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Stagnant Intranets, or, Suck Intranet

Bill bookmarked this nice little piece by Shel Holtz about stagnant innovation in intranets. It asks the basic question that many of you have heard me ask, “if there’s so much innovation and development on the public web, why does the behind-the-firewall web suck so much?” More importantly, why is it so expensive?

I like his answers, as both of them are people and culture related (I’ve run them through The Coté Filter, so perhaps they’ve morphed a little):

  • The decision makers don’t know about the great new stuff on the public web. Meaning, they don’t know that what they have sucks.
  • Companies have spent so much money on existing intranets that it’d be career damaging to say, “remember those millions we spent on the intranet? Yeah, that was a bad idea, we can do even better than that for a fraction of the cost…I think.”

The second, of course, has to be one of the pillars of enterprise software. It’s can be key to defending the chasm: once a customer (the person of people buying the software) has convinced their org to spend bags of cash on a “solution,” that customer is highly motivated to prove that their decision was right.

This isn’t to be dismissive of all enterprise software, just those installs that you look at and immediately think, “why would you keep using that?” Personally, expense reporting, trouble ticket, and time card software comes to mind ;>

Low Exit Cost

On the customer end, this gets to Sun’s notion of lowering the cost of exit (I must have the phrase wrong since I can’t fund a reference to it online). In the case of intranet software, the possibilities are ever changing: you can’t create an intranet in 2001 and expect it to be less than high suckage a few years later. Getting even a few years traction out of it is difficult.

So, this means the ability for you to dump your current, sucky intranet “platform” needs to be low. But this “low” means not only cash-wise, but career-wise. It may be low cost to port all your data from the Suck Intranet platform to Cool Intranet platform, but if you’ve paid millions for Suck Intranet, you’re going to look bad.

Some Sniff-Tests

Getting out of that cycle is difficult, but focusing on systems that are as open as possible is one of the best hedges. Indeed, asking vendors how easy it would be the migrate to other platforms is a great way to start the conversation.

Of course, on the topic of Intranets, keeping up with all this nutty Web 2.0 stuff and asking vendors what their search, tagging, social voting, blog, wiki, and user generated content offerings are even better. Ask them the how different your intranet will look and function from the public internet — including the frequency of updates and new “sites” — and start questioning the differences. Perhaps a good short hand would be, “what’s your feed URL?” The quicker they answer, the better your chances ;>

Disclaimer: Sun is a client.

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Categories: Blogs, Enterprise Software, RSS, Social Software.