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The largest (physical) intranet gathering in the world!

Meeting LogoThe yearly Congres Intranet, organized by Entopic in The Netherlands, is said to be the largest physical gathering of its kind in the world. The 2012 (4th) edition was almost sold out. It comes therefore as no surprise that this is the Dutch Intranet Event of the year, where nearly all your intranet contacts can be found in person.

It was interesting to see that two of the three keynote speakers (James Robertson and Michael Sampson) were from the other side of the world.  Also Jane McConnell was present for breakout sessions. There may be an opportunity for a Dutch intranet “guru”!

What was the main theme?
Of course everyone will have a different takeaway, depending on their choice of breakout sessions. For me they were “traditional hierarchy versus modern democracy on intranet” and “an intranet should reflect your business goals”.  

James Robertson: Intranet trends and innovations
James Robertson showed us three life stages of an intranet (Ad Hoc, Useful and Essential). He also showed us that an Essential intranet is Valuable, Smart, Human and Mobile, with examples from his Intranet Innovations Awards. The examples from Mobile focused on “6 things that you need when away from your desk” rather than making your complete intranet available in mobile version. One interesting observation: when an interface can be simple and intuitive on a smartphone, why is it so complicated on the desktop? Food for thought for designers!

Michael Sampson: Internal collaboration with intranet
Michael made us sing, illustrating what chaos can come from wanting to do many different things on an intranet (nicely complementing Steve Bynghall’s “The battle for the intranet homepage”).
Currently, there are four topics struggling for space and attention: Corporate Communications, Policies and Procedures content, Workflow processes and Collaboration. The first three are top-down and hierarchical. Collaboration is a recent but very important addition, and has introduced different ways of feedback, decision making and risk and rewards as opposed to the more traditional, hierarchical way of intranet and content management.
Michael also demonstrated in a fun way how a large audience is never homogeneous but can (and should) be sliced-and-diced into various different subgroups to meet different needs.

Breakout sessions
Those different needs were met by giving participants a choice of three breakout sessions. This is always a little frustrating since you know you will miss interesting sessions like Community Management at Philips, Knowledge Management on the intranet at Shell, or an intranet based on Pleio, the Dutch Government’s intranet platform.

James Robertson: Best practices for intranet design
James stated that good intranets should be Planned, Usable, Beautiful and Useful. He showed good examples of each category and mentioned simple tools to make it happen.

MetrixLab: Usability Mythbusters
In a usability lab 50 kilometres away from the congress venue, a tester was performing tasks on intranets submitted by attendees. We could hear her talk through the steps she was taking, watch her face and see her eye movements tracked on screen. Very informative, but also disheartening, to see someone struggle with a task that an intranet manager thinks is easy. The message is clear: do usability testing with different people!

Some of the myths busted were:
1: Nobody sees the right-hand column. But if the column stands out (e.g. by colour, larger font or call to action) and contains the expected information, it will be seen. Search is often on the right-hand side as well!
2. Important information should be available in three clicks max. If you have the right information scent, and the user has the idea they are getting near, more clicks are acceptable.
3. Users do not scroll. They do, as long as they know there is something under the fold. The Dutch online news site nu.nl does this quite well: the right column has a different format than the main column, so you always see there is more.

Jane McConnell: A fresh perspective on social intranet governance
Jane McConnell had another division of intranet into different parts, this time related to governance. Since intranets have moved from 100% top-down, central, managed content to a mix of managed information (corporate news, reference materials, tools), structural collaboration (planned, in projects, on documents) and social collaboration (unplanned, unstructured), the governance may need to be more mixed too. And if your intranet has more entry points (PC, smartphone, tablet) it is even more important to rethink your governance.
You may also want to include stakeholders who are more involved with people outside your organization, such as Marketing, Sales and Operations.
She also stressed the importance of a mission statement for your intranet and gave some good examples. (See also the Intranet Manifesto of the City of Malmö )

Menno Lanting: Digital leadership in a social intranet
The final keynote was by Dutch organization strategist, writer and speaker Menno Lanting, who discussed the leadership changes needed in the face of a rapidly changing world, where digital natives (who have grown up with computers and who are used to write to or comment on anybody and anything, regardless of hierarchy) need to work with digital immigrants (the rest of us :-)). And the immigrants are usually in the more senior positions. You can guess that this will lead to hilarious or disturbing situations. But he also gave some good advice on how leaders can deal with the friction that may arise from this divide. 

What about the Digital Workplace?
Yes, we did talk about the Digital Workplace, but it was mostly used to replace the word intranet. Of course system integration, the “new way of working” and the increasing importance of mobile and tablets were discussed, but the focus was still on a page that you watch on a computer in the office. But that only shows we need more discussion about what the Digital Workplace really means! (You may want to join Mark Morrell’s discussion.)

What’s next?
You can view the presentations (many in Dutch) on the Congres Intranet web site.
Entopic will organize a contest for “The best intranet of the Netherlands” from April to October 2012 and organize three small-scale meetings. And of course all Dutch intranet managers are looking forward to edition 2013!

About the author.
This is a guest post by Ellen van Aken. Ellen is an IBF associate who has experience in many aspects of intranet management. She has been responsible for intranet adoption at Sara Lee.

About the author

Ellen van AkenEllen van Aken is a DWG associate with more than 12 years of experience in various aspects of intranet/SharePoint management in multinational companies (Sara Lee and AkzoNobel).

Her favourite digital workplace topics are language and labelling, content housekeeping and streamlining work processes without sending documents via email.

When not online she likes reading, hiking and going to a play or concert.

Connect with Ellen on Twitter: @EllenvanAken or Google +.

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