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The value of transparency and simple referencing sometimes doesn’t lie in centralized information in itself, because the actual information will be out of date, as you will continually find. In the wiki, you can read that the 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 dealing intensively – or even just latently – with a topic is often an enormous help when it comes to being able to assess the way in which you need to develop a topic in the 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 the divisions in their own companies. During this exchange with “in-house contacts,” it quickly became clear to them that managers from other departments apparently had completely different goals sometimes. And when it finally came to discussions with the main managers from other areas, our customer was already best informed about what is possible and what is not and what needs 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 with a little patience and hard work and navigate through the organization skillfully. 

I am, of course, all in favor of companies being, remaining, or freeing themselves from the shackles of politics, cliques, and personal interests. However, before an intranet is introduced, corporate reality often looks a lot different. And it would be naive for me to think that a piece of software on its own can immediately change such a world. Rather, it is a central requirement of a modern intranet that the system can adapt to the political situation and a mix of less transparent situations and that the organization can develop slowly on a step-by-basis step toward more transparency. This is possible and is 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. However, it is an effective way of carrying out qualitative searches and informing yourself beforehand. Easier and faster, on the other hand, is what is referred to as 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 is more interesting, however, is using filters to narrow down your search from a very large number of results to a few hits, who you then contact. 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: 

  • 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 inspire 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 basics for this are not usually given in a company. (perhaps well-organized companies simply don’t contract with us.) In any case, in large corporations, the situation is always particularly adventurous. Here you find that thousands of employees are not even in the central directory, probably because the company will otherwise have to pay license fees (e.g. to Microsoft). In order 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 the quality of data is always very different, of course. And then we find out in many, many cases that the relevant information for a profile is not available, or that the user rights (e.g. for photos) are unclear and we can’t use these components. 

In such cases, I can usually reassure the customer that the situation is not really a problem and is all quite normal. In the process of creating a modern intranet, simply offering to create a rich and high-quality profile usually suffices to get a lot of good and useful data. With Xing and LinkedIn, nobody attended a training course to learn 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. Although this doesn’t allow me to put a name with a face, the rest of the data and information are useful and informative enough even without a real photo.

Until now, I hadn’t met an intranet manager yet who thinks that profiles, the expert search function, or a general option to present yourself over the intranet is unimportant.

Relatively simple measures are available for creating favorable conditions in which you create and populate user profiles. For example, one of our customers (Enercity) provided a photo service when they launched enerdigi, their intranet platform. The service allowed employees to have a professional photo taken and then 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 increase in the networking effect that results. If no one places a photo in their profile and doesn’t fill out the rest of the profile, then other people tend not to either. If nearly everyone keeps their profiles up to date, you don’t need to remind anyone else. New arrivals at the company do it automatically. Good old peer pressure comes into effect.

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. The idea is to increase their productivity and effectiveness. A key element of this is communication. Of course, top-down communication from the board to the whole workforce still takes place. However, the one thing with enormous potential 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 and day-to-day business exchange in groups. 

Discovering, making contact with and learning from one another across departmental and divisional boundaries opens up huge opportunities, especially in large companies, which in many cases has often remained unused before. User profiles offer lots of fantastic ways of boosting this. 

I don’t want to recommend that your organization interferes in the private life of its employees, though. At the end of the day, an expert search function is not a dating website. However, if you create an option that allows your employees to contact people with similar interests, different sports teams, board game groups and even perhaps poker tournaments can be organized. No question that it’s not the main task of an expert search function to bring together groups of this kind. However, employees want to be part of things, want to exchange ideas with other people and love it when there is a feeling of cohesion and productive cooperation in their department and even beyond. 

I consider the idea of including private interests and hobbies in personal profiles highly recommendable. 

The following contains a list of 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
  • Skill set
  • 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 that the company should favor the organization of a poker tournament (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 things and whether it can even fulfill this role. Maybe adult employees can (and should) be allowed to live in an effective, collegial manner according to their own ideas in the corporate environment?

I am firmly convinced that it is bordering 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. 

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.

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