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Oct 06, 2004: Intranet Trends

Shiv Singh of Avenue A/Razorfish wrote an interesting piece on intranets for Line56. He identifies eight trends based on his experience with enterprise intranets:

  1. Intranets return to the domain of the departments
  2. The records management and the legal departments get involved
  3. All employees become intranet publishers
  4. The corporate telephone directory loses its luster
  5. The new killer app -- the knowledge management tool
  6. Real time information delivery becomes a priority
  7. Information retrieval remains unsolved but there's hope
  8. Employees demand a more aesthetic user experience

Read Shiv's article for more details on each trend. It's a short, well-written, and certainly thought-provoking.

I might take issue with the first trend, which seems to suggest that the pendulum is starting to swing back from centralized to localized intranet management. Yes, that swing is happening in some situations, but the reverse seems true in others. It all depends on each particular organization's timing. Interestingly, I see more organizations understanding that in order to succeed, they actually have to have it both ways--partly centralized, partly localized.

These organizations are realizing that aspects of the content publication process, such as authoring, should be handled by those who are closest to end users--that means the many authors working in disparate, decentralized business units. At the other end of the process, these organizations are placing tasks like tagging, indexing, and QA in the hands a centralized team. This is hybrid approach is logical: it plays to the strengths of both centralized and decentralized approaches by using the best aspects of each when they're most appropriate. This is in stark contrast to the traditional and damaging pendulum swings of trying one approach, failing, trying the other, failing, and so on.

I'm increasingly optimistic that this particular pendulum will slow down and settle in the middle. I know that, if it did, intranets would markedly improve in both information retrieval (trend #7) and user experience (trend #8). And I'd also suggest that corporate directories (trend #4) can be quite useful in helping illustrate the hybrid approach: they can serve as existing, tangible, and right-under-your-nose examples of valuable corporate content that is the product of both autonomous and centralized efforts.

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