Workforce.com

Painless Partnerships with IS

September 1, 1998
So, like many other businesses, your company has decided to create a corporate intranet. Now, in addition to all of the other technical and administrative problems, management has to figure out who should be involved in the creation process.

Obviously, HR must be included in creating the intranet because, more than any other department, the functions of your job are impacted by its implementation -- therefore, you are most affected by the decisions that are made. It's also quite clear that information systems (IS) must be included in the process because, unlike other departments, it's the one that's left with the task of actually developing, creating and maintaining the intranet.

With these two departments central to the process of creating the corporate intranet, the challenge is how the both of you should work together. In other words, the question that needs to be answered is who should do what and when?

To answer this question, Workforce spoke with several consulting experts, HR directors and IS personnel.

Openly communicate with IS.
According to our experts, the first and most important step in the process of creating a corporate intranet is opening the channels of communication between HR and IS. Most of the time, HR and IS are dealing with entirely different sets of business-related issues. While HR focuses on eliminating administrative functions and changing the way business is conducted in the future, IS is usually tied down by technical problems and day-to-day troubleshooting. The difference between the two perspectives is often exacerbated by the process of creating an intranet, so problems in cooperation and implementation may result.

To avoid these problems, David Link, principal consultant of The Hunter Group, based in Baltimore, Maryland, recommends beginning the creation process by getting together with IS to discuss the general issues that will affect the company. Rather than dealing with the specific administrative and technical aspects of creating the intranet, Link suggests elevating the discussion toward general changes, such as increased access to and sharing of information, and the rise in employee autonomy that will inevitably occur in the operations of the business.

By focusing on general issues, each department can realize both the possible benefits of the intranet you're attempting to construct and, more importantly, the necessity of cooperation to create it. This realization will open the previous lack of communication between the two departments and will also create an environment that fosters more productive and effective cooperation.

Find a middle ground.
Once communication is established, it's necessary to find the middle ground between HR's desires and IS's limitations. The creation process usually begins with both departments having very different, but very high, expectations for the completion of the corporate intranet. HR envisions the intranet as a technological tool with the limitless potential to both improve the productivity of the workforce and increase the overall success of the business. On the other hand, IS views the intranet as an opportunity to employ the latest technologies and to create a system that's better than all of its predecessors.

Unless a middle ground is reached, these different expectations can often lead to serious problems in the creation process, such as late implementation of the system or the absence of necessary functions and information. For this reason, Mark Stone, director of Business Consulting Knowledge Management for Atlanta, Georgia-based Arthur Anderson, recommends the two departments discuss strategic goals and recognize the need for significant compromise. According to Stone, "IS must realize that technology does not exist solely for the sake of technology, and that it's content and value that actually drive the intranet project. However, HR must recognize that there are many limitations to the technologies and there are certain realities that can't be ignored. So the key is to compromise with a system that's both useful and that can show value in a timely fashion."

Maintain upper management's support.
Although the process of creating a corporate intranet can be long and sometimes daunting, our experts say that the management of the company, especially the heads of the HR and IS departments, should remain committed to the project and continue to actively support it. Our experts warn that if management's support for the intranet begins to wane, the process can lack a sense of leadership, and those in HR and IS can start to lose sight of the project's larger goals. By committing to the project, HR and IS management can provide the types of clear objectives and realistic timetables that lend strategic focus and direction to the process. If management supplies these qualities, the project should flow smoothly.

The most important thing for HR and IS to remember is that, as Karen Vander Linde, partner with Fairfax, Virginia-based PricewaterhouseCoopers, says, "The active support and participation of management is critical. An intranet can't succeed without it."

Given the critical importance of their support, it's quite clear that HR and IS should take significant action to guarantee corporate managerial commitment to the project. Our experts particularly recommend that HR and IS take on the responsibility of continually educating and informing management on all of the various aspects of the creation process. Although each department will be attempting to do the same types of things, many of our experts claim that HR and IS must accept different roles based on their different areas of expertise.

According to Ora Fant, director of Organizational Effectiveness and Development for PricewaterhouseCoopers, "HR should be the conscience of the project. They should point out the information and people barriers to the management team and describe them. IS should clearly explain the technology and its implications to the management." By playing these various educational roles, HR and IS can mutually make management believe in the benefits of the intranet, while committing them to the project in the process.

Keep on going.
While the system will eventually be up and running, all of our experts warn that the process of creating a corporate intranet is never really complete. As with many business functions, corporate intranets are never perfect, and they're inevitably mired in a constant state of adaptation.

While this constant evolution means greater productivity and effectiveness from the intranet, it also means HR and IS must continue to play the same roles in the system's maintenance as they did in its original inception.

The two departments must continually exploit all of the various channels of communication and proceed with their productive and interactive cooperation. For example, HR should continually supply the system with new and useful information and solicit input from those who use the intranet. Meanwhile, IS must be ready to interact with HR and come up with functional solutions to the various informational and technical problems that may arise.

It's important to remember that both HR and IS serve as critical functions in maintaining an intranet that never goes away or decreases in its significance. If either department ever gives up its responsibilities or views the process as complete, the intranet can lose touch with the needs of employees, and will become just another ineffective, unproductive corporate project.

Workforce, September 1998, Vol. 77, No. 9, pp. 83-84.