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J Boye Aarhus 2012 – conference review #jboye12

This was the seventh time Janus Boye has brought web and intranet specialists together for a conference in the Danish city of Aarhus, but only the first time Intranetizen has made it along.

Originally a conference focussed on external web, the J Boye conferences now have dedicated tracks for Intranet and Collaboration, as well as a wide variety of areas relevant to those managing intranets, such as mobile, UX, enterprise search and CMS/Web Experience Management.

Conference structure

The first day offered a wide choice of workshops, including some purely intranet sessions from Lau Hasselbaek Andreasen and Neil Morgan, as well as broader topics such as digital governance and project management.  The day closed with a keynote from Jacob Bøtter, who talked about his book, Unboss. In this, he argues organisations are radically changing as a result of online, becoming less hierarchical, more fluid and innovative.  The argument is one I’ve heard before – from Clay Shirky, amongst others – but Bøtter is a great speaker, and it was enough to convince me to read the book.

Days two and three offered full days of sessions on advanced intranets and enterprise social collaboration,with a wide range of relevant case studies and high calibre speakers.

Our conference highlights

A keynote from Pernille Tranberg, who argues data (and in particular personal data) is becoming a valuable asset which is collected and traded. Concerned about her own privacy, Pernille created multiple online identities, and she urges others to think carefully about what they give away online. Interesting and thought-provoking stuff.

Martin Risgaard Rasmussen talked about gaining support for the intranet from management and employees, by making it something employees find useful every day. His guiding principle was that their intranet, Insite, should help employees communicate, connect and collaborate to get their work done. He cautioned against making the intranet a big bang project, instead making it something that’s continually improved to meet the needs of users (something we have talked about before too). He concluded by recommending this blog – something we would wholeheartedly support – as well as Jesper Bylund’s Intranet Manifesto.

Jonas Bladt Hansen presented a fascinating case study on the use of gamification to boost employee engagement at Danish railway company DSB. The organisation faced a huge challenge as it was rated fifth from the bottom of the country’s ‘best places to work’ table, but this in turn meant execs were easily convinced they had to try something different. Using the echo.it platform, they encouraged employees to praise one another, share best practice and resolve problems.  We’ve been somewhat critical of gamification in the enterprise, so it’s encouraging to see real-world implementations that really seem to be generating results.

Lau Hasselbaek Andreassen led a great session on the role of the intranet manager. This led to a debate on the skills needed to make a success of it, how our own roles will develop in the future, and what intranet practitioners need to do to influence at a more senior level. There was consensus that intranet management is diverging rapidly from a web content role towards a mixture of business analysis, stakeholder engagement and change management. This was a useful session and we hope it will kick off a broader debate on the evolution of the intranet management profession.

Alan Pelz Sharpe from 451 Research delivered a fantastic keynote, ‘How real is the social workplace revolution?’. He argues for a focus on business process and strategy to be the driver and focus, so that the digital, social workplace is about getting stuff done.

This was a common theme across the collaboration track on day three. Angela Ashenden from MWD Advisors gave an overview of collaboration trends for 2013. Social, it seems, is growing up – small pilots are giving way to large-scale projects, but for these to secure support and funding they need to deliver for business and prove their success.  Collaboration tools, argues Ashenden, need to be integrated into key business applications if they’re to achieve adoption, else you risk creating other silos.

The need for collaboration to demonstrate and deliver real benefits for the business was hammered home with excellent case study presentations from Phillips, Deloitte, Richemont, Capgemini and AstraZenica. Each of these included useful tips on building a strong business case, gaining management support, and demonstrating value. Really useful stuff for those embarking on an enterprise social collaboration project.

Logistics

The event took place over three nicely paced days, with a mixture of workshops, small-group sessions and larger plenary ones. This offered both the chance to hear from some big names and to get involved in one-to-one discussions in sessions or over coffee. Evenings were packed, too, with social events every night.

We’ve talked before about the importance of tech logistics in helping people balance conference and the day job, as well as the value of the Twitter stream in powering the backchannel and marketing the event. Sadly, conference venues have been slow to catch up with the demands of highly-connected conference attendees. There weren’t enough power sockets, and the wifi was frequently patchy. Credit due to the J Boye team for responding quickly to feedback on both counts and taking this up with the venue.

