BOOK AND SOFTWARE REVIEWS
White, Martin. The intranet management handbook. London: Facet Publishing, 2011. xx, 233 p. ISBN 978-1-85604-734-0. £44.95.
"Intranets present a very significant challenge because of the range of tasks that they typically support." (p. 154) This particular characteristic of intranets that makes them so different from any Website influences the whole nature, structures, and features of the organizational intranets. And yet, there are so few organizations that really understand this difference between their internal communication and information through intranets. I am just a university teacher who does not do much consultancy work and meet the practical examples of the things I talk about through my students or research projects. Still, I am surprised by the amount of incredibly awful intranets in public and private organizations, even those who have huge IT departments. I was always puzzled why the organizations spend huge amounts of money buying software and then fail in organizing their information properly, training their staff as users and taking responsibility for their own communication and information tool. Then I overheard a high-level manager in a big company interviewed by one of my colleagues for her project. He was jokingly commenting on the interview: "The company has biggest market share and makes enormous profits and there is this woman asking how we handle information. Isn't it funny?" I didn't get the joke as, in my mind, the quality of information activities is connected to the success of the company, but another businessman was laughing. Obviously for them they were entirely disconnected ideas. Mind you, banks got it right, at least the ones that I have visited and looked at their intranets. Obviously, their activities depend on clear structures, reliable data, updated documents, and literate usage.
I think that Martin White is the best expert in the field to produce the intranet management handbook. His expertise within organizations implementing intranets is huge, there is no question that he knows the subject and the object of his book. But he also knows how to present the vital recommendations, explain difficulties and the significance of one or another task, promote ideas, and persuade the reader to take action by demonstrating the possibilities and advantages for organization.
The book consists of four parts consequently elaborating the process of working with intranets. The first part on foundations introduces the tasks of intranet managers and discusses their position within organizations. This picture was easily recongnizable from my little experience with intranets. This part also includes several basic issues of the intranet development. Well, they would be basic for the development and implementation of any information system: defining user requirements, designing content creation principles, making a business case and selling it to the managers of the company. There is a particular chapter devoted to collaboration within organization that I would see as a part of user requirements definition having in mind that an intranet can be used as a collaboration suppport tool, but this issue is quite specific and gained much attention lately, so it deserves a separate chapter.
The second part deals with technology and mainly the issues of software selection and systems management. SharePoint is used as an example of intranet software.
Parts three and four are closest to my own interests and I was really pleased that most of the issues I tried to include in my teaching of organizational information management perfectly fit with the management of an intranet. That definitely boosted my own self-esteem to think that I was right to introduce intranets as one of information management tools. The author confirmed my belief once again drawing attention to the relation between intranet and information management in the final chapter. The third part not only rests on the basic principles of information management. It is more important that it provides good practical advice, examples of tools and methods, as a proper handbook should do.
Part four handles probably the most difficult issue of the intranets - setting the governance, ensuring stable and continuous funding responsibilities and developing a strategy. However, it is so very practical, that any practitioner will recognize the situations and will be able to act upon the provided guidelines.
We have good theoretical and research literature on various aspects of information managment (though not a lot). We also have other useful guides on different information management issues (not enough). So, this handbook will be a good addition to the earlier ones. I would think that most intranet managers know of it already, but for those who missed it I recommend it highly.