virtual mindset. That means if you have weekly status meetings or if you have daily meetings, you do those virtually. People can be there also if they are sitting around the world. I mean little things, like at the right time in the day. You need to schedule it at a time in the day that suits everybody, not just the people sitting in Denmark. I’ve been part of projects where we did stand up meetings at 11.30 at night because we needed to have people from Australia, the US, and Denmark involved at the same time.

So, you need to think about these little things that everybody feels that they are part of the project even if they’re sitting around the world.

“Not only can you communicate the information,
but you can also allow people to respond, ask questions, and get the dialogue going“

– Senior Project Manager, Lennart Jensen

10.  What is your overall experience with the variety of technical platforms?

I’ve worked with a number of different platforms. Back in the 90s, it was Lotus Notes which back then was a very good tool. Then we switched to another portal and worked a few years on the SAP portal as well. And now it’s very much SharePoint which is sort of the flavor of the day. I think they all have strong points and weak points.

I think overall, it’s important that you choose a platform that suits very nicely to the IT platform because you want to utilize the governance structures. You want to utilize the competencies you have on an existing platform rather than trying to set up something yourself. Then you want something flexible both in terms of interfacing and integrating with other platforms but also flexible in the sense that you can easily continuously make changes to the intranet because an intranet needs to evolve over time. In my experience, SharePoint does this very nicely. I think it’s more suited for that type of thing. I worked a little bit with the SAP portal and I think the SAP portal has a lot of strong points but it’s probably more geared towards what you’re doing on the ERP platform where you are supporting large production processes and if you fail then the impact is very big. And that means that deployment processes and change processes are sometimes a little bit rigid and that doesn’t suit an intranet very well.

Then you need also a platform that can integrate some of all the social media platforms that are coming like Yammer, and some of these platforms that do the collaborative and the social collaboration. They need to look into that because that is also very much the future of intranets.

“Make sure that everybody feels that they are part of owning the project
and that it also belongs to them“

– Senior Project Manager, Lennart Jensen

11. How do you see technology in this matter develop within the next five years?

In the next five years, we’ll probably see two major trends. One is that the intranets will go more into the cloud, be more cloud-based because you need to have more availability. You don’t want to be restricted by the corporate firewall to access the intranet – you will want to access it anywhere. And also, because intranets will more and more merge together with some of the social tools that we see out there because the lines between work life and private life are being more blurred. So, the intranets will also become merged more with tools like Facebook, Twitter, Yammer, or whatever you’re using also in your personal life. You want to really have the intranet out there where you can do these things. I think that’s one trend we’ll see.

The other one is that some parts of the intranet will go more mobile. I’ve seen a few intranets where we’ve built an entire intranet as an app and that might be working in some cases, but I think in most cases this is simply too costly because building up a customized app for an intranet is quite a high price. I think rather we’ll see that some specific areas of the intranet like a news channel or a specific feature are built as an app and then the intranet as a whole will be a web-based web page which is designed to be mobile used.

I think we’ll see these two trends and I think both of them will support and will drive towards that we as employees, we don’t want to be restricted of whether we are in the workplace or in the private place and that also means that we are able to go mobile and going cloud. It’s going to be easier also to reach the employees who are more loosely tied to the organization. It could be seasonal workers, or it could be externals like myself that you maybe don’t want to give a full-scale user account, but you still want them to be able to know what’s going on and give them access to certain tools through the intranet.

12.  If you are to sum up this development that is currently going, which business benefits do you think technology development will enable in the next five years?

I think intranets will enable and further extend the availability and make people able to always follow what’s going on in the organization – to do their day to day tasks even though they are not logged on. I think that’s one part where the benefits are being supported. I think another part is also the whole collaborative part that your private network and business network will merge more and more together, and you will start to use it seamlessly. This will also be supported by the direction that intranets are taking.

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