The value of transparency and simple referencing doesn’t always lie in centralized information alone. As you’ll often find, the information itself may be out of date. 

In a wiki, you might read that a project is already in the home stretch – yet in conversations with others, you hear it’s doomed to failure. Your ability to identify everyone who has previously put a reasonable amount of effort into a topic, whether intensively or latently, is often an enormous help when it comes to assessing how to develop that topic in your political landscape so it can actually gain a foothold and grow.

In the past, customers have told me about how they first approached colleagues in other divisions of their own companies. During this exchange with “in-house contacts,” it quickly became clear to them that managers from other departments sometimes seemed to have completely different goals. And when it finally came down to discussions with the main managers from other areas, our customers were invariably best informed about what was possible, what was not, and what needed to be taken into consideration. 

Sometimes employees need years or even decades to know how to maneuver in a company’s political minefield. A transparent intranet environment allows newcomers to collect the information they need and to skillfully navigate the organization with just a little bit of patience and hard work. 

I am, of course, all in favor of companies being free, remaining free, or establishing their freedom from the shackles of politics, cliques, and personal interests. Until an intranet is introduced, however, corporate reality often looks a lot different, and it would be naive of me to think that a piece of software on its own can immediately change such a world. 

Instead, it’s a central requirement of a modern intranet that the system can adapt to political and other situations and that the organization can develop slowly on a step-by-step basis toward more transparency. This transparency is possible and often sought after on projects like these. 

Of course, searching through documents, protocols, and wiki pages is not the only way to find people and contacts on the intranet. It is, however, an effective way of carrying out qualitative searches and informing yourself beforehand. If you’re looking for something easier and faster, on the other hand, what you need is an expert search.

Company search for experts using filters. Source file: 

An expert search like this involves employees simply entering a name and finding the appropriate person, including their profile and contact information. 

What’s more interesting, however, is the ability to filter your search from a very large number of results to just a few relevant hits. In the example here, we filter first by location (Frankfurt), then by qualification (Linchpin), and finally by language skills until we find the detailed profile of a matching individual.

An expert search like this can have lots of applications in your company, including: 

  • Finding a contact person for a special topic 
  • Finding people who are working on a specific project
  • Filtering by company division 
  • Only finding people at a specific location 
  • Finding people who speak a certain language 
  • Identifying employees who know their way around a certain piece of software 
  • Talking to and inspiring people in the organization about a specific topic 
  • Finding a contact person’s phone number, email address, or other contact information 
  • Better understanding the organization and its organizational chart and where individual people are located
  • Finding buildings and individual employees’ offices
  • Identifying colleagues’ line managers 

An expert search on the intranet can also be strong from a strategic point of view. It communicates that the company has valuable specialists. It gives employees a stage where they can present their skills and knowledge. And it increases the amount of all-important networking between expert colleagues. Personally, I occasionally use “Find Profile” to just put a name to a face I’ve forgotten: what do they look like again?

In the projects we work on, we often find that the basic information for this type of search is generally not easy to come by. (Perhaps well-organized companies simply don’t contract with us.) In any case, in large corporations, the process is always particularly adventurous. Often you find that thousands of employees are not even in the central directory, probably because the company will otherwise have to pay additional license fees (e.g. to Microsoft). 

To really get a list of all intranet users across locations at companies like this, tens of separate sources often have to be tapped. And, of course, the quality of data varies greatly. Additionally, in many, many cases we find that the relevant information for a profile is not available, or that the user rights (e.g. for photos) are unclear, so we can’t use these components. 

In such cases, I can usually reassure the customer that the situation is not really a disaster. In fact, it’s all quite normal. In the process of creating a modern intranet, simply creating a rich and high-quality profile usually suffices to get a wealth of good and useful data. 

With Facebook, Xing, and LinkedIn, there was no need for training courses to show employees how to set up and upload their basic information. Yes, it’s true that some of my colleagues use avatars instead of photos in their profiles, and this doesn’t allow me to put a name with a face, but even without a real photo, the rest of the data and information are still extremely useful and informative.

Despite this common lack of the necessary tools for creating them, however, I have yet to meet an intranet manager who doesn’t see the importance of profiles, the expert search function, or the ability for employees and management to effectively present themselves over the intranet.

Relatively simple measures are available for creating favorable conditions in which to create and populate user profiles. For example, one of our customers (Enercity) provided a photo service when they launched enerdigi, their intranet platform. This service allowed employees to have a professional photo taken and then to use it on the intranet. At our company, a colleague who is also a part-time professional photographer regularly offers photo shoots for anyone interested. 

