Presenting at the Intranet Now conference

Last week I attended the Intranet Now conference in London, ostensibly to find out the latest goings on in the digital world, but also to help build a bit of profile for the work that the University of Leicester is doing on our Digital Campus.

When I was asked to give a nine minute ‘lightning’ presentation at the conference by the wonderful Wedge, I thought hard about the insights I could give from a learning institution to a conference mostly based upon what’s going on in the corporate world.

I based the presentation on the concept of providing a front door to the wealth of tools available through our digital campus with the cunning use of football teams and computer games. More on that is available in the presentation itself.


As to the conference itself, for me there were a number of key lessons to be learnt from all the digital knowledge and internal communications expertise in the room. While there is no one way to approach creating and maintaining an intranet (after all, don’t they reflect the organisation itself?) there are a number of approaches and themes that we can follow.

Information architecture

Zzzzzzzz….* Sorry, those words usually provoke an outbreak of narcolepsy, but this is the bread and butter (or jam and peanut butter) of the intranet game, and Alan Tanner talked brilliantly on the need to align your content based on the way people look for information, much like the way supermarket shelves are organised. They will make assumptions based on previous experience, like knowing that peanut butter lives with the jam, despite the lack of signage for the delicious nut-based spread.

This need to take your content seriously was hammered home by Martin White, whose quick and easy formula allowed me to calculate that the University of Leicester has paid people across the organisation something to the tune of some £50 million over the last year to create online content, so what we do online really matters to the bottom line (this is a very vague estimate, based on an average of 40 minutes per day content creation per person, so please nice Finance team, don’t hammer down my door).

Consult, change, consult again

A few speakers, Kelly Freeman and Lisa Riemers in particular, discussed the need to talk and listen. Indeed, this was the closing point in my talk, but it bears repeating. If you don’t listen to your users or ask the right questions at the right times, then you are doomed to fail, as Laura Jones from the Co-op illustrated so brilliantly with her analogy of a beautifully designed car that met the brief of a four wheeled vehicle with an engine.

They just forgot to ask the additional question which would have elicited the response “it needs to cut the grass too”.

I was very pleased to hear so many people making points that I make myself on a daily basis regarding intranet development. The need to listen, to really understand what your minimum viable product is, the importance of task-based navigation, making sure your values permeate in a useful way, using champions in the organisation to back your work up, and managing based on use, not technology.

Wider insight

What was also great about the day was the chance to hear a wider perspective on internal comms. Firstly from Rita Zonius, who talked of the power of the wirearchy, the early adopters who are proving that the size and shape of your networks is far more important than your pay grade in a digitally enabled business.

This tallied with the ‘Working out loud’ culture of sharing your insights online and among your networks that Rachel Miller (who it was a joy to share a table with) has talked about and championed at some length.

And secondly from Scott McArthur who freewheeled through some fantastic insights, which I’ll summarise with two quotes. The first comes from the late, great Douglas Adams “We’re stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works”.

DLYIbhKXoAEsM8vHis second quote dates back more than 2000 years, something of an anomaly in a conference about the digital workplace, but more relevant than ever when trying to win hearts and minds “Opinions are like nails, the harder you hit them, the deeper inside they go.”

Final thoughts

I’d like to thank the organisers, Brian and Wedge who made Intranet Now a pleasure to attend and be a part of, and the many lovely people I met as part of the day. Here’s to awesome digital workplaces. May your Sharepoint be full and fruitful and your Yammer never stop yammering.

Check out the hashtag on Twitter for loads of awesome people sharing their insights.


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