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Strategies in remediating and adapting to enterprise-scale shadow intranets

Knowledge management is the intelligence and communication backbone of any successful organization. Without holistic access control, operational transparency, or enterprise-wide shareability, organizations are at risk of poor-quality knowledge access with consistent friction generating negative user experience.

Elizabeth Schaefermann, senior product manager at Publicis Sapient, joined KMWorld’s webinar, “Shadow Intranets: Managing the “Whack-a-Mole” Problem for KM,” to offer their insight into why “shadow intranets” are created, how they impact business operations, and strategies in remediating its challenges for the betterment of knowledge management in your organization.

Schaefermann defines a shadow intranet as, “any side-site, microsite, hub, portal, page, or other content-set that resides outside of centralized, corporate standards, policies, legal requirements, or support. Often, there is also a lack of integration, transparency, or access.”

These harbingers of knowledge management inefficacy can make for a significant business risk.

Contextualizing Schaefermann’s delve into shadow intranets is Publicis Sapient’s partnership with LumApps, an enterprise focused on the business of intranets and digital transformation, in 2020. The partnership was driven toward migrating an on-premises intranet on Jive to Publicis Sapient’s cloud platform.

Shadow intranets are a created space; often they are born from a general unfamiliarity with the concept, a personal preference in KM, a distaste for the current KM system, or are formed because of a migration.

Schaefermann acknowledged that there can be some benefits to having a shadow intranet, such as potential for innovation or the somewhat faster KM access. They noted, however, that the disadvantages outweigh their potential advantages:

  • Experience fragmentation
  • Existing outside of standards and search
  • Hidden or redundant costs
  • Data loss
  • Security risks
  • Lack of support and reporting

Acceptance, Schaefermann explained, is the first step in amending the ways shadow intranets negatively impact KM within an enterprise. Unfortunately, new shadow intranets will always exist; enterprises must choose between ignoring, archiving, re-routing, assimilating, or integrating these entities to successfully overcome them.

Schaefermann offered four strategies to adapt to shadow intranets which include: set direction and boundaries; find common ground; host the shadow intranet; or integrate the entity within your enterprise structure.

Setting direction and boundaries consists of a governance-centered approach to rectify shadow intranets. Creating clear governance with published, shareable guidance for KM and defined accountability, as well as spreading awareness of risks, will both recognize the shadow intranet at enterprise scale while making employees conscious of the risks and disadvantages.

The goal is to eventually escalate to strong executive sponsorship for re-routing, intending to dissuade your enterprise workforce from engaging in the shadow intranet system.

Those seeking a solution that embraces the shadow intranet while instituting guidance and governance may want to try finding common ground—the second strategy—which ultimately aligns metadata across platforms.

Leveraging the shadow intranet to provide space for suggestions of new tools and keep tabs on emerging technology both acknowledges its presence while boosting innovation. Product feature requests should be transparently tracked, as well as its issues, and federated search should be instituted to reduce content access friction.

Schaefermann’s third strategy calls for migration to the shadow intranet through organization-wide onboarding and introducing the intranet to new hires. Supplying introductory and ongoing training for authors and community managers is critical to maintain control over the intranet, while office hours and one-on-one consultation will provide support for employee learning and adoption.

The final strategy, which Schaefermann dubbed “create stars,” highlights the intranet’s early adopters and influencers as enterprise innovators while establishing clear, individual accountability for content. Contributors should be publicly recognized and awarded for their achievements within the shadow intranet, while collaborators with similar interests should be introduced to its innovators and invited into the project.

Fundamentally, battling the intricacies of shadow intranets is entirely woven with acknowledgement and awareness—bringing it out of the shadows. What approach enterprises decide from there—be it governance, common ground, alignment, migration, or integration—will determine how it fits within the organizational infrastructure.

For an in-depth discussion about shadow intranets at enterprise scale, you can view an archived version of the webinar here.

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