Conference Review: #intranets2013, Sydney

There are a few global centres of excellence for intranets and digital workplace, predictably crystallising around thought-leaders: In Scandinavia with Janus Boye and Kurt Kragh Sørensen, in the Netherlands (Entopic organisation), in the UK (IBF, DWF) and in Australia with the great work at James Robertson and the StepTwo Designs team do with their ILF and Intranets conference. Intranetizen’s Jonathan Phillips flew to Sydney to speak, listen and learn.


The Amora Hotel in Jamison Street in the heart of the Sydney has played host to the Intranets conference since inception. Logistics are therefore pretty easy, with many delegates staying in the conference hotel or in one of the hundreds of local alternatives. The main room hosts the keynotes and is then split in two for the streams that form the meat of the conference sandwich. One thoughtful touch was the provision of the ‘lounge’ – a large breakout room that delegates could use for meetings or office catch-ups – which appeared popular. Also loved the coffee-man, who sustained me with Flat Whites as I struggled against jetlag.

Day One: Coca-Cola Enterprises, Melbourne Water, AMP, Dynamic Owl, UX Mastery, University of Sydney, Wannon Water, Australia Post, NAB, StepTwo, Anecdote

In common with many, conference materials were set into two streams, topped and tailed by opening and closing presentations. I regret that this meant I could not attend all of the sessions available so my apologies to those excellent speakers I was unable to hear directly. I will also not comment here on the Coca-Cola Enterprises keynote — my bit — since the Twitter backchannel did a sterling job.

Rebecca Jackson of Melbourne Water gave a warts-and-all view of her project to clean up the phone list. In a way, accurately completed employee phone lists feel like a 1990s problem for intranet teams but in my view, they’re often the gateway to enterprise collaboration and one of the most common features of a mobile intranet solution. Getting it right is both hard work and a labour of love/hate, as Rebecca will attest. There are salient points for every business in her presentation, even those who think they have this nailed through ERP.

Michal Pisarek is that most rare of people — someone who can actually make SharePoint sound accessible, reasonable and even exciting. For so many organisations, SharePoint is the ‘lame choice’: straight from Microsoft so it won’t upset senior management, a few buttons and menus that employees will recognise to smooth onboarding and a brilliant sales patter to woo the cheque-writers. The reality is often very different as many readers will know. There were a good few takeaways here:

Michal was inspiring and full of practical insights that I will certainly take back to my team.   Other day one takeaways for me included:

  • Rachel Kousal’s (University of Sydney) excellent intranet project, particularly the helpful and engaging tour feature. We should never forget that the internet has much to teach intranet teams, nor forget the importance of ‘fun’.
  • Tamsin Stanford’s insights into her work at ANZ and Australia Post. She re-iterated the importance of getting executive buy-in and their leadership role in delivering excellent products.
  • Alex Manchester reminding us that even Microsoft haven’t got social nailed in their organisation. 17k Yammer users from 94k employees is far from universal adoption.

Icebreaker and Evening

Like the we.Conect team in Berlin, the StepTwo team understand the importance of networking at social events as part of the more formal conference program. And so it was that the entire intranets2013 delegation trooped off to the bowling alley for an evening of bowling, karaoke and pool. Modesty prevents me from revealing how I did (– terrible –), but there are lots of great photos! Another great StepTwo idea was the delegate card exchange. With 5 to collect, this was a great way to ensure that delegates mixed and spoke to each other.


Day 2: Thinking Shift, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Aurecon, StepTwo Designs, NSW Trade and Investment, Findwise, Macquarie Group, Design4Use, Powerco, ThinkPlace and Clearbox Consulting.

There was a very interesting subtext to the conference as a whole, and particular day 2, relating to motivation. Many intranet teams create processes or functionality that compels employees siuch as fixing default browser homepages to the intranet but the time is now upon us to take a more mature view. Instead of forcing visits, can we create intranets that are fun such that our colleagues visit when given freedom of choice? Both Kim Sbarcea (@kimmar) and Sam Marshall (@sammarshall) explored this theme beautifully in their keynote speeches and I confess it’s given new wind in my sails. I invite all readers to read deeper about the themes of ‘Competence, Autonomy and Relatedness’  from Kim’s and Sam’s presentations in this article on self-determination theory.

Day two takeaways:

  • Bridie Sampson delivered an entertaining review of her intranet project at Parsons Brinckerhoff. She demonstrated the importance of bringing employees (and leaders) along the journey with you. I learnt the ‘superliminal‘ approach!
  • James Robertson presented some excellent examples of enterprise mobile services. Optimal mobile performance is much more than simply making your intranet available to smartphones. I’m particularly looking forward to developing location-based services for mobile utilising GPS.
  • Employees often scream for better search and I so wish it was as easy as moving the slider from terrible to good! Mattias Brunnert from Findwise delivered a practical guide to improving search. His conclusion (and mine) was that you need to invest but investment need not cost much.
  • Powerco’s Ingeborg Hawighorst showed her amazing SP2010 intranet delivered solely using out of the box solutions. Inge is a coding star — this much is clear — and the megamenu she delivered using jscript and lists was a geeky joy to behold. Way out of my league!


One of the real pleasures of attending a conference in a country so far from home is that I’m not personally familiar with the companies represented. I don’t know if they’re large multi-nationals or small enterprises. I therefore come with no preconceptions on the quality, scale, innovation or brilliance of their intranet solutions – I can just enjoy their work for what it is.

The Intranets2013 event showcased some tremendous work from some thoughtful, knowledgeable practitioners.

Should you attend in 2014?

The short answer is ‘yes’ particularly if you’re slightly more local than me!

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