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Multi-Tier Intranet Ownership

By Paul Chin

Originally published in Intranet Journal (14-Nov-2005)

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Governing any large and diversified entity is a challenge—just ask the United Nations. The UN is an organization of autonomous states setup to promote international peace and security, economic development, and social equity. Although each member state agrees to work within the mission statement of the UN, they all have their own interests, agenda, and priorities. Unfortunately, conflicting interests and red tape have made many question the relevance of the UN.

Ownership over large multi-disciplinary intranets needs to be structured in a very similar fashion while avoiding the pitfalls of bloated bureaucratic procedure. An intranet can be used for a broad range of applications by an equally broad range of personnel. It can be used as an informational knowledge base by human resources, as a technical and user support center by IT, and as communications medium by communications and marketing. Every intranet section, or sub-site, is represented by a department or workgroup with its own interests and priorities. With all of this going on it's easy to allow an intranet to slip into a state of anarchy where the various intranet sub-site representatives fight to steer the direction of the overall intranet to suit their own objectives and goals.

How do we prevent these power struggles from threatening an intranet's single unified mission statement? How do we prevent the collaborative and diverse nature of an intranet from falling prey to a malicious coup d'état by some self-serving junta government? The answer is equal representation.


Components of Ownership

One of the great successes of an intranet is to make a diverse set of resources—technology, content, and personnel—operate as one seamless and cohesive unit. But this result doesn't happen without a certain level of cooperation among all those involved, those who have the foresight to see that the strength of another intranet sub-site can translate to the strength of their own section, and to a larger extent, to the strength of the entire system. All of these individual autonomous entities must work cooperatively in the best interest of the whole system. Coordination of this initiative, however, is often fraught with roadblocks.

Issues of ownership must first be addressed at lower levels before discussion of overall intranet ownership can take place. Although intranets vary from organization to organization, all are made up of three key areas of ownership that fall under the expertise of different groups:

(See my related articles on intranet standardization and multi-site consolidation for more on this subject.)


A Multi-Tier Owner Model

The biggest ownership mistake involving large multi-disciplinary intranets is to appoint a single department such as IT or Communications as the sole governing body of the system. An intranet has so many facets that it's next to impossible to run properly with a single owner, whether it be a person or a department. Not only will a single owner be unfamiliar with all aspects of an intranet, it also opens up the dangerous possibility of partisanship.

The most effective solution is not to give ownership to any existing department or group, but rather to form a governing body comprising all top-level intranet stakeholders—representatives of each core intranet sub-site and key IT personnel (see chart below for an example). The goal of an intranet governing body is to ensure that every core section of an intranet is represented, that an intranet's mission statement is upheld, and to prevent any one group from hijacking the site for their own purposes. IT, for example, usually has little vested interest in the validity and relevance of content, and content owners don't have the knowledge to select and manage the technological aspects of an intranet's backbone.

In order to manage the various representatives, an overseer needs be appointed to coordinate the efforts and activities of all governing body members. It's crucial that the overseer be independent and non-partisan, and open to all ideas and suggestions brought forth by governing body members. The overseer keeps both the intranet and it's management team flowing freely, acting as an administrator, mediator, and key decision-maker.

This is not to say that content owners don't have any say in the direction of their own sub-site. They have the autonomy to govern their sub-site to meet department or workgroup specific requirements as long as they abide by the various standards agreed upon by the intranet governing body. The user-base directly under each sub-site can filter concerns and suggestions upwards to the sub-site owner who can in turn bring up these issues with their governing body representative (which can sometimes be the same person).

Multi-tiered goverance model

Example of a multi-tier intranet ownership model



Reasons for Implementing a Multi-tier Ownership Model
  • To determine and regulate development and technology standards.
  • To determine and maintain content presentation standards.
  • To promote fairness and equity among all intranet stakeholders.
  • To act as peacekeeper, resolving conflicting goals between different sub-site owners.
  • To ensure that no one special interest group hijacks the intranet for their own partisan purposes.
  • To determine the future direction of an intranet.
  • To maintain the overall integrity of an intranet.
  • To maintain an intranet's mission statement.

Managing the Present and the Future

The most important responsibility of an intranet governing body is to maintain the integrity of the current system and to direct the course for future enhancements. Even though all intranet members abide by the mission statement of the system as a whole, they all have their own goals and requirements as defined by the immediate user-base within their own department or group. Sometimes these goals don't jibe with the objectives of other sub-site owners. Without a proper intranet governing body, an intranet can easily be pulled into too many different directions, attempting to be everything to everyone.

A multi-tier intranet governing body helps a system, and those involved in its day-to-day operation, remain focused. An intranet's mission statement shouldn't be treated like a catchphrase, it should be adhered to. If there's ever a need to modify an intranet's mission statement, it must be agreed upon by all members of the governing body.

Future enhancements for large multi-disciplinary intranets can be tricky—especially if it represents a substantial jump from the current state of the system. Major changes can include:

The challenge is not only in determining what should be done, but also in getting governing body members to agree to the proposed changes. As with any cooperative entity, however, you will never get 100 percent consensus. Working within a large governing body requires compromise; it's a give and take affair. Initiatives deemed important to some might be deemed superfluous to others. This is the precise reasoning behind a multi-tier governing body.


Closing Thoughts

It's important not to allow an intranet governing body to mutate into some stagnant bureaucratic monster forever stuck in discussion and never getting anything done. It's the overseer's responsibility to hear out all the arguments and proposals, but also to know when to say enough is enough, and render a decision that leads to action. The point of a multi-tier intranet ownership model isn't to create more bureaucracy, but to ensure that a system continues to move forward as a unified whole, where each sub-site is represented equally in the true spirit of a cooperative intranet.


Copyright © 2005 Paul Chin. All rights reserved.
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