Getting there

What makes this conference less attractive is the location, which was a common gripe amongst attendees. Aarhus is a lovely city but  awkward to get to, due to the limited number of direct flights even from major capitals. This can increase both the cost of getting there, and the time you need to take out of work to attend.

Janus explained his reasoning – locating the conference in a smaller city means people are less likely to drift off sightseeing rather than attend the (excellent) social events. To my mind the social events are now well-established enough now to stand on their own merits, while locating the conference in a more easy-to-reach city would make it a more compelling offer, or at least less pricey and time-consuming, particularly for those outside Denmark.

Conclusions

With a large number of sessions on large, complex intranets (including enterprise social collaboration), with high-calibre speakers and a wealth of relevant case studies, this is a great conference for senior practitioners managing sizable intranets. Unlike other web conferences, intranet and digital workplace sessions aren’t sidelined, but very much considered central to the event. The choice of sessions on crossover subjects such  governance, strategy, mobile and technology mean this offers a broader range of conference takeaways than at purely intranet events, and is all the better for it.

Sessions are deliberately pitched at those working on more mature sites and in mid-senior roles, and we would recommend this conference to those working at such a level in a complex organisation.   Next year’s  J Boye events are already booked in Philadelphia in May and Aarhus in November, but we hope they’ll consider a more convenient European location in future years.




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  1. Janus Boye

    Thanks for the write-up and all your contributions to this year’s conference. Much appreciated.
    We started in 2005, so by my count this one was the 8th year!

    This year we had record attendance from the UK, but unfortunately I heard from many that they were unaware of the direct flights from Edinburgh, Manchester and London (City + Stansted), so instead they flew via Copenhagen which is quite a detour.

    Besides the social events, there are many other good reasons for being in Aarhus. To me, it feels right and the city is a part of the DNA of the conference. Still, I realize that convenience is also a major factor when deciding which conferences to attend.

    While the Aarhus conference will stay where it is, I’m open to doing another European J. Boye conference at some point, perhaps in 2014. Which location would you suggest for this?

    • @DigitalJonathan

      Thanks for the comments, Janus.

      London. Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin all have intranet conferences firmly established, but I would like to propose Brussels as a potential location. It’s easy to get to (flights, trains) and has a service-based and political-based economy which may mean there’s already an audience for you. Equally, I had heard that the Advanced Portals conference may move from its Amsterdam base to Berlin. Give the amazing audience and community with the Utrecht conference, maybe Amsterdam is an option.

    • @sharonodea

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Janus. I had a feeling you wouldn’t agree – but we like to start a debate here at Intranetizen 🙂

      I do think the conference benefits from being outside of the UK, as it gives it a much more international flavour, and with that a broader range of perspectives and experience. But Aarhus is quite a pain to get to – it essentially took a full day to travel on the Monday, and I had to miss part on the conference day on Thursday in order to get home the same day rather than miss the whole working day on the Friday too. So while the location in Aarhus has benefits for the social events, the flipside is that it may cause others to miss the ‘meat’ of the conference in order to catch flights (not just from the UK; a couple of people commented it was difficult to reach even from Germany). Also, taking a full week out of work is difficult for most of us, and would likely prevent colleagues from attending together.

      So to my mind there would be a few benefits to a more convenient European location – making it accessible to more people from more countries, reducing the time you need to take out to attend, and reducing the cost of travel to get there (and thus making it an easier one to sell to the boss). Jon’s suggestion of Brussels is an interesting one. Perhaps also one of the better-connected cities in Germany (Frankfurt?).

      But this review isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a whinge about the location. The conference was worth the trip; I really felt like I learned an awful lot to take back to my own organisation. Excellent case studies, a good, broad and detailed range of speakers and topics relevant to my role, and great conversations with peers from across Europe and further afield. So I can understand why you don’t want to mess with a winning formula. I’d be keen to hear what others think.

      • Dan Lewis

        First off Sharon – it was great finally meeting you in person.

        Aarhus is an interesting city and I thoroughly enjoy going there (for what was my 3rd year in a row). I agree that it is a bit off the beaten path in regards to the “large” cities in Europe, but I think that it takes going once and learning the best way to get there to get it right.

        Janus and his team do put on a great event though. As I always say, it gets my American butt on a plane and a train to get there – and I plan on attending in 2013!


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