Digital Workplace Governance Takes the Stage (and the Awards)


This year’s Step Two Intranet and Digital Workplace Awards showed many organizations emphasizing governance PHOTO: Anthony DELANOIX

Governance may not be glamorous, but it serves an essential purpose. 

Robust governance is the backbone of any effective and sustainable platform.  

Establishing governance can be difficult — and keeping it going is even harder. It’s one of those words that covers many different areas, from technology and infrastructure, to legal and risk issues to senior sponsorship to content management.  

In the case of the digital workplace and intranet world, governance usually covers both strategic decision-making (usually with the likes of steering committees), and more operational matters, such as archiving policies. 

Awards Hint at a Governance Trend

So it was good to see governance emerge as one of the strongest themes in this year’s Step Two Intranet and Digital Workplace Awards (previously called the Intranet Innovation Awards). 

Now in their 10th year, these global awards celebrate both the newer, shinier stuff (one of 2016 winners is about workplace use of virtual reality) and the successful back-end practices and processes. All winners need to demonstrate the impact of their project, which has the highest proportion of judges marks allocated.

While the awards winners and other entries only give us a hint of general trends in the intranet and digital workplace space, if they are anything to go by, organizations are placing a healthy emphasis on carefully thought out governance plans when implementing new intranet or digital workplace projects. 

Governance Through Site and Content Ownership

Setting Clear Managerial Roles – and Supporting Them – at Darmstadt

On the more operational side of intranets, we found companies that are putting great focus on the roles associated with managing content, communities and team spaces, and designing training around these roles.  

For example, Darmstadt, Germany-based pharmaceutical company Merck’s intranet and collaboration environment, EVA, has a number of different “rooms” (effectively spaces) relating to different organizations, locations, topics, projects and processes.  

Very well-defined roles around the management of each room enables the smooth operation of EVA. These roles include Room Owners, Room Managers, Local Room Managers as well as a set of Key Room Managers, the super-users who handle training and administrative rights. 

The company offers a training program and support materials for each type of manager.

Merck’s digital workplace environment, EVA
Some of the roles and structures involved with running EVA, Merck’s digital workplace environmentPHOTO: Screenshot courtesy of Merck and Step Two Designs

Establishing Content Ownership – and Trust – at Philips

Amsterdam-based electronics company Philips launched a new topic-based intranet and worked hard to establish strong content ownership, with both page-level owners and topic owners who have a clear set of responsibilities. 

These exist within a wider framework which internal communications owns. Individual content and topic owners are displayed clearly on each piece of content to help establish trust and confidence in the content, as well as the intranet as a whole.

Other winners such as Queensland University of Technology and White & Case also put in place solid governance foundations to ensure content is reliable and relevant, and stays that way.

While getting content and site ownership right doesn’t sound like rocket science, it’s amazing how many organizations don’t get it right — or start off with good intentions but let the framework wither and die. 

Challenges of Digital Workplace Governance

Governance becomes a little more challenging and complex within the wider digital workplace. The wider scope of channels and applications and the broader set of stakeholders involved both add to this, as does the fact that the “digital workplace” is a looser and still emergent concept. 

Due to its relative newness and the different stages that organizations are in with the digital workplace, good practices have yet to be established. However in this year’s awards we can see some hints of what a digital workplace governance looks like, with structures, approaches and practices applied to specific scenarios that could work within a wider digital workplace.

Cross-Functional Governance in Action at McKesson

A characteristic of digital workplace governance is its cross-functionality. Governance in this case involves a wider set of key support functions, who also serve as services and application owners.

San Francisco-based global healthcare company McKesson is one example of this in action. Its intranet and collaboration team set up a Mobile Center of Excellence for Employee Apps which helps steer the deployment of in-house apps into a light appstore. 

What’s impressive about McKesson’s efforts is that the Center of Excellence is truly cross-functional, including Communications, IT, HR as well as members of Security and Legal. The group not only provides ownership within McKesson, but also supports anyone wanting to set up an app on the mobile app store. 

The Center now has an established process which follows an app from the idea stage to acceptance in the app store, with different stages along the way. Not only is this more efficient and follows desired practices, but it also means the team tackles some of the trickier aspects with apps (usually associated with risk) at an early stage.

McKesson’s Mobile Center of Excellence
A simplified diagram of the app creation process managed through McKesson’s Mobile Center of ExcellencePHOTO: Screenshot courtesy of McKesson and Step Two Designs

From SharePoint Governance to Digital Workplace Governance

Another winner in this year’s awards was Novozymes, a Bagsvaerd, Denmark-based biotechnology company. 

Here the IT function delivered a novel approach to SharePoint governance based on a framework developed by SharePointPeople. This highly detailed approach involves different levels of documentation around ownership, dependencies and process for various “managed elements” of the SharePoint environment which cover applications, processes and platform services. There are also owners for some overarching business drivers.  

While the detailed approach Novozymes took may not translate to every organization and every sector, the business took some interesting approaches worth noting: 

  1. Novozymes started with the premise that it would only create rules that can be enforced, so the system involves appropriate check-ins and controls to make sure that governance actually happens. 
  2. Even though IT drove the initiative, the company recognized that decisions need to actually happen from the business, so ownership lies with the appropriate decision makers and not behind the scenes with technologists. 
  3. The company designed a dashboard (based on SharePoint) with as much automation as possible to show the overall status of governance and ensure compliance.

While the long-term success of the platform remains to be seen, IT are already rolling out the approach to other elements of the digital ecosystem beyond SharePoint. It’s an approach which can potentially work for the wider digital workplace. 

Governance: Worth the Persistence

Not all of the 2016 awards winners focused on governance. Some emphasized innovation and a more agile and light approach to development and deployment.

However getting governance in place is a must-have if your goal is a sustainable digital workplace. The awards winners gave us a glimpse of what digital workplace governance can look like. 

Getting governance off the ground requires persistence. 

While not as glamorous as beautiful designs and cutting edge intranets, it’s encouraging to see some of the awards winners devoting the time and effort into their governance programs.

Steve Bynghall is a freelance consultant and writer based in the UK. He focuses on intranets, collaboration, social business, KM and the digital workplace.


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