Don't Settle for an Unsuitable Intranet

By Paul Chin

Originally published in Intranet Journal (30-Apr-2007)

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If you've ever done any channel surfing during the day you'll know there's no shortage of talk shows that like to dwell on the misfortunes arising from troubled or failing relationships. Couples blather on and on to the Dr. Phil's, the Greg Behrendt's, and heaven forbid, the Jerry Springer's, about what one partner's not doing enough of, what the other partner's doing too much of, or why their dishes have made that transformation from dinnerware to projectile.

At the center of all these complaints is a familiar misconception that many intranet seekers should be aware of: The idea that something, no matter how mismatched, is better than nothing.

When Desperation Trumps Demand

It's naïve to think that you can always get exactly what you want in any given situation. The realities and demands of business—especially the limitations on available resources—often affect the development or procurement of an IT system. But that doesn't mean you have to settle for the first thing that comes your way simply to have something in place. There are risks in using the wrong tool to support the right processes.

Balancing what you want to do and what you're able to do is an exercise in compromise. A lack of resources—whether it be financial, personnel, or time—force us to differentiate want from need. In IT, this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Systems developed around want can lead to bloatware and overly complex Jack-of-all-trades intranets, but there's also an inherent danger in buying or building an unsuitable system with a "this will do for now" attitude. This misperceived lack of alternatives can cause system seekers to grab hold of the first thing they find and—even after discovering all its flaws and incompatibilities—hang on to it for dear life. The results of this are not always pretty.

I'm not advocating a long, drawn-out search for a so-called perfect intranet solution; I don't even think there is such a thing as a "perfect match." The compatibility between system and user community isn't measured in black-and-white; it's not a matter of perfection versus imperfection. Suitability is measured in varying degrees. The job of intranet teams is to find as close a match as possible. A system that meets the immediate needs of the largest segment of the user community while still having room to grow to meet future requirements is as "perfect" as it gets.

The Consequences of an Unhealthy Dependence

"At least we have something," should be an eye-opening statement of caution, not consolation.

Besides the waste of time, effort, and money—which are the easiest losses to measure—there's a less apparent consequence to settling for an unsuitable system and tying it to vital business processes: You run the risk of forming an unhealthy dependency on that system.

When an unsuitable intranet is ingrained in business processes—and more importantly, in business culture—the two eventually become inseparable, making it more difficult to split up in the future. Users will be habituated to the system and lose their ability to recognize its deficiencies. They will accept all its faults as a matter of fact, not knowing that there's a better way.

Over time, this dependency may make it difficult to implement a more suitable solution because of the effort that will be required to undo the binds that tie the system to the process, and to re-educate users on a new system. In these cases, relying on an unsuitable intranet over a long period of time can be more dangerous than not having one at all. Users get sucked into a comfort zone vortex whereby, despite all the system's flaws and inadequacies, they stick to it because it's familiar and it's been around for a long time. But there are things you can do to prevent these types of mismatches.

Tips on Finding a Suitable Intranet Match

Closing Thoughts

Settling is often caused by a common misconception that you have no other viable choice, that you have to accept undesirable circumstances for lack of an alternative. But with a little effort, and being a little more selective, you'll discover that there is something better out there. So forget about all those daytime talk show hosts and listen to Mick Jagger, "You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes... well, you just might find you get what you need."

Copyright © 2007 Paul Chin. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of this article in whole or part in any form without prior written permission of Paul Chin is prohibited.