Who owns the intranet?

Tue, Apr 2, '19 •

Who owns the intranet?

It used to be an easy thing: the intranet, back in the day, was often hand-coded HTML pages with links to documents, and so obviously the IT team owned it. No one else could; it was a simple equation.

But we’re talking seriously back in the day; back in the mid-1990s when workplaces weren’t yet digital. The 90s are over, technology has moved on and moved into business back-ends to create the digital workplace.

A multitude of software providers introduced their own versions of the dominant system, Microsoft’s SharePoint, all with an eye on that ever-growing prize: the keys to the corporate kingdom via the intranet portal. Get the intranet and you are supporting every employee in their day-to-day work, and so you become essential to the organization – especially when you consider the G Suite intranet and its links to cloud-based integrations including Slack, Asana, Google Drive, Google Docs and Google Hangouts Meet and Chat.

The question is, though, who does an intranet provider talk to to get their foot in the door? Who actually owns the intranet in the modern, digital workplace? Who’s the team driving it forward to enhance team collaboration and enable better working practices and better engaged employees?

It’s owned by Internal Communications, of course!

As the intranet moved on, it became more than just a place to store documents – it became the place to spread company news, to connect teams and offices, to share good practice and remind people of the policies they must adhere to.

In that sense, the intranet is clearly something for Internal Communications teams. Internal Communicators see the intranet as a holy grail, a central repository to push people towards and to store all important messages and documentation. It can even drive Employee Engagement through gamification methods, in turn improving team collaboration and productivity. The digital workplace and G Suite intranet is definitely built on internal comms’ land.

No, it’s a technology, so it belongs to IT

Built on internal comms’ land? Hardly! It might be based in the cloud, but your G Suite intranet is very much built on IT’s land. Any IT team is going to want to own and control all technology used within the business, especially with security and data management so imperative to modern organizations. There is no way any technology can be introduced without the blessing of IT.

Plus, it’s probably going to come out of their budget. You might not see it as an IT thing, but finance definitely will. IT needs to sign off on it, so your shiny G Suite intranet belongs to IT.

But it’s a people solution - surely that’s an HR thing?

Hang on a minute… You want your employees on there, engaging with policies and procedures? You want to integrate tools to let your people apply for annual leave, manage their employment documentation, deal with performance reviews, conduct training, claim expenses? You want to use it to build the employer brand and develop a strong company culture? Well, that’s all under the purview of the Human Resources department.

HR is often maligned, the last to find out about developments in technology, yet they are the ones purchasing Learning Management Systems (LMS) and handling the admin of employment. It’s clear there’s a case for strong HR involvement in the G Suite intranet – perhaps even some ownership there?

What about all the information? This must fall to the Knowledge Management team!

Yes, yes – that’s all well and good. You’ve made a strong case for all three of those teams to own the intranet, but it’s just not right. We’ve got a new Knowledge Management team, and it’s their job to control the flow of information, the storage of data, the general information operations of the company. GDPR and all that! That means the intranet is theirs. Clearly and obviously.

Who really owns the intranet? The community, that’s who...

Anyone working in-house has probably heard arguments like all of these before. No one wants to budget for it, but everyone wants to control their own slice of the intranet pie and make it sing and dance to their own tune. But really, they’re all wrong. If one “person” owns the intranet, it must be the employees.

Any intranet will live or die by the interactions it drives. It’s no good HR claiming to own it for applications if no one can find the link to the appropriate app. It’s no good giving such a powerful tool to the knowledge management team when they just want to store and handle data. It’s no good putting IT in charge of this technology when they aren’t expert in fostering two-way communications that are both clear and accessible. And it’s no good handing it all over to Internal Communications because they won’t necessarily be thinking about the practical applications of all these finicky things the other teams need – they are, necessarily, focussed on the communications and engagement aspects of the G Suite intranet.

But you know who is focussed on both the communications and the applications? The people using it. They’ll be quick to shout if something isn’t easy to use or information is hard to find.

...but they need help to steer it: the case for strong intranet governance

All the way back in 2001 - yes, that’s scarily almost 20 years ago - George Anders wrote in Fast Company that “managing an intranet, it turns out, is an organic process – one that revolves less around owning a patch of online real estate than around carefully tending what grows there.”

These days there are three dominant ownership models for intranets:

  • Centralized, where there is a single owner and they place strict guidelines and processes for contributing authors. This is done in the name of consistency and integration, but causes frustration for the other teams.

  • Decentralized, where each business unit manages its own activity, no holds barred. It helps bring flexibility, but can result in the Wild West of intranets with no consistency and an anything goes result.

  • Hybrid, where there is a mix of both. The intranet is generally governed by an ownership committee with representatives from across the business, each of which is responsible for its own area but agrees to adhere to a set of central principles.

Writes Toby Ward for Prescient Digital: “The up-and-coming next generation model of intranet governance is collaborative, most often taking the form of a cross-representative steering committee representing the major functional stakeholders in Communications, Human Resources, Operations, IT and business units. This model is most successful when the committee is championed by one or two key executives, often the CIO, the head of Communications, or HR.”

Ward says the collaborative team “governs the intranet through the application of policies, standards and templates” and is “typically responsible for the direction, vision, prioritization of projects, conflict resolution and final key decisions as it relates to the intranet”.

The committee becomes important, writes James Robertson for Step Two, because “any one group will not have the required skills and resources to fully deliver the intranet, regardless of who is selected” – “even if a formal governance model is not possible (or appropriate), informal relations between these groups can go a long way towards ensuring an effective and sustainable intranet.” They could even be the same cross-team working party that helped you analyze your intranet needs before you purchased your G Suite intranet.

All of this sounds awfully like the team collaboration you’re wanting to foster with your G Suite intranet, right?

The hybrid model brings the most benefit to an organization, especially one that has a large or dispersed workforce. But it will become just as messy as the arguments above if there’s no clear governance behind it. To combat this, you’ll need to:

  • Establish an intranet committee that regularly meets to discuss updates and challenges.

  • Clarify roles, responsibilities, goals, processes and duties for the committee.

  • Establish policies and decisions about the ultimate structure and objectives of your intranet.

  • Communicate these policies and decisions to the wider business in a clear and concise way so they know who to come to when they have issues or ideas.

  • Decide who is the ultimate administrator of the intranet – chances are, once they know their voices will be heard, the pretenders to the throne will stand down (and no one really wants to deal with user access other than IT).

With a clear purpose and goals, strong governance, and a focus on community member needs, your G Suite intranet has the best chance possible to flourish in your organization. Without these things, it’s likely to resemble an outpost town where anything goes and Mavis the PA shares a video of her cat yawning every morning. He might be cute, but is that what the mobile app was designed for? What does Tabby really do for your team collaboration anyway?

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