Unique intranet sites can become problematic and obsolete before they’re even finished. Business social offers a faster, less expensive, and more efficient alternative that can reduce intranet website customization across an enterprise.
While the ability to craft unique websites was once a hallmark of cutting-edge technology, today it causes far more problems than it might solve.
First, it wastes money as individual business units draw on the time of communications teams and web designers to perfect their ideal site. By the time the site is finished, it may already be outdated or even obsolete. If it is still useful, it complicates internal intranet systems and search functions with its unique design and clashes with every other site. Navigating an intranet built of hundreds of separately designed areas is disorienting and confusing, making it more difficult for units to collaborate with each other.
By converging on a single, standard Morgan Stanley global platform, one that is modern enough to allow for individual tailoring but unified in its overall structure, Morgan Stanley can save millions of dollars by eliminating piecemeal development efforts. Indeed, a business social platform can provide a compelling intranet experience largely out-of-the-box.
In this article we look at some history worth repeating: how the lessons of ancient and modern advances encourage us to adapt to digital social collaboration technologies for increased efficiency.
It sounds something like a joke: what could the Nile river, the interstate freeway, and the enterprise intranet have in common? This question, however, is not a joke, but a riddle, and its answer holds a key to boosting productivity and communication in any modern business setting.
To briefly recap ancient history, the Nile is a massive river that flows through an otherwise uninhabitable desert in Africa’s north-eastern corner. Thousands of years ago, when people discovered the secret to farming the Nile’s rich floodplains, small communities began to form along the river’s impressive banks. Once able to feed themselves, the Egyptians discovered vast natural resources: gold, copper, jewels, stone, and a cornucopia of agricultural varieties. Unfortunately, most of these resources were isolated, making it difficult to maximize their use.
Yet, transporting goods and services via camels or horses was difficult and time-consuming, especially when seasonal flooding could wipe out roads for months at a time. Naturally, then, Egyptians turned to the river itself as a method of transportation. As communities unified into a country, local authorities organized massive trades of goods between areas in large boats. National municipal projects created locks and dams along the Nile to make such transportation faster and easier.
Suddenly, metal and gem mines in drier areas could import enough food to maintain large populations of workers. Increased wealth from these commodities encouraged fertile areas to organize large-scale farming projects that produced even greater quantities of food, which in turn allowed for greater excavations and larger projects. The inevitable surplus allowed other communities to advance and excel in making luxury items and advancing scientific research.
It was this collaboration of diverse specializations that allowed one of the earliest human civilizations to ferry millions of tons of stone hundreds of miles and create monuments that still inspire awe and wonder today.
Fast-forward a few millennia to a more familiar era, one in which America was building its economic empire. Politicians and entrepreneurs alike saw a situation not too far removed from the one in Ancient Egypt. While railroads crisscrossed a vast country as best as they could, many resources remained locked in areas where railroads were either geographically impossible or economically unsupportable.
Enter the Interstate Highway System. President Eisenhower championed the creation of a great road network running smoothly across the country. An absence of traffic stops or sharp curves allowed for higher speeds, decreasing travel time and increasing efficiency. This pinnacle of American roadwork perfected the interstate as the “Nile” of America, allowing goods to move rapidly from the smallest village in California to the most remote town in Main. Many historical experts agree that the evolution of the freeway was what allowed America to boom in the mid-to-late 20th century.
Today, the economic world has a new kind of river. The idea of the internet as an “information superhighway” is old, but that only encompasses a small portion of what such a river can do.
Imagine a business as a country of small communities. Each section has its own specializations and focuses, but often they each much support themselves in other ways, much like a mining village growing its own food. Social collaboration and networking tools allow divisions to “import” and “export” work smoothly through a vast network, allowing each group to focus further on their own goals.
With such an increase in focus, the smallest of changes can have major impacts and results. Perhaps one group within a corporation discover, by pure chance, a method for saving a considerable amount of time when completing a certain task.
In the village metaphor, this discovery would spread slowly or not at all as word-of-mouth trickled out from the village. Perhaps the local mayor hears of it, and issues a bulletin about the discovery, but then that information has to seep down through layers of management to get back to the people whom it could affect.
With social networking and centralized collaboration, this discovery rockets out of the village and onto the nearest major highway, where it zooms down to a central distribution center. From there, it divides and spreads out through the whole surrounding area. Thanks to increased specialization and information management, the time-saving method is delivered directly to those who could best implement it. Or perhaps it’s delivered equally and personally to all individuals: instead of being buried in a mass email, each targeted user sees a cheerful notice strategically placed next to information related to the time-saving method. The potential methods of delivery and applications of technology are limited only by the imagination of those navigating the intranet river.
Perhaps the metaphor isn’t perfect, but it does illustrate the key point. History has taught us that a fast, centralized method of traffic can greatly accelerate the productivity of everyone connected to that network, no matter if that traffic consists of boats, cars, or digital information. All that remains is to use this modern river to the best advantage.
In this article we consider the difficulties of locating subject matter experts in a corporate setting and look at several digital solutions.
Despite all the FAQs, the tutorials, the walkthrough videos, the information databases, the reference resources, the troubleshooting databases, the searchable help indexes, and the advice blogs, there are still times when it’s necessary to find a real person. Perhaps an expert opinion is required on a specific topic, or a solution is needed to a problem that no one else has experienced before. When these occasions arise, users need methods of locating actual people who are experts in these fields.
Unfortunately, the phonebook is no longer a reliable option. Attempting to search the internet directly from Google is akin to the proverbial hunt for an honest politician: it’s hard to distinguish actual experts with real knowledge from those who fake it for financial gain. While these fakers will always sneak their way into the mix, there are two methods emerging on the internet for identifying real experts with sound advice. Both of these systems can be employed within a corporate setting, allowing people from all corners of a company to seek and share the best of their knowledge.
