Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Why Branding an Intranet as SharePoint May Prove Worthwhile

What is your intranet called - has it got a name? I fully understand the validity of the argument that it is better to brand an intranet with a cool and funky name than use the ubiquitous word 'SharePoint' though I am going to disagree that one should. Let me explain why. First of all, the word 'intranet' itself is a major problem and fundamentally it depends how one even attempts to define what an intranet is, what services it includes and what it does not. Not everyone agrees. The word 'intranet' often sets in stone the views of a frequently disenfranchised business audience who all too often view their intranet as historically out of date, static, lacking in up to date content, dull,. sprawling, untrusted and chaotic.

Add to the mix the problems of mixing collaborative services with published content and an audience is all too often confused as to the services it provides as much as they are negative to the connotations of the word 'intranet' and any brand name associated with it. (a name all too often forced on an audience through a 'competition' filtered through executive governance).

What the word 'SharePoint' can powerfully do is act as a unifier as one pulls disparate technologies gradually together onto the same unified platform. It also allows you to distance yourself from the negative connotations of earlier legacy platforms and services that defined the historical intranet and that were seen to have failed. If an aging intranet is replaced with a new intranet, it doesn't matter about the power of SharePoint as the audience has already started to think its more of the same due to the name connotations.

Now lets expand the problem in the direction you suggest. So its not a SharePoint intranet, its AcmeWeb with a new shiny brand name. Cool. But as you expand out the platform and scale to other related services what do you start to call them? So do we brand search as AcmeFind and User profiles(AcME) and My Sites (AcmeMyWeb) and Knowledge communities and extranets and what happens if we have 200 brand retail sites like I have seen in a single global company. Lets add in the huge numbers of collaborative communities with thousands of team sites in hundreds of site collections, do we brand them all separately too? And then scale out to 15 languages and regional content centres and more names?

That's an extreme example but the point to be made is that once you start to brand content areas it may never end (how do you manage the brand name governance and who owns it?) and soon it is more confusing than had you never tried to brand the intranet as a starting point. "Where did you put that file? It's on AcmeExtraWeb". Large corporations can have huge information superstructures and to brand each element may simply become unmanageable, particularly when each business area names their own and we suddenly gain brand wars (which I have witnessed).

Having worked with SharePoint implementations in global corporations what I have seen is the positive step where people state that their information is now on 'SharePoint' and whereabouts in SharePoint is more to do with the logical placement of information using business-centric structures rather than un-related branding. In some ways what the name 'SharePoint' achieves is not just act as a unifier but also as a corporate political pacifier.

Features and functions span brand names as its the same platform. So do we train people to use the intranet or do we train them to use the features and functions of SharePoint that may crop up repeatedly within other business service areas?

One can (and should) separate 'SharePoint' as a business program split into related business services (i.e. Salem™), from SharePoint as a technology. Its a conceptual point which makes it easier to gain heavy adoption using the 'SharePoint' brand name rather than the variety of corporate names. Business audiences seek and crave cohesion & simplicity and the singular name 'SharePoint' can frequently offer this at the enterprise level. Branding may perpetuate the problems seen previously with lots of technologies mixed together, simply too many things to remember for the info worker.                                          

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