The great advantage of actions like this is the resulting increase in intranet networking ability. If enough people don’t place a photo in their profile or at least fill out the rest of their information, then others tend to follow the pack. If nearly everyone keeps their profiles up to date, however, there’s less need to remind anyone else. New arrivals at the company do it automatically. Good old peer pressure for the win!

This is what my profile looks like on our intranet. Source file: 

A modern intranet revolves around the people who use it for their work. It’s intended benefit is to increase everybody’s productivity and effectiveness. A key element of this process is communication. Of course, top-down communication from the board to the whole workforce takes place, regardless, but the enormous potential of an intranet in most companies is the improvement, structuring, and optimization of communication between employees. With an intranet, an organization can improve the level of cooperation in standing departments as well as day-to-day business exchange in groups. 

Discovering, making contact with, and learning from one another across departmental and divisional boundaries opens up huge, previously unused opportunities, especially in large companies. User profiles offer lots of fantastic ways of boosting these opportunities. 

Of course, I don’t want to recommend that your organization interferes in the private lives of its employees. At the end of the day, an expert search function is not a dating website. If you create an option that allows your employees to contact people with similar interests, however, a variety of sports teams, board game groups, and even perhaps poker tournaments can be organized within the company. No, it’s not the main task of an expert search function to bring together groups of this kind, but employees want to be part of things. They want to exchange ideas with other people, and they love it when there’s a feeling of cohesion and productive cooperation within, or even beyond their department. This is why I highly recommend the idea of including private interests and hobbies in personal profiles. 

The following is a list of potential profile fields that our customers have put together in the past: 

  • Salutation
  • Academic title
  • First name
  • Last name
  • Nickname 
  • Maiden name 
  • Email address 
  • Phone number
  • Mobile number
  • Fax
  • Date of birth
  • Location
  • Building
  • Office street
  • Office zip code
  • Office location
  • State/country
  • Company
  • Division
  • Department
  • Position/job 
  • Line manager
  • Skillset
  • Language knowledge
  • Projects
  • Availability/chat field (development required to integrate Skype, for example) 
  • Presence (all day, half days from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m., etc.) 
  • Profile page (link to personal section on the intranet) 
  • Interests (private)
  • Hobbies
  • XING profile
  • Academic qualifications
  • Industry experience (e.g. IT, medicine, etc.) 
  • Software expertise 
  • Team interfaces 
  • Projects involved in/portfolio 
  • Short personal description 
  • Personal maxim/quotation/personal motto
  • Knowledge of processes 
  • Knowledge of other cultures
  • Assignments and experience abroad

I’m well aware that personal contact can also have negative effects. This makes it arguable as to whether the company should favor the organization of poker tournaments (i.e. gambling), for example. We have repeated discussions with customers in this regard concerning whether their company should shepherd its workforce to prevent negative behaviors or interactions and whether it even can fulfill this role. Can (and should) adult employees even be allowed to live in an effective, collegial manner according to their own ideas within a corporate environment?

I’m firmly convinced that it borders on the outrageous for companies to deny their employees the right to indicate, for example, their hobbies in their profiles. Measures designed to prevent private interaction outside of working hours are also pure poison. 

Regardless of any potential difficulties or potential downsides, however, there are many good reasons for using rich profiles to showcase employees on the intranet. A high-quality expert search function represents a very practical way of doing this.

Link to this page:

The Social Intranet

Foster collaboration and strengthen communication. Be effective with enterprise intranets mobile and in the cloud.

Virtual Collaboration in Companies: Social Intranets as a Digital Home 

Never before has the business world been so overrun by cloud software and specialized vendors as it is now. There is so much software out there that it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of things. It is all the more important for the future of work to have a place for digital meeting - a reliable home port meaningfully networked with numerous other systems that makes it quick and easy to navigate. This will increase transparency in the company and make collaboration more effective. Based on many years of experience, this book tells you how it already works in today's digitalized world and which trends you probably should rather than shouldn't follow.

About the author

Martin Seibert was 17 when he founded the software company Seibert Media. Twenty-four years later, it has nearly 200 employees and generates 35 million euros in annual sales. He has been sharing his enthusiasm for technology in YouTube videos for many years - and now also in his new book about social intranets.

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This content was last updated on 03/31/2021.

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