While I was recently chairing ALI’s SharePoint for Internal Communications conference, an attendee asked me “Who should own strategic decision-making for the intranet?”

“Who has the most to gain from the intranet?” I asked her. “Which function in the organization stands to lose the most if the intranet doesn’t deliver on its promise of improving collaboration, innovation, productivity and engagement?”

She was thinking narrowly about the intranet, not about the larger digital workplace.

I think the digital workplace is the experience our employees have while getting work done and interacting with each other virtually. My answer focuses on that broader view.

“IT” Isn't the Correct Answer

No one ever answers my question about who with “IT.” IT’s reputation takes a hit with crummy implementation, but relative to their regular work, they don’t lose much. While IT gains reputation with great implementation, they could gain more responsibility and work as a result. Many IT shops are strapped and can’t accommodate more work.

IT is not a revenue-generating function. They are all expense. The ROI isn’t there without looking to the business.

More importantly, IT is a linear, technical, tactical function. It can be disconnected from the finer points of business strategy.

It’s rare for IT functions to send their people into the field to experience reality. So, they work at their desks and computers, with little understanding of what revenue generators deal with day-to-day.

“Communication” Isn't the Correct Answer

My communication colleagues are cringing, but they know in their hearts I’m correct. Strategic ownership of intranets, portals, and the digital workplace often fall to communication teams because communicators need them to communicate.

Or, it happens because no other function steps up to own it.

Communicators certainly can and should take a leadership role because they – more than any other function in the business – can see how the business strategy works across the entire organization.

They have a bird’s-eye view of what makes the business tick. And, yes, they can leverage the digital workplace to aid communication and drive engagement.

But, the digital workplace – or even simple intranets for that matter – isn’t just a communication tool.

Business tools come first. It can and should be about web-enabling business process, encouraging collaboration and ensuring great decision-making. All in the name of achieving business goals.

Would the Real Candidates Please Step Up

In an ideal world, an operational function would own digital workplace strategy. Many, however, don’t believe they have the resource to take the lead.

Some refuse because of a perceived lack of know-how. Any of these functions has a lot to gain:
•    Human Resources: already owns the employment experience, so benefits from process and engagement improvements
•    Sales: delivers revenue, so benefits from process and productivity improvements, and collaboration on client development strategy
•    Research & Development: delivers innovation, new products, new resources, so benefits from engaging all employees in innovation along with streamlining business processes
•    Manufacturing Ops: delivers a customer-worthy product at a reasonable cost, so benefits from process and productivity improvements, along with defect management and collaboration amongst similar facilities
•    Service delivery (consulting, healthcare, etc.): also delivers revenue, so benefits from collaboration on clients and service models, process improvements and reduced risk

Your intranet or digital workplace can address all of the above.

Any of these functions could lead, particularly if they are heading up a cohesive cross-functional governance team as part of an integrated governance model that might look like this.

Where Does This Leave IT?

IT can and should continue to drive implementation of new technology.

Whether it uses a traditional model or an agile model, IT should manage the software/hardware development and implementation process, taking direction from the lead function, the governance team and other stakeholders early and often.

Those in the IT function should:
•    Research and teach the business about new technologies and their potential for aiding business goals (e.g., how profiles can be used to find internal experts)
•    Look for integration opportunities to extend ROI of current technology investments (e.g., how connecting profiles to the HRIS helps HR find internal talent for openings)
•    Plan implementation and provide estimates and calendars the business can use to prioritize (e.g., how helping HR find internal talent during the next 6 months might save more than implementing online life event management for HR)
•    Provide software/hardware support, particularly expert counsel for site/tool owners and managers
•    Get into the field to understand reality
•    Collaborate transparently with other functions as early as possible

In the end, the decision about which function owns the digital workplace comes down to good governance. It’s a decision that must involve many functions and leaders.

Want to learn more about digital workplace governance? I’ll be teaching a workshop on digital workplace governance at ALI’s Intranet and Digital Workplace Summit 2014 in Chicago in July, covering this content plus a lot more!

Stacy Wilson, ABC, Eloquor Consulting, helps companies communicate more effectively with employees in the digital workplace. Her specialty is supporting governance, usability, content and adoption for digital workplaces/intranets, along with change communication for technology change such as ERP implementations. Connect with Stacy at LinkedIn or on Twitter, or with Eloquor on Facebook.