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Stop trying to fix the Intranet

The vision of going digital is sometimes equated to the vision of “going paperless”, even industry experts from AIIM see it as the evolutionary next step in content management. An Intranet seems like a natural choice to host all of this data, making it a central repository and archive for the organization. And since most Intranets have a comprehensive content management system, support tagging and searching, there shouldn’t be any problems on that front, right?

Right, except if you want more. And many organizations now do. They want to make Intranets engaging, sociable places for chatter where they can capture unstructured data and exchange informal content, all while fostering collaboration.

And that’s where the problems begin: Intranets are doing a great job at connecting users with documents. And documents with other documents.

But they’re doing a terrible job at connecting people with people. Questions with answers. External with internal sources. Clouds with on-premise. Personal information with impersonal content.

In fact, Intranets are so bad at this that every year the industry mindlessly searches for the next big revolution that hopefully delivers the much awaited solution to the innate problems of Intranets: They’re inflexible and full of content – most of which is boring, too.

After about a decade of failed attempts to fix the Intranet let’s...

Stop. Trying. To. Fix. It.

Intranets did a great job until we started to shoehorn ideas into them they were never designed for. It’s like putting a street cafe into a city library in hopes people will start chatting and hanging out. They’re not supposed to “hang out” in the library – let alone chat.

Come for what you needed to do, and then don’t stay for the coffee. Of course hindsight is 20/20 but this was never going to work. The Enterprise 2.0 with it’s gloomy vision of a social workplace enabled through software alone was an ill-fated idea right from the start.

So let’s throw out what doesn’t work and instead try on improving what we know does work: Better Search, better content management, better integration.

By now you must be thinking: Is this guy crazy? We want the Enterprise 2.0! We want work to be progressive, fun and engaging. I hear you.

But here is a crazy idea: If adding more and more features to Intranets didn’t help anyone, maybe we should go back to basics. That’s exactly what Deloitte is suggesting in their Tech Trends 2016 report. One of their major trends this year is legacy IT, that’s right. The often decades old core systems to drive “back, mid and front offices” are considered to be the heart of most businesses. And for that reason ditching them was always a bad idea. Killing a CRM from the 00s for the latest cloud app? Bad idea. Throwing out your ERP from the mid 90s? Bad idea. Seeing Intranets as separate to any of your legacy data? Bad idea. It’s a paradox: They want you go forward by first going backwards. Organizations are encouraged to develop strategies to reimagine core systems, by either re-platforming, modernizing or revitalizing them.

The reasoning is actually very compelling: Everything that you want from the digital age – like working from your smartphone, moving to the cloud, conquering big data – pivots on the integration of your existing data. Not including your historic data in whatever you do, will render whatever you do fruitless.

As it turns out a survey among CIOs revealed that modernizing legacy and core technologies is the number one investment right now. In the same survey, however, the same legacy tech was deemed to have the least potential to impact the business. This may sound paradoxical: Why keep on investing to upgrade your legacy tech, and then don’t expect a return? The solution is that the return isn’t coming from the old data, it’s coming from the new foundation through which it is made accessible in the future – so mobile access, cloud access, Artificial Intelligence integration, etc. Having a modern foundation for your legacy data is a strategic no-brainer for most organizations.

Deloitte seems to be the first to acknowledge that technology adoption does almost never live up to the hype in the software industry. Equally, changing processes and culture is more challenging for most firms than they’d like to admit.

Therefore they came up with five R’s companies can focus on to mitigate the current digital dilemma:

  1. Replatform: Upgrade platforms through technical upgrades/software updates, migration to modern operating environments (virtualized or cloud platforms, in-memory databases, etc.)

  2. Revitalize: Layer on new capabilities, like better front-ends or UIs that enhance the stable underlying core processes and data. Consider aspects that can help with data discovery and analysis.

  3. Remediate: Address internal complexities of existing core systems and double check if some of the data can be consolidated or integrated with modern tools or APIs. Master data reconciliation can enable simplified business processes, single views of data on customers, products, the chart of accounts, etc.

  4. Replace: Introduce new solutions for a few select parts by revisiting the “build” versus “buy” decision-making. New market entrants may have introduced packages or cloud aspects that can solve problems previously deemed to complex.

  5. Retrench: “Good enough” and do nothing can be a strategic choice, as long as it’s made intentionally. Weigh the risks against the opportunities, speak with stakeholders and move on to higher-impact priorities if need be.

Hopefully the realization that your IT isn’t hopelessly antiquated helps refocus on what parts of IT are still good to keep and which new opportunities have since emerged that can help bring you big steps towards the digitalization.

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