May 182011
 

  

I have to admit I dozed off for a bit and missed a few presentations… Shame! I did record them and will listen to them soon.

The Organisation of the whole event was great, the ease of participating, and the feedback by Q&A all very informative. There were several intranet sites of different levels, a few of them I already had the “pleasure” of working with:

British American Tobacco. I worked for BAT as a 2nd Line support analyst and also ran a few projects for their support services. That was around the time, new designs where implemented and the intranet started to get the professional look it has now.

Also as a Domino applications developer an intranet site running on Lotus Domino v7 is a real challenge as building web enabled and dynamic applications on that platform is close to Chinese torture. Therefore, I really liked how far they managed to stretch the capabilities.

British Telecom. As one of our customers I had seen some parts of the intranet site, but the complete overview was quite good. I liked their focus on micro-blogging and the use of RSS to push news out. Also their BTpedia knowledge wiki was an impressive demonstration of corporation without too much control in a corporate environment that gives a clear advantage to the business.

Aside from those, I liked the overview of Aviva, the first presented, which had an impressive presence of their forum, which, aside from a set of guidelines was a clearly open interaction between all employees.

The Yammer overview was good and gave us all a lot of arguments to convince company management for the implementation of any social elements to the intranet we work on.

News feeds where also very well demonstrated by Reynolds Porter Chamberlain who had a very nice embedded newsreader that was customised for each employee when joining the organisation. Aside from that the focus was more on the social aspect than on the news.

The social element was the core of the presentation by the National Field team. They demonstrated a site that resembled facebook/Yammer a lot! I believe that this would cause a huge drop in productivity in a business environment, but doe fit the culture and situation very well. The positive side of this is that the adoption by staff is easy as the environment is recognisable.

In the talk about Open Leadership from Charlene Li, one of the phrases that caught my attention was “CEO’s are terrified of losing control… But they don’t have control anyway!” She also gave a lot of arguments for a more social environment where control is loosened and cooperation is made easier.

Google showed lots of slides, and a bit of MOMA, their intranet based mainly (could not be different) based on search. Understandable when you hear about the amount of Data that they manage, but disappointing as most of us where hoping for a look in the kitchen.

Lovemachine and oDesk, both where very aligned to what they believe the intranet should be in the future, I liked that. Social and Open and this way removing any remains of Silos that could be limiting employees’ productivity and creativity.

That’s what I made notes of, I followed quite a few more, but I could not write anymore and eventually dosed off… hopefully the recordings will be online soon and we can have a look at the ones we missed and review the ones that really caught our attention.

General Highlights:

- Everyone was talking about the business need while maintaining:

- Accent on Social media implementations

- Accent on Openness and removing strict control

- In general Intranets are starting to look better and are more adapted to the company image while maintaining functionality and easy adoption.

Some Downsides

  • 24 hours is a Long run!
  • Enormous Sharepoint presence, I feel a bit of fear that Microsoft will soon dominate this market soon too, if not already. A lack of Google to give a compelling presentation did not help. BAT showed quality resistance though with their Lotus Domino based intranet.
  • Would have loved to record sound and image locally. I can imagine that the amount of participation and the value of the event would have dropped though.

Overall this was a great experience which I hope to repeat next year.

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May 062009
 

This morning I finished building the WSS Webserver we will use to build our intranet on. To be fair, it was very straight forward and did not gave me any issues aside form the speed, as I was working on a VM copy of the real server.

I made a virtual copy of the live server, to do a test run of the set-up. I used the VMware converter which is simple to use, and gives me an exact copy of the live server. I used this to complete the setup and configuration. This way, if any problems appear, I am aware of them and can prevent them from occurring on the live machine.

I did however encounter one small issue, which is completely my “fault”. I did not check in advance how to set up the email configuration for outgoing and incoming mail. The server is a standalone installation, not part of a farm, and I believe the WSS server, although standalone, should be able to benefit from the UK exchange environment for the mailing purposes.

Another thing I now have to have a look at is the way we will “upload” the custom applications we will be building. My best guess is that we will set up a site in IIS for each which we will link to from within the WSS site. However, I would have to have a look on how this can be done. Shared folder, Frontpage extensions, don’t know yet. We will be developing in wither visual studio, or on the VS Web developer express edition, and I’m not 100% sure what is the best way to publish the applications we build in there.

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May 052009
 

For about 5 years I have been working with IBM software. Mostly using Lotus Domino and Notes, designing applications. However I also looked at other technologies, like Websphere and DB2.

I have recently switched (well, I’m still switching) to comparable products from Microsoft. Mainly becasue the company I work for made the decision to stop using IBM for their internal mail and databases.

I do however believe that IBM, known as Big Blue, a big and slow organisation, was ahead of Microsoft concerning intranet software and ease of development back in the day’s they launched Websphere. I have been looking at an article on their website, that states that in 2006, their Intranet was listed in the Nielsen Norman Group Report: Intranet Design Annual 2006: Year’s Ten Best Intranets.