The first and more obvious solution takes its cue from LinkedIn. Originally imagined as a Facebook for business professionals, LinkedIn has become the phonebook of the internet, allowing users to list their areas of expertise and find other experts based on an assortment of criteria. Translating this to a corporate environment makes a certain amount of sense: having a method of finding all the experts on a particular subject who work within a company can make the process of consulting such experts faster and easier.
Having a “directory of knowledge” within a company isn’t difficult, but it isn’t always enough. Anyone who has tried to manage a collaborative effort knows that the process of emailing multiple people and getting pages of contrasting advice can be a headache and a half. It’s hard to tell on a directory who might be too busy, or away, or simply unwilling to help for any number of valid reasons. Thus, while an up-to-date directory that includes areas of expertise is an important tool, it doesn’t quite solve the problem of drawing on expert opinion.
A better solution is to form what some term “communities of interest.” These are groups of people connected through a forum or other social collaboration medium, united by an expertise and interest in a particular topic. In such groups, a question can be posed, discussed, and answered by any and all members who are available to address the issue. Additionally, such groups can direct more specific queries to experts in those areas.
Such communities are already widely popular on the Internet, and highly useful. Technology companies often create such forums and open them to the public to help users collaborate and troubleshoot issues. Other groups are formed out of a desire to discuss topics with other interested parties and inadvertently become problem resolution teams. Programmers, developers, artists, and writers have carved their own spaces on the internet in which to share their expertise and collaborate on difficult issues.
In a corporate setting, such collaborations can be invaluable. By organizing people of expertise into collaborative groups, they can aid each other, bringing their combined strength to each of their individual tasks. Instead of hunting down and meeting or emailing a dozen different experts, those who seek help can turn to a group that already exists, and use the benefits of a forum setting to work out the best solution to their issue. What’s more, the employees themselves are happy to help, as so doing helps them form their reputation within the organization, which can lead to new opportunities.
There’s an old saying: two heads are better than one. By employing these strategies, an individual gains not a second point of view, but a dozen, allowing any smart employee to quickly brainstorm issues with those best suited to solve them. Human resources are amplified through the power of social collaboration, sparing everyone a good deal of time, effort, and aggravation.
For an enterprise, utilizing a enterprise social network to create Subject Matter Expert directories and focused communities of interest creates essential repositories of knowledge that not only benefits users attempting to locate SMEs but also eliminates the time and effort often wasted as traditional email and in-person requests are passed around from one contact to another. Creating an SME database as well as collaborative communities of interest connects seekers directly to the correct expert, getting questions answered, requests processed, and problems solved with speed and efficiency.
In this new era of enterprise, innovation and invention give business an unprecedented plethora of new tools for sharing information. Holding a video conference between people on opposite sides of the planet seems normal. Overhead projectors have been replaced by tablet computers. Cellphones are as powerful as laptops, allowing anyone to access almost anything, anytime, anywhere. Applications move data from one machine to the next and to the cloud and back seamlessly; other applications automate schedules, filter data based on relevancy, and otherwise optimize the process of social collaboration.
Despite this amazing technology, however, actual collaboration is still haphazard. No example is more telling than the backbone of intra-company communication: the enterprise intranet.
A corporate intranet functions much like a patchwork quilt. Each unit or division contributes its own small patch of data, and web designers or collaboration software “sew” those patches together into a “quilt” that provides a detailed map of the company as a whole.
However, many intranets remain poor blankets no matter how advanced the web design or software. Individual patches run larger or smaller, overlapping with redundant information and leaving large gaps between the fabric. In addition, each group may choose to present their information with different color schemes, templates, and navigation systems, causing patches to “clash” as if they didn’t belong to the same quilt. Attempts to organize those patches can take months, and by the time a web designer or oversight group has fixed the current “quilt,” much of the data could be outdated and useless.
One solution is to force a strict set of standards on all units. In this metaphor, making all patches the same size and color. While that might not produce an exciting quilt, it should at least create an intranet of relevant data, organized and easy to navigate.
Unfortunately, problems still arise. Units and divisions within a business are not symmetrical and even. In cutting all patches down to the same size, cloth is sacrificed from larger patches. Smaller patches may not contain enough cloth to fill the assigned space. In intranet terms, essential data will be lost and the network will still appear to be missing data where it isn’t. Perhaps more importantly, the set of standards must inevitably be forced to alter due to the ever-changing corporate and technological landscapes. All work done to fit each division into the old set of standards will be obsolete.
How, then, can a company intranet organize itself? To answer this question, consider the quilt metaphor. No one expects various patches to simply fit themselves together based on algorithms, but neither must the seamstress be a world-famous fashion designer. Patches may be unique, but the quilt works best when all patches share complementary colors and designs. Above all, no one can expect ten different seamstresses to each work on a fraction of the quilt independently and then fit them together seamlessly afterward: quilts are a collaborative effort, requiring shared planning and oversight.
This then gives a good standard for intranet creation and maintenance. All units need not conform to identical standards, but a set of guidelines should ensure that templates and color schemes are complementary. A single type of “thread” – a single overriding navigation protocol – should govern the entire intranet system. Most importantly, there must be a head seamstress: a group of people who manage the site as a whole, fitting the pieces together, mentoring units in the creation of their part of the site, and moderating the intranet as a whole. As active custodians, this group can also adapt to change and implement necessary alterations throughout the network.
A well-made quilt can be an excellent insulator on cold nights. Needless to say, a well-made enterprise intranet full of easily accessible data is even more useful, saving time and money by allowing employees to find what they need quickly, reducing redundant efforts, and eliminating updating processes that are out-of-date before they’re implemented. By creating an efficient corporate intranet, a company fosters efficient collaboration between units within itself.
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