All things intranet at Interaction 2012
On Wednesday, I had the pleasure to attend the Interaction Intranet Conference 2012 (#iic12) in London—the only major intranet conference in the UK, despite the strength of the community in this region. I wasn’t sure what to expect—while it was billed as an industry event, it was organised by UK-based intranet software vendor Interact Intranet, and so there was always the concern as to how much product marketing angle there’d be. While there were a couple of presentations from Interact, these were certainly in the minority, and the goodwill that had already been built up from a generally open and educational program meant that there was no real cynicism about this. To be fair, Interact had really done their homework for the event, with some excellent speakers from around the world. They also had half a dozen or so customers showcasing their own intranets, and talking openly about their projects and design decisions. Delegates were also invited to offer up their own intranet home page design in a contest to find the most popular with everyone voting for their favourite—there were some great debates/arguments at the voting board, highlighting the subjectiveness of intranet design.
The presentations themselves covered a broad range of topics:
- James Robertson from Step Two Design kicked off the day with a talk on intranet design, and how this needs to be something you invest well in if you want your intranet to be successful, He talked about the need to put what people need to do their jobs at the heart of your intranet, using it to make their lives easier, for example by surfacing the parts of business apps that people actually use through a more simple, easy-to-use, intranet-based UI—something which can be relatively easy to do using the app’s API.
- Intranet Focus’ Martin White talked about the challenges of virtual teams and how we shouldn’t just expect people to adapt to this without any training; the complexities of having different mother tongues, different timezones, different public holidays (even within different parts of the UK), different cultural behaviours, etc. and how these are magnified dramatically in a virtual environment.
- Sam Marshall (from Clearbox Consulting)’s presentation focused on what drives people to adopt new tools, and included an interesting discussion about the value (or not) of gamification in intranets. He showed a RSA video about research into what motivates us, the result being that money only motivates people for simple, straightforward tasks, not for more complex tasks that require some thought. At a time where we are starting to hear more about the prospect of gamification tools in business apps, this type of research helps to shake some sense into those promoting the idea of badges for positive activity in a system—as Sam said, who wants a badge for booking a meeting room? We’re planning to write some more on this topic over the coming months—I’m enlisting my colleague Mark McGregor who has done lots of work in this field.
- Dachis Group’s Lee Bryant explored the use of social tools in business, and talked about the aim of creating some sort of “ambient awareness” within the organisation, i.e. replicating the idea of overhearing conversations that take place in a traditional office environment, you know—when you’re not really listening, but someone says something that is of significance to you and it makes you sit up and pay attention. This is an interesting theory, and one I like, although there are some caveats to it, which Michael Sampson raised later in the day.
- J.Boye founder Janus Boye presented on “Sharing is caring”, where he encouraged intranet managers to look at intranets not as a way to provide information, but as a platform to let people share information. He also advocated removing unnecessary content from your intranet, and highlighted Aviva’s example where they set a goal to delete 20% of their intranet content in preparation for migrating to a new platform, and then upon closer inspection found that they could legitimately delete 95% of their content. This prompted discussion as to whether deletion is really the right approach, or whether it should be archived, for example. The key is whether you are able to search effectively within it—if not, it has little value anyway.
- Michael Sampson rounded off the day with an excellent presentation on “the dangers of pushing collaboration too far”. In this, he talked about being selective about what you collaborate on—that not everything is best achieved through collaboration, sometimes you just need someone to make a decision. Similarly, getting work done often requires some individual activity—delegating specific tasks to people as part of a broader program of work. In order for people to get a sense of achievement, sometimes you have to give them enough autonomy to use their intelligence productively. Michael also talked about the effect of collaboration on different personality types, for example extroverts tend to embrace collaborative working styles more enthusiastically, loving the discussion process, while introverts prefer to not share their work until it is more refined and thought through. Introverts may also be less enamoured with social activity feeds, feeling that it is distracting and unsettling. You need to respect these personality types, rather than simply expecting everyone to work in the same way.
The most memorable session of the day was by the folks from the Intranetizen blog (Jonathan Phillips, Sharon O’Dea, Dana Leeson and Luke Mepham), who stole the show with a series of quick-fire, 5-minute presentations with only 15 seconds per slide using an automated slide show. In 20 minutes they covered intranet search, design no-no’s and advice for intranet sponsors. If you haven’t seen this presentation format before, I can thoroughly recommend it—not only is it very entertaining (Dana even managed to build in audience participation to hers), but it also encourages a more succinct approach to presenting, and lifts the mood, breaking up a long day of presentations. Seriously, I think every event should have at least one of these sessions.
So overall, it was a hugely valuable day for all involved, with lots of discussion, sharing of ideas and experiences, and networking among intranet practitioners and market experts. Pretty good result for a vendor conference ;-)