I never heard of that report before, and headed straight over for a look: http://www.nngroup.com/reports/intranet/design/. The report is for sale. 224$ and its yours. For me that is too expensive, and Im sure that my boss (who is likely to leave soon), would have a good laugh if I walk over to ask him for the money!

(reports from previous years still cost about 200$, which I still find very steep!)

However, it gave me a good impression what points to look at for our Intranet:

Some of the key areas for which best practices are presented in the report are:

  • Company and industry news
  • Integrating internal and external information sources
  • Editorial control of the intranet homepage
  • Keeping the intranet up-to-date
  • CEO blogging
  • Employee and department weblogs
  • Onboarding of new employees
  • Consistent navigation
  • Multilingual intranets; supporting international employees
  • Multimedia and video on intranets
  • Data visualization
  • Web 2.0 features on intranets
  • Community
  • Polls
  • Collaboration tools and discussion boards
  • Internal wikis
  • Employee self service
  • Search
  • Governance
  • Development process for intranet redesigns
  • Web analytics for intranets
  • Staffing of intranet teams; where they report in the organization
  • Updating and maintaining standards and guidelines for intranet design
  • Intranet branding
  • Promoting new intranet features
  • Staff directory and employee profile pages
  • Corporate calendars
  • Personalization
  • Customization
  • Alerts
  • Working with external design agencies

These points are things (call them features) they look at when evaluating intranet sites. I believe this to be a very complete list, and I’m sure that in a company our size (just looking at our office in Spain, we are about 300 people) can and will have to remove some of the points. Either because of difficulty of implementation (read: cost), Irrelevance or plain Overkill.

It looks like we have a Feature Checklist, with which we can start planning!

  • Intranet budgets and staffing
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    May 052009
     

    Seems like someone in the company has read the post about the intranet re-design. We received communication that a complete organisational layer will be disappearing! This was actually what I hoped for because I firmly believe in flat layered organisations. From what Ive seen in different companies, is that flatter organisations tend to embrace employee empowerment, are quicker in their decision making and more flexible in fast moving/changing markets (like the IT business we operate in).

    I also believe that this will enable me to design the intranet in a much more useful way. The platforms we implemented lately are web based platforms to enable and improve both horizontal and vertical communication. My biggest fear was that with the classic org-chart the company has here these platforms would not be used to the fullest. Especially when I received the first ideas from management, in which they actually wanted to implement the full structure of the organisation in the intranet design.

    As it looks now, I’d have to go back to the drawing board, which I’m happy with, because now it looks like we can design a modern intranet, that will actually enable cross-team communication and combine that with a sound knowledge management strategy.

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    Apr 212009
     

    As we are currently about to start implementing a sharepoint environment, this also implies that we will have to plan the Intranet.

    Currently we do not have any. Well, we have the intranet site of our English company headquarters, but that is hardly used, and does not interact with us. Meaning that we cannot add our content, links to our tools, etc. The Sharepoint implementation will give us the possibility of having our own intranet site. This is, I believe, very important. Mainly because being an IT company with a lot of different teams, spread over different floors using only email as a way of “digital communication” is … say… a bit outdated (Heavy understatement). This is especially true if you know that most problems we experience internally are due to communication problems (either lack of, incorrect or simply non-existing).

    The intranet could change that. Could, I say, because I believe that if not planned and managed correctly and across the board, an intranet can cause more problems than it was designed to resolve.

    Management manages this company in a very typical style, you could really apply the machine metaphor to this one! Top-Down and in very linear streams. It is really hard here to make different dept. managers talk with each other and even more if they have to work together.

    Lately there is a lot if buzz about 2.0 technologies, and how they can benefit communication outside work, but also in the office. Examples are company wiki’s, facebook-style people profiles etc.

    I am now looking into planning the whole new environment. Not because I’m asked to, but because “I can see the cloud hanging above me, and don’t feel to wait till its raining”… Call it being pro-active (but I will dedicate another post to that;) ).

    Personally I would like to make sure the intranet will give us these communication advantages and I believe that is also has to be future proof. My biggest fear is that the intranet ends up to be absorbed by “the Machine”, managed by a few upstairs who only care about their specific parts/departments or tools.

    I see that the modern organisation is flat, as flat as possible without interfering with operations. If you look at these new communication technologies, you see that these are enablers for this. Maybe they even push organisations is this direction. The problem is: “how to apply modern tools in a company whose management thinks in an old-fashioned way”

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    Mar 312009
     

    microsoft-office-sharepoint-logoA while ago, I wrote about the plans we had in my office for the move from Lotus Domino to MS Share point as a database driven application platform.

    This was quite a while back, but it looks like we will get some kind of approval soon.

    This is great, especially after it took me about a year to have senior management listen to me. Up until now, that has been my greatest headache. Mainly because I believe that applications we build here are a vital part of the organisation. If you can have them developed in-house,  you save a lot of money and you are sure they are fit for pourpose!

    Management, however could not see through the first layer, and somehow wanted applications to “just be there”. When I learnt how they thought about this, it was a lot easier to convince them. I spent the last months walking around, trying to sell applications that did not exist yet. Finally they saw want I meant.

    I can see now that there is a huge gap to bridge, because all this time I have been running around selling my big plans… I did not have a lot of time to continue training myself in this platform.

    o-oh!

    My manager, who lately is finding out what I’m busy with, signed me up with the company training system to start the MS course Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS): .NET Framework 2.0 Web Application. This, as it looks from the Lesson 1 viewpoint, will take me quite some time.

    To give some more details on the environment we will be working with, here it is. Be aware, this is not the company’s main Share point server landscape, nor it is part of it. This is purely for our 300 person office.

    We decided to go virtual, as the demands on the system where pretty low and the cost was a lot lower since we only pay for the licenses and had no hardware cost.

    Finally well go for one Virtual 2003 Server, running IIS, ASP.Net and WSS (I did try to get the full MOSS, but the licence cost was a bit too high :( ) and a virtual SQL server.

    To be honest I believe that this is fit for purpose, as the amount of usage (users / contents) will not be too high and if we exceed expectations the virtual servers can be upgraded quite easily.

    The next step will be planning the contents. I already presented some in the plans I’ve put forward, but these now need to be worked on. A lot!

    The most important plan is to re-design the Knowledge-management strategy within our office, and possibly within the whole company.  As I am also lecturing Knowledge Management internally, I really feel like being involved in this. I have been building the different knowledge bases we are using here, but this is a chance to setup the complete shop!

    We already had a couple of meetings to look at how we are going to approach this. Still pretty high-level, as this is something we will  have to convince management…. Again! However, in the IT Support business, I believe the case is quickly made. Especially looking at our current KM organisation, in which every account team runs its own K Base and the teams do not comunicate with each other. I think this is where WSS can make the biggest difference!

    Probably in one of my next posts, Ill explain a bit more about that!

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    Jan 272009
     

    This is a continuing story. Because I was not sure how to reply to the question asked, I did the least effective… I asked my boss. Not my direct report, but his boss.

    This caused quite a small storm in Barcelona. (completely unrelated to the devastating effects of wind force 10 this weekend – Pictures here -) the Service Support Manager in question reacted weird. I’m not sure, but to me it looked like he did not really know what to do with my question.

    I can imagine partly that that is so (which would not be a big problem to me, as nobody knows everything), However it seemed to me he felt attacked somehow.

    The issue is that we currently do not have a Solution Architect and his point was (I guessed) that we don’t want one neither. He did not say it, but I interpreted his way of explaining as: “Get that idea out of your head!”.
    When I asked him the initial question, it was more to see if he could maybe help me planning my career path towards such a position and nothing more (I believe carreer management is an important task for a manager?!?).
    When he was finishing his wave of discontent he ended by telling me that “this issue is something I will have to raise with the Director!”, making this story… To be continued….

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    Jan 212009
     

    Currently as I explained in the past, my role is the one of Technical leader. This, in our company is defined as:

    “To identify and exploit opportunities for service improvement within the ISC (our office) environment – both internally and within specific customer accounts. To drive and coordinate initiatives designed to achieve superior levels of service in line with Computacenter’s contractual agreements. To take responsibility for the managing of projects to enable teams to meet & surpass productivity and service standards.”

    I received a mail today in which a high positioned manager in my company asked me who in our office acts as a solutions architect.Now the role of Solutions Architect is one I had in the back of my head as a possible next step in my Career. I have never been a person that knows since day one what I want  in the future (being a Gemini in IT), but lately I have been looking into several different career paths ranging from consultancy to Solutions Architect.

    When I read that mail this morning, It was the first time the name Solutions Architect role caught my attention. I believe it did not before, due to the enormous amount of job titles available in IT (from which I believe most to be made up by HR staff that was not sure how to classify their staff – Also I sometimes get the feeling that people think that longer job titles are for more important roles, kind of like an extension of their …)

    I found that Microsoft offers a Certified Architect (MCA) certification path, which would prepare for this role. On their website they give a good idea what the role consists of(from their point of view):

    “Communicate mainly with business owners within a company and with the technical staff that delivers the solution. The projects they work on affect the enterprise and they design the solution to take advantage of the existing assets, integrate them into the existing environment, follow the enterprise architecture, and solve the business problems of the business owner or unit. They are primarily responsible for taking a project through envisioning and design, and are more consultative to the project manager during the development and deployment phases, ensuring the project stays true to the architecture, time-lines, and budgets. If problems occur, they are escalated to the solutions architect.”

    This is perfectly in line with my Job Description. Now I am aware of the differences between both definitions, but believe them to be very comparable. (Also the rest of my job description, which I cannot publish because of confidentiality) looks very similar.

    The next days Ill be looking into this, and mostly on how I can now direct my role to that of a Solutions Architect